Turnbull's Rich, Striped History
One of the most commonly held myths on stylish men of the past, is the rather sober colour palette they employed in their outfits. The monochrome world of Pathé newsreels, faded newspaper clippings and the Golden Age Hollywood has created a sense that our forebears were a conservative lot; well dressed but dowdy and tame in their choices.
Heaving open the great leather-bound books deep in the archives of Turnbull & Asser, however, provides an altogether different narrative. Bursting out of these creaking binders are more than a century's worth of explosive, joyous stripes and patterns, in every conceivable hue and combination. In all their technicolour glory, reams of striking vermillions and blushing pinks, pages of autumnal mustards and cool summer mints, all laid out in a myriad of widths from pinstripes to awnings, butcher stripes to bengals. A truly enlightening treasure trove sealed away from sunlight to preserve their original lustre.
"When you look at the archive back in the 1920s, and you see the patterns and stripes the company had, they are quite incredible" enthuses Jermyn Street store manager James Cook. "You always think because of black & white photographs of the time that the people were quite plain. While it's true that the majority of people wore white shirts, as they always do, we were looking after a different kind of customer. He would have been more of a gentleman of leisure or means who would have enjoyed looking through and selecting these cloths. I think it was the first time that the middle class were turning up as well as shopping became more of a pastime."
As the century wore on, the variety and boldness of stripes put Turnbull & Asser at the forefront of men's fashion; offering an opportunity for scope and variety that matched the zeitgeist of the day. "When it got to the 60s and 70s, we were famous for our stripes" Mr Cook continues, "Originally the majority were silk, made in our own mill in Lancashire, and the patterns mirrored the striped ties. In those days you had pieces of coloured paper that you would put together to create stripes, and then get them woven from there."
Warren Beatty wears Turnbull & Asser’s repeat pattern shirt and tie to escort co-star Faye Dunaway to the 1968 premier of Bonnie and Clyde at the Cinema Balzac in Paris.
"Turnbulls became synonymous with patterns and the men about town at the time who came to visit us in the store or at trunk shows in New York would be encouraged by these really bold patterns. People like David Frost, when he interviewed Richard Nixon, he’s wearing a very bold T&A shirt with white collar. Ben Bradley from the Washington Post, he wore our shirts, These type of people were coming to us, precisely because we were offering something different. People talk about Carnaby Street, but it was places like here where you had the upper classes and the working classes mixing together. I think menswear was just becoming more fun in those days, bigger collars, bolder colours, people becoming more flamboyant after the war and rationing."
David Frost, who wore a striped Turnbull shirt when interviewing President Nixon.
It is precisely this legacy of melding the traditional values of quality shirtmaking with an evolving and eccentric eye for design that forges something timely, from the timeless. The enviable Turnbull & Asser archive of tangible, tactile cloth at the centre of this process offers generations of heritage to play with and limitless scope for innovation and interpretation.
And isn't it exactly this kind of joie de vivre and excitement that we are screaming out for right now? Mr Cook is adamant about this. "I believe there will be a renaissance. We’ve been closed in and locked down for so long that when there’s a little more certainty and clarity, people will want to dress up and escape. And people will want to be different to the man next to them."
"Old and new make the warp and weft of every moment", Ralph Waldo Emerson famously stated. "There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands". Mr Cook concurs: "There's nothing new here - these patterns go back all the way to the beginning of our company, we just update and refresh with changing colours. These bold patterns are such a part of the DNA of the shop and the reason why customers come here."