My fascination for classical menswear started in 1973 in Pretoria, South Africa. I remember watching the pupils of the English school that neighboured the playground of my own. They wore a rather colourful school uniform, bottle green with yellow stripes from memory. My school uniform was a rather dull grey and I really envied the English chaps across the way.
We left South Africa a couple of years later and by the late 70s I had enrolled at a language school in Whitstable, Kent, to study during my summer holidays. I have never been back, but in those days Whitstable was a wonderfully charming place with pensioners all dressed in white playing lawn bowls. I was in total awe when someone once told me Peter Cushing lived there!
In 1980 I visited Chartwell and saw the collection of Winston Churchill’s hats and uniforms on full, dashing display. This prompted me to start collecting books about the Royal Family, which inevitably led to my studying photos of the impeccable Duke of Edinburgh and a little later the sharp and rather rakish gent, Prince Charles.
It was always my dream to visit Savile Row and finally, in 1988, I walked down this enviously famous street for the first time.
I remember peeping through the open door of a tailorshop, of course not daring to enter, until to my great pleasure, a tailor invited me in. He wore a beautifully cut suit and showed me around as if I were a prospective client...
At that time the shoe bug had bitten me already. There used to be a huge Ralph Lauren shop in Hannover in those days and it was there I bought my first pair of shoes from Crockett & Jones. A pair of brown suede Monk shoes benchmade stamped PRL. Most of my friends thought I was nuts for spending so much on shoes!
Two years later I found my second pair of shoes, again from Crockett & Jones, in a shop in Hamburg. Suede once more, but this time a semi-brogue oxford. In 1997, the year I started working on my first book ‘Gentleman. A Timeless Fashion‘, my new favourites were photographed for the chapter about shoes. Second shoe from the left on page 189 of the original edition... for those interested.
This book opened a lot of doors and got a lot of attention from those in the know. I was also welcomed behind the scenes at Crockett & Jones. On my first visit (in 2000 or 2001) I met Jonathan Jones, the current Managing Director and Robin Guinness, then Export Sales Director and a legend of the shoe industry. They took me for lunch to their club in Northampton which was terribly old-fashioned, it is probably still the same today.
Back at the factory in the antique wood clad Shoeroom, I asked them for a very special souvenir: An old wooden last signed by Mr Jones.
I could tell that this wish was considered a little strange, but it was granted. I still use the last as a paper weight on my desk. I had to promise not to give it to the competitors. Needless to say, Crockett & Jones has always been close by.