Style & Grooming

Everything You Need to Know About Rebel Savile Row Tailor, Tommy Nutter

He dressed Jagger, inspired Galliano and turned tailoring on its head – here, the author of a new book about the designer, Lance Richardson, gives us a six-point guide to Savile Row’s enfant terrible

  • TextLance Richardson

At the height of its fame, Nutters of Savile Row was “the place for men’s clothes,” according to the Daily Mail, “a whizz-bang success,” and its charismatic director, Tommy Nutter, was “in the class of actor Terence Stamp, photographer Brian Duffy, and hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, all the stylish young Londoners who have shot themselves out of their backgrounds and into the new aristocracy.” It was the late 1960s, early 1970s, and nobody had seen anybody like him since the halcyon days of Beau Brummell: a British peacock who could waltz through a party and turn heads for his matinee idol handsomeness and extremely strange suits, which managed to mix disparate styles and materials in a way that seemed, nevertheless, to be exactly right.   

For the three decades Tommy Nutter worked as a Savile Row tailor, he dressed the biggest names in culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Everyone from Cilla Black to David Hockney to Diana Ross to Divine got their names in his order books, earning him the sobriquet “Tailor to the Stars.” His clothes could be divisive, or even downright ludicrous – a Falklands War-inspired “nautical look” did not catch on; nor did a “rugged couture” range referencing the shark bite in Jaws – but his inexhaustible creativity kept his admirers coming back for more.     

By the time Nutter died of Aids, in 1992, his clothes were housed in institutions ranging from the Victoria & Albert Museum to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He was only 49 years old, but he had already achieved more than most people do in a lifetime twice that length. Here are six of his biggest claims to fame.

He revolutionised stuffy Savile Row

When Tommy Nutter opened Nutters on Valentine’s Day, 1969, every other tailoring firm on the street maintained the atmosphere of a solicitor’s office or an undertaker. Savile Row was where a man went to get an “exquisitely prosaic city suit,” as one writer described it: impeccable boringness. Tommy Nutter changed all that. He filled his windows with champagne bottles and fuchsia feathers, and his clothes were just as bold. Nutter’s main innovation was to combine the faultless craftsmanship of Savile Row with the risqué street fashion being exhibited by the Mods on Carnaby Street. In doing so, he established himself as one of the very first menswear fashion designers, years before the likes of Giorgio Armani.

He dressed three of the four Beatles on the album cover of Abbey Road

On a clear, humid day in August 1969, the Beatles marched over a zebra crossing in Saint John’s Wood for the album cover of Abbey Road. The famous photograph by Iain Macmillan shows three of them – John, Ringo and Paul – wearing Tommy Nutter bespoke. George wore denim, which was more his style, though nobody had told the others to sync their looks. They just wore what best expressed them at that particular moment. No doubt it helped that Tommy was friend, and that Nutters of Savile Row was right across the street from Apple Corps.

He outfitted Mick Jagger – and then Jagger’s wife

Mick Jagger’s 1971 Saint-Tropez wedding to Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias was a spectacle for many reasons, not least of which was his extremely snug eau-de-nil Nutters suit with the banana leaf lapels. But it was Bianca, Mick’s new wife, who ultimately become one of the brand’s most famous patrons, later strutting through Heathrow in a white man’s suit as she twirled her trademark Malacca cane. Mick hated this unexpected twist: “He said that a man’s tailor was very special,” Bianca told the Sunday Times. “It was a personal thing that a woman shouldn’t intrude on. But I went anyway.”

Elton John became one of his muses

Elton John turned to Tommy Nutter for more than 20 years when it came to his offstage getup – and occasionally his onstage getup, too: see the legendary black and white yin-yang ensemble he wore at Wembley Stadium in 1984. Sir Elton pushed his tailor to go wider, louder, brighter, and Nutter happily complied, producing some of the performer’s most iconic looks. “It was quite an event, going in to Nutters,” John Reid, Elton’s manager for 28 years, later recalled. “You’d write the whole day off. Maybe you’d have lunch, a couple of bottles of Champagne …” For Elton’s 36th birthday, Nutter built a suit overlaid with 1,009,444 bugle beads, each one painstakingly attached by hand.  

He made Jack Nicholson’s “Joker” clothes for Batman

Bob Ringwood created the original sketches for Nicholson’s Joker in 1988, but when it came time to actually manufacture the costumes, the production team went to Savile Row. “I guess they came to see me because I specialise in those sort of clothes anyway,” Nutter told a newspaper. “They are Tommy Nutter looks from over the years” – cheeky, sleek, eye-wateringly ostentatious. But Nutter’s team struggled to execute Ringwood’s designs – ‘You’d cut them and it was impossible, you just couldn’t do it,’ one tailor recalled – so they simply improvised their way to a final 53 outfits, some of which featured hidden tricks for filming, like elongated sleeves.

He influenced (and continues to influence) a generation of designers

Nutter may have died at 49, but his legacy has proved enduring both on and off the Row. Tailor-designers like Timothy Everest, Oswald Boateng and Richard James are indebted to Nutter, and Tom Ford has acknowledged his stylistic influence. Recently, Tommy Hilfiger credited his “irreverent approach” as a source of inspiration, and in February this year, the American designer Todd Snyder debuted a collection at New York Fashion Week directly referencing Nutters of Savile Row. Even John Galliano (who once created window displays for Nutter) has drawn a line between himself and the late tailor: he once noticed that the sleeves of Tommy’s jackets “all hung in a gentle arc rather than straight down,” which inspired him to experiment with cutting sleeves in a spiral, which eventually became a Galliano signature.

Lance Richardson is the author of House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row, out now through Chatto & Windus. Purchase a copy here