Let’s talk tailoring: with GQ’s Tony Parsons
This interview is the first in our series of Let’s talk Tailoring; a podcast that gives our listeners an inside view of how some of our favourite men have found their own style, what they’re inspired by and what advice they can offer to those trying to find their own style identity. We have an exciting list of people to interview over the next few months, so stay tuned!
This week Alexandra Wood visited the London home of GQ columnist and best-selling author Tony Parsons to uncover how he found his personal fashion style.
You can listen to the full podcast on iTunes, or read our slimline version below.
In lovely Hampstead, Tony Parsons (himself, an Alexandra Wood client) has taken some time out of his writing schedule to talk to me. But not before making us a nice cup of tea in a Wimbledon mug with strawberries on it. Tony remarks that Wimbledon is an event that he and his wife love to celebrate more, he says, for the occasion than the actual game.
He has very kindly invited us to his lovely house to record the first in a series of style podcasts. I love the idea of knuckling down and finding out how people discover their style, what they think of style and how they can advise others to find their own. This is what Tony had to say to us…
Alexandra: So first off, what have you been up to recently? What have you been writing in GQ and what other projects have you been working on?
Tony: I’m writing six books in six years. I’m writing a series of crime novels about a detective called Max Wolfe. It’s my attempt to create a series hero. My James Bond, Philip Marlowe, or Jack Reacher. I’ve just received the proof for book number five. Other than that, I’m still doing my monthly column in GQ which tends to reflect whatever is going on in my life so I write about male friendship, why men should get a regular annual medical health screening. All the stuff that’s going on in my life, I tend to shove it in my column.
Alexandra: So, you have full reign on what you can write about?
Tony: Yeah, I’m a columnist. I’ve been lucky enough to be a columnist for the last 25 years, and the way it works for columnists in a magazine or a newspaper is that you’re free to write what you like and they’re free to sack you anytime they like.
*Tony wrote an article about how he chose us as his Savile Row tailor.
Alexandra: So, you’re getting more daring with that in mind?
Tony: You understand that things change and if my career ended this afternoon, I’ve had a good run. I’ve had a really fantastic career.
Alexandra: Moving on to style, how would you describe your style? I’m assuming it’s evolved through the years?
Tony: Well, I don’t know if I’ve really got a style. It is only really in moments of crisis that I really realise how important clothes are to me. When I’ve got a moment in my life, as either a writer or father that I know has got to go well, I can’t afford to muck it up, then I realise how important clothes are to me. Which is why I first came to see you (at Alexandra Wood Bespoke).
They say that you should go to Savile Row for a reason: you don’t go to Savile Row for a suit, you go because you’re getting married to the love of your life, or you’ve got an interview that can’t go wrong. In my case it was because I was the guest of honour at my daughter’s school for prize giving day and to me, that was absolutely terrifying.
Alexandra: And what did you wear?
Tony: *Laughs*. I wore a suit by Alexandra Wood.
I don’t really think of clothes as important to me but I know that when you get one of those moments, they come around with increasing regularity, it just can’t be anything but great. It’s got to go well. The idea of me saying that something mortifying in front of all of these educated girls, that’s when I realised how important clothes are to me. When I wore your suit on that prize giving day it just freed me to be myself. That’s what I think great clothes do, and that’s what I think your suits do. They get the negative stuff out the way: they get the doubts, the uncertainty, and the negative thoughts and push them to one side and let you be yourself.
It’s very much like: are clothes important to Iron Man? Well, probably no, not really. But at the same time, you can’t imagine him fighting crime and evil without his yellow and red suit on. You can’t imagine him fighting crime in smart casual.
Alexandra: What led you to Alexandra Wood?
Tony: Well, it’s quite bewildering and quite intimidating to go to Savile Row because you’re spoilt for choice. You know there’s so many tailors there and some of them have been there for centuries. The way I did it was, which is a good way to do it, actually I think the only way to do it, is to look at a guy who you admire for his dress sense.
Alexandra: And who would that be?
Tony: That was Chuka, Chuka Umunna. I always thought he carries himself well. He’s elegant, he looks sharp but he’s a serious man too, he’s a serious grown-up man. And I thought: well, I can’t go wrong if I go to the same person as that guy! I think that’s a good way to do it.
He contacted me so we’ve had coffee and we’ve had some good conversations, and I went looking for him at the BBC Brexit coverage at Wembley Area, but we were on different sides of the argument. We were the two best-dressed men at the BBC Brexit debate!
When young writers come to me and ask me what agent they should find. I say ‘Who do you admire?’ and find their agent. I have friends who know clothes and dress well and have noticed that my suits have been upgraded and have beat the same path to Alexandra Wood and Savile Row that I did.
I enjoy wearing good suits if I just go out to dinner with a mate. If I go to my favourite restaurant I enjoy putting on my Alexandra Wood suit. But I really notice it on those moments when it really must go well, whether it’s a speech or a tv appearance or my daughter’s school.
Alexandra: Do you buy tailoring for general wear?
Tony: I tend to be a bit like Diana Ross in concert: I change quite a bit. I’ll dress one way to walk my dog, then I’ll dress another way to sit down and write my GQ column, and then when I go to see my mate at Wilton’s for dinner I’ll put on a suit. So, I do tend to dress specific. And I quite like changing for when I’m doing different – I like saying “Now you are doing this and be 100% focussed on this.” The tradition that I come from, the mod era, was over when I was a kid. That’s always been a thread that ran through working-class life in this country of kids that have not got very much of anything apart from a sense of style. They’ve got more sense of taste than money. Yet, when I was a kid they would have mohair suits made. It’s something that ebbs and flows, but it’s always there, it never really goes away – that longing to look better than your boss.
Alexandra: Do you think men are paying more attention to the way they dress now more than
Tony: No, I think men are paying much more attention to men than ever before and I think clothes are certainly a part of that. Men kind of study the abdominal muscles of other men now. You think about what you’d have to do, how much fat you’d have to lose, what you’d have to endure to get that definition.
Alexandra: Just get a well-cut suit right, you don’t need to go through that pain!
Tony: Men are thinking more about all this stuff. They’re picking up on what women do. I go to Hong Kong quite a bit and I get wet shaves there where they wrap your face in hot towels. And it’s such a wonderful luxury and self-indulgence to get facials there and that’s the kind of stuff that my father would be appalled by. My Dad loved Italy. He fought there in the war, he’s got very good Italian. I could remember him saying to me: ‘’Men used to stand in front of the mirror and comb their hair!” They had that narcissism about them, and now it comes quite naturally to us.
Alexandra: If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?
Tony: I will be 64 next week! I really don’t know how it’s come about. It seems strange. You kind of stop thinking about it for a while, you start thinking about your health and your fitness. Every day is a bonus. I work hard to stay fit and a big part of my life is my relationship with my trainer. You need someone, you need a guide. You need a tailor to dress you, you need a trainer to get you fit. I really wouldn’t have worn so well without one.
Alexandra: How long have you had one for?
Tony: I’ve had a few, but the one I’m with now I’ve been with for 12 years and its always in the book. Twice a week, unless I’m away – but it’s always in the diary. It’s sacrosanct.
Alexandra: Is it local and can they be named?
Tony: Yep, five minutes down the road in Hampstead: its Freds gym. It’s essentially boxing. Fred’s a boxer.
Alexandra: Does that mean you don’t have to watch what you eat?
Tony: I think when you work that hard, and it is hard, you think a cream cake would be 30 minutes of pain with Fred!
Alexandra: What do you think of the notion of Men being sexy? It’s something that’s important to us and our clients. Do you want to look sexy after 60?
Tony: Unfortunately, I do still look sexy after 60. I try to avoid it! You know it’s like when you’re a young man you try to find sex and when you’re older, you try to avoid it. It’s a strange tipping point in your life: you hunt it for half of your life and run away from it the other half!
Alexandra: (Laughs) Why are you running away from it?
Tony: I’ve just celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary (4th July), so that’s the best reason for it!
Alexandra: What three things would you say to a man in order for them to find their own style. If they said “I have no clue. Where do I start?” what would you say?
Tony: I would say be prepared to spend serious money. The stuff that I love tends to be good, but I wear it out. I just took a Prada flying jacket to my dry cleaners and its falling to bits and they don’t want to touch it because they are afraid they’ll get the blame. But I love it, it’s my winter jacket. But I think spend top dollar because it’s always worth it, it’s always a bargain!
I would say be fit. Often when we think men look great it’s because they’re gorgeous. When Brad Pitt wears an original Penguin polo shirt, one of the reasons it looks so good is because Brad Pitt’s wearing it. And the other thing I’d say is: find your own path. Work out what’s good for you. Work out what you like doing. It’s like a writer finding his voice. You can be influenced by a thousand people – and you should be influenced your head has got to be open, your heart has got to be open. But then you plant your own personality on it.
Alexandra: What are the go-to details on a suit that you like to pick?
Tony: I think we’ve all got our own individual shapes and it’s difficult as your stuck with that, so I listen to my tailor and I’m happy to trust my tailor. You shouldn’t be afraid to express your opinion, but when you are with someone who’s given their life to something you need to listen to them. I don’t think much about my suit lapels, but when I with an expert I listen to them.
At the end of the interview, I suddenly thought “Damn – I haven’t asked him about his incredible skin!” Tony has near porcelain, super smooth skin. I was staring at him in a bid to find one wrinkle but no, at the age of 64 there is nothing! Which led me to ask him if he takes care of his skin. He laughed, saying “Yes, I actually do use a lot of skin products. A lot of men don’t look after their skin and it looks dehydrated. I think it’s important.” I asked him what products he used to which he responded: “Bulldog Skincare. It’s animal cruelty-free and natural and that’s what I like.”
Can women use it too? I might have to give that stuff a go!