July 12, 2013 by Ville Raivio
‘I am a 1974 vintage and director of Udeshi Ltd. with B(Sc.) Economics, M(Sc.) Philosophy both from the London School of Economics. No children, no spouse. My parents were proud when I showed in Paris as one of the youngest designers ever, was invited to Pitti Uomo as a rising star, and invited to various shows in Europe. They have always been supportive. I first became interested in clothing probably when I recognised my father still wearing suits on a Sunday when no other father did, and how his suits were always sharper than my friends’ fathers’. It probably didn’t hurt that his family had the agency for Dormeuil fabrics in Zanzibar. I am passionate about design in general, with a particular emphasis on automotive form, architecture and engineering. I also occasionally indulge in cigars, champagne, Bordeaux, single malt whiskies and gastronomy in general. I also try and discover at least three new places every year.
One can find knowledge and inspiration everywhere. I have a few hundred books, a few thousand magazines, countless discussions and sometimes heated debates with my peers. I am passionate about films and will watch a scene over and over again to get a shirt cuff detail, or a close up of a fabric, etc. I also had a fair few clothes before I started my sartorial journey, and took apart the ones I liked to see how they were made, how they were cut, how they were trimmed. I was also fortunate to have one of the last Jermyn street bespoke shirt makers show me a few things.
Velvet dinner jacket
[My personal style is] square peg, round hole. My own dress may be very conservative (three piece Fresco charcoal suit, white Sea Island shirt with cocktail cuffs and black grenadine tie) to a little eccentric shall we say (floral printed jeans with woven linen polo shirt with our Italian suede wholecut loafers). My style is not loud, but there is something different, perhaps a twist, an unusual paring, and the clothes are made for me, so they fit not just my frame, but also my personality. I don’t necessarily want people to stare and point and wear clothing that screams: look at me! I would like them to think that there is a well-dressed elegant man. There is not one piece that screams, but the overall effect is pleasing to the eye, that my dress is balanced and harmonious.
Union Jack scarf
I am lucky that I have the infrastructure or source close at hand to make almost anything I want, so I don’t have too much experience with other companies’ RTW or tailors’ offerings for over a decade. I also stand erect with my very own idiosyncrasies and stylistic preferences that make buying RTW a challenge for me. I am partial to military uniforms, which are very functional pieces of equipment and I have a small collection of navy pea coats. I do go to the “market,” so to speak, to look at what is out there and in New York I stop by one of the bigger J. Crews to see what colours they are using for this season, and their knitted jackets. I go to the RL mansion for theatre, Century 21 to see what has been cast off, and Brooks Brothers to see what middle America could be wearing, but unfortunately rarely does. I have a soft spot for Uniqlo. It is designed down to a price but they have some quite good pieces, in particular their lightweight down jackets that I use for commuting as an intermediate layer. Their fits are a different story, though. Barbour’s Beacon range has a few interesting things now and again — other times it is just over designed and gimmicky.
Skull and cross bone jacket with piping
[My business] started when I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I thought my requests at the time were fairly normal, but proved to be quite demanding and exacting. After having a fair amount of clothing made for me (over 50 suits, more than 100 shirts – I stopped counting at one hundred) and still not entirely satisfied, I thought it couldn’t be that difficult. I started to learn everything I could about style, men’s sartorial history, fabrics, cutting, sewing, finishing, and sartorial rules.
Friends and colleagues commented on my style and frequently asked me where I got that shirt from, or that suit. I would send them to a tailor that I used to use, but they were never entirely happy with the result and approached me to make it for them instead. In 1999, I started the company and have been going since. We scaled back on our wholesale side as I was not always happy with the service, or rather lack of service that some of our clients were experiencing in some of our wholesale accounts, and decided to focus my attention on our own store.
Our house cut is very English, some would say Huntsman circa 1970s, others Savile Row sharp, but without the stuffiness. We use very light to no shoulder pads, soft canvas, similar to an American sack suit of the 1950s, but the shape and form is achieved through cutting. Our signature style is a waisted one button single breasted jacket with slanted pockets, a high gorge with a fish mouth lapel that is slightly French, and, for casual jackets, slanted patch pockets with hidden ticket pockets. For shirts, it is either our Connery or extreme collar with cocktail cuffs with our signature red gussets and under gauntlets. For jeans, it would be our heritage jeans with side adjusters and back pockets set in to the yoke
Extreme cutaway shirt
I wouldn’t classify our style as classic, nor is it fashion. I like to think we walk that fine line between the two. We are not stuck in the past making suits out of 16 Oz cloth that are bullet proof, nor do we make clothing out of parachute silk nor suits that look like little boys’ school uniforms that have shrunk in the wash. Classic style, by definition is classic and one will find something that fits, but isn’t always stylish. Fashion is of the moment, and stylish, it is the style of the time, but doesn’t always fit. My brand is a link between the two.
Skull and cross bone scarf
We don’t claim to be for everyone, we in fact don’t want to dress everybody. We are individuals and we make clothing for individuals. We don’t have a big press machine that churns out stories or recolours its check every few years, nor pretend that we have reinvented the wheel. We don’t live off our past glories from the previous century or the one before that. Nor do we make in the Far East or in countries where sweat labour is the norm, not the exception. We can trace back who made what, when and where. We also will not sell you something that we think is not right for you, be it due to fit, style, colour or just isn’t suited to your personality. We are not on a commission structure; we want the client to come back again and again. We build relationships with our clients, and at times we get invited to their weddings and their children are named after us.
We will not do something that we think is in appropriate for the client, badly designed or just not a good idea. We are always happy to listen to the client, but be prepared to be asked questions of why something is wanted a certain way and for what purpose. Lastly, the person who will be doing the fitting, his surname is on the neck label, so literally his name and reputation is on your neck.
Stingray credit card holder
Inspiration can be found anywhere. Old books, films, novels, people on the street, the photographs of Slim Aarons, William Claxton. Architecture as well, as a building for me is not just about one room, but how the exterior interacts with the interior, where the building is located, how it will be used and by whom — I apply the same principles to my clothing. Making a stand out jacket is by itself not the end goal, but how it fits, where it will be worn with what trousers and accessories, by whom at what time of day, and so on. Thus, when I am designing a collection or a suit for a client, I take all of these factors in to account. For example, in New York, few of my clients who live in a certain part of Manhattan will walk great distances in winter in a suit — they usually have a car waiting, so making a heavy warm suit for that kind of client is a non starter as they will be too warm in a meeting or restaurant with the jacket on. My clients also inspire me. A certain polo playing client lamented the fact that he had to remember studs and cufflinks for his dinner shirt for the formal functions he attended all over the world, and he would inevitably misplace/lose a stud or a cufflink somewhere along the way. We already made fly front dinner shirts, so it wasn’t too much of a step to pair these with our cocktail cuffs to create a dinner shirt that required neither cufflinks nor studs.
Heritage jeans with side adjusters
I don’t think I have a definition of style. There are certain outfits that I like and would say are in good taste, and others that I personally find just plain wrong, but that is evaluating them from my point of view with my preferences and cultural / sartorial baggage. I would rely on Orson Welles’ quote: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
Men’s clothing nowadays is very functional, World Wars and rationing saw to that. If one understands a little about the history and the reasons for the supposed “rules of dress”, and with a bit of common sense, the sartorial learning process becomes a very pleasurable and logical journey. For example, the shirt sleeves should always be longer than the suit sleeves, as it is cheaper to replace a shirt than a suit. Shirt sleeves, though, should not be that long to cover the hand. A shirt is not meant to keep your hands warm, that is what gloves are for. When you look at your watch, the sleeve should pull back to reveal the watch, if it doesn’t, the sleeve is too long and the cuff will sit too low and wear prematurely.
Tying a bow tie is the same knot as tying your shoe laces. Usually the length of the bow tie is wrong, either too short or long, which will never tie properly. It all is really quite easy, once you know how. Men usually are impatient, so if something is taking too long, you are probably not doing it correctly.’
Pictures: © Udeshi