In the short span of Tommy Nutter’s career, he achieved far more than one could only hope to in an entire lifetime of work. For just over two decades, Nutter contributed to many of the most iconic images that define the style of Swinging Sixties London. His rise to success was unlikely yet through his process he managed to acquire the most sought-after clientele while redefining the boundaries of London’s Savile Row. Crashing through the barricades that protected the traditional idea of English tailoring, Nutter emerged with a fantastical offering. Radical and distinguishable in nature, his work continues to inspire many fashion designers and stylists today.
Nutter’s formative years were spent in northern London. His father was a cafe owner that served labor workers. It was improbable that he would stray far from his blue-collar upbringing. However, after a brief period studying plumbing, his imagination would eventually steer him in a different direction. At the age of 19 Nutter attended the Tailor and Cutter Academy before honing his cutting skills as an apprentice at Donaldson, Williamson & Ward, where he would stay for seven years. Handsome in appearance and animated in personality, Nutter caught the eye of Peter Brown, confidant and assistant to Brian Epstein (the Beatles' manager at the time.) The late ‘60s were a time when, with the right amount of sparkle and pizazz, penetrating the social elite was feasible. Around the same period, Nutter’s brother, David, would make his way to New York photographing some of the same celebrities that Nutter would be dressing in just a few years' time.
Savile Row is a street in Mayfair that is celebrated for its premium bespoke tailoring; a craft which prides itself on strict standards of excellence yet whose technical parameters often yield a less-than-inventive result. The stuffy, expensive atmosphere of Savile Row did not lend itself to the rule-bending narrative of 1960’s counterculture. That is until February 14th, 1969, the day Nutter alongside partner, Edward Sexton, opened the doors to Nutters of Savile Row. The company was partially backed by Peter Brown and pop star Cecilia Black, whom Nutter called a close friend. So, it wasn’t long before the peacocks of music’s aristocracy came flocking.
Nutter was known for his bold, imaginative creations, over-the-top window displays, and champagne-fueled appointments that attracted the likes of Bianca and Mick Jagger, The Beatles, and Elton John among others. The suiting and the experience was far from typical and led to a splendid array of outstanding fashion moments. Nutter, unpredictable in behavior, indulged his clients with irreverent criticism and playful humor, often ending his conversation with the expression, “But who am I to talk?”
Some of Nutter’s most recognizable commissions include Mick Jagger's three-piece wedding suit with extra wide lapels (a Nutter signature) and John Lennon’s slim wedding suit for his marriage to Yoko Ono. Apart from a penchant for outfitting celebrity nuptials, Nutter also suited three of the four Beatles for their famous Abbey Road album cover in 1969. Bianca Jagger was an ongoing client which Mick begrudgingly allowed. She preferred the tailoring of a men’s suit and Nutter crafted an iconic wide-leg trouser variation, the photographs of which are widely referenced. Another devoted client was Elton John, whom Nutter designed an endless selection of flamboyant suits for, one standout being the contrasting black-and-white tailed ensemble he wore at Wembley stadium in ‘84.
At first glance Nutter’s impression on fashion, albeit substantial, seems to have dissipated as quickly as the spirit of the ‘60s itself. After a series of unfortunate events, including losing his business (he would regain it later) and the emotional toll taken from his brother's drug use and depression, he found himself on the other side of two decades, in many ways, defeated. However, his meaningful influence on men’s fashion is undeniable. He was one of the great craftsmen of his time, infiltrating a tangible freedom of expression that Savile Row so desperately needed. Today his spirit survives through John Galliano, Tom Ford and other designers who attribute stylistic decisions directly to his work. Nutter died in 1992 from complications of AIDS yet he lives on through countless images that tell the story of an era so delightfully audacious and rich in unabashed complexities.
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