The man who defined the tailored look of the 1970s, Tommy Nutter, is a little bit like Beau Brummell in so far as he always seems like an enigma, as a person, yet his name runs throughout the history of menswear and is continually name checked. Anything bold with large lapels is always a reminder of Nutter’s style. The classic Tom Ford suit is basically a rip-off of Tommy Nutter.
This biography doesn’t just look at one Nutter’s life, but two. Tommy’s brother, David, a photographer and also gay, is the main source of first-hand information and the book follows both lives, intertwining throughout. The comical jobs they both do and the situations they seem to find themselves in makes for a really fun biography.
While Tommy is the centre, it’s great to hear about both their lives at the whims of the rich and famous of that era. From Bianca Jagger to John Lennon to Elton John, they were all wearing Tommy’s clothes while being photographed by David.
Left - Tommy Nutter modelling his own design
Tommy feels like a true creative which means he lacked the business skills and ruthlessness often needed in the fashion business to get anywhere. You get a sense that while a pioneer of the suit, Tommy was also constrained by it. He was constrained to bespoke suiting, particularly, which, due to the quality and labour intensiveness, would only ever be on a small scale and his dreams of creating a bigger ‘brand’ was restricted by centring around this one garment.
Whenever he tried anything else, outside of this area, he didn’t seem to grasp it or be able to make it work. The strong shoulder, huge lapels and contrasting fabrics became not only his signature, but his style straight jacket.
This book is great, you’ll speed through it. The best bits feature Elton John. I knew Tommy had created Elton’s 1980’s straw-boater, 'I’m Still Standing' era clothes, but I hadn’t realised he was there from the start. David became one of his inner circle and follows him around the world with manic energy. Everybody is in here: Beatles, Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Diana Ross.
Unfortunately, having died from that big disease with a little name, Tommy’s voice isn’t here and it would have been nice to hear from Cilla Black as she seemed to have a lot of love for him. But, the main voices are: Edward Sexton, his main cutter and Peter Brown, his boyfriend and the Beatles' manager, even when conflicting, but, that’s, ultimately, history and people’s differing viewpoints.
I remember sitting next to Jeremy Hackett at a dinner once, he started his company selling vintage clothes, and I asked him if he ever came across any Tommy Nutter, as you never see it anywhere. He said he once had some from Andrew Lloyd Webber, but it wasn’t particularly interesting. It feels like all the best pieces were commissioned by the rock stars and celebrities of that era and are probably still languishing in their storage warehouses somewhere.
There was an exhibition at The Fashion & Textile Museum in Bermondsey, a few year’s ago, which brought together some of Tommy’s best clothes. Cilla Black’s were there and I remember how small Ringo Star’s and Mick Jagger’s mannequins were.
This feels comprehensive and very well researched by Lance Richardson. The majority of the book takes place in some of the most exciting times and places of the 20th century: London in the 1960s and New York in the 1970s and this energy is what makes the book flow.
I’d love to hear what Elton John remembers. His shopping addiction seems to keep Tommy in pinstripe trousers for a while and his partying and 1970s wardrobe are all off the chart.
David Nutter is still alive and living in New York, and while Tommy died in 1992, this end segment of the book is very emotional, the glamour and era makes this a must-read for anybody interested in not only men’s clothes, but photography, music and the fashion business.
House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row by Lance Richardson - Chatto & Windus - £25