Friends, Food and Fine threads

As the proverb goes, “If you build it, they will come.”

That was my hope on Friday 6th December at 5.30pm, when The Tingley Brass Band raised their horns to kick off the Michelsberg Christmas Party 2013.

Corks popped and the scent of mulled wine filled the air, as my customers, suppliers, family and friends, raised a glass to the festive season.

It’s no secret that the service charge in the Victoria Quarter comes with its own health warning, but when it comes to Christmas decorations they certainly don’t skimp.

The tree has more bling than ‘Strictly’ and the arcades are bejewelled like a Russian hookers décolletage.

Here’s the view from my showroom window.

What a truly wonderful feeling it was to look around and see everyone drinking, laughing and soaking up the wonderful atmosphere.

A brass band is a very moving affair – I still shed a tear when ‘Danny Boy’ is played in the film ‘Brassed Off!’ – and Geoff Fowler (conductor) and his troop made it a special night for us all.

Respect to Paul at Westmount Wines for sourcing such cracking wines and the canapés from my fellow VQ tenants Filmore & Union went down a treat.

I adore the run up to Christmas. There’s a real positive vibe in the air at the moment, and whilst work is still hectic, Christmas is when I like to take time out from the daily grind and indulge in a little ‘me time.’

So, yesterday, I headed to London to pay homage to my own holy trinity – friends, good food and fine threads.

Meandering down St James’s Place in Mayfair is a pleasure in itself. This glittering facade of gentleman’s clubs, gun shops, bespoke shoe-makers and art galleries, smacks of heritage, elegance and old-money.

At the bottom on the left is my favourite hatters – Lock & Co.

Last year I popped my hat-wearing cherry with a navy blue ‘Borsalino’, and have learnt that, like a bespoke suit, one is never enough. This year I was back for one in black, with perhaps a cheeky Panama for the Summer.

Step inside and bang, it’s the Great Gatsby all over again, with less bling and more wood panelling. Jay, their Assistant Manager, made me feel most welcome, and ushered me into their inner sanctum.

First he demonstrated how to keep my head-candy in top notch condition through gentle steaming and vigorous brushing. The secret is to be firm and not be afraid of giving it a good going over.

I was shown a fabulous selection of flat-caps and was informed that customers can have one made-up in their own tweed for just under £200.

The highlight was a selection of renovated, vintage, silk top hats. Utterly stunning, I popped one on. Then I saw the price tag – two grand – and put it back down. Very gently.

I left with two hat-boxes and a big smile on my face. Back up the street, across Piccadilly and then up Albemarle Steet, I swanned into Brown’s Hotel, home of the restaurant, Hix.

Here I am with one of my longest suffering friends, Flynny. Joined by his gorgeous wife, Jo, and Liddle Rachel, we were college friends re-united.

The Champagne and Super Tuscan flowed and the food was top-notch. I had scallops and pig cheek, followed by the red deer with haggis. Sublime. Greg Wallace would have been thrown out for excessive grunting and “Cor, Blimey’s.”

With a purring stomach and a crying wallet I jumped into a cab and headed off to Soho to meet with one of my favourite tailors.

Hat boxes in one hand, a brolly and bottle of port in the other, I stumbled into his lair at Number 2 Marshall Street. Seated in a beautifully carved wooden throne, behind an ornate desk, was the wonderfully imposing figure that is Mr Mark Powell.

Flanked by lines of razor sharp suits, against a backdrop of acid yellow walls and contemporary art, this tailor to the great (and often very naughty) is not for the feint hearted. You need balls just to make it over the threshold.

Mark has attitude, an edge. With rough stubble, hard eyes and a firm jaw, there’s a whiff of danger and confrontation about him.

But that’s part of the charm. The east-end accent, gold fob watch, knitted silk tie and three piece suit are a perfect foil for the man who has dressed the likes of the Krays, Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, Paul Weller and Naomi Campbell.

He opened his first shop in Soho at the age of twenty four, after a stint selling suits and learning how to measure at a retro-boutique on the King’s road called ‘Robot.’

Whilst his character is intriguing, it’s his own personal style and the garments he creates that I utterly adore. Flamboyant, in your face, with styles taken from yesterday, mixed up and re-invented for today, it takes a confident man to wear them.

There’s bold fabrics, velvet top-collars, mother-of-pearl buttons, wide lapels, gauntlet cuffs, patch pockets, sprinkled with those finishing touches and accessories that turn an outfit from something good into something great.

Nick Tentis and Ozwald Boateng of Savile Row have both worked for him, and when it comes to showmanship and PR, they’ve learnt from a master.

‘Gangster chic’, the bad-boy of British tailoring is an enigma. There is a real front to Mark Powell, but after an hour in his company, his warmth, generosity and sense of humour shone through.

It’s not every day you meet one of your heroes, but when it comes to fine threads, Mark is one of mine. That’s what I love about my trade. The people at the very top are willing to open their doors to those of us still making our way up.

Meeting Mark Powell was the perfect end to what was has been a fabulous year.

2014 is set to be massive. I’ve got some big developments in the pipeline and look forward to sharing then with you as they unfold.

But that’s the future. As from this Saturday, until January 6th, I will be raising two fingers to the world of work and relaxing in the bosom of my family.

So here’s wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New year. Cheers!