Edward Sexton, bespoke tailor of rock 'n' roll, dies at 80

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Edward Sexton, bespoke tailor of rock 'n' roll, dies at 80
When the Beatles marched across Abbey Road in 1969, three of them were suited up by Nutters. (George Harrison wore bluejeans.)

by Penelope Green



NEW YORK, NY.- Edward Sexton, a master tailor who, with his business partner, Tommy Nutter, upended the staid British institution that was Savile Row with Nutters, a shop with rock ’n’ roll flair and clientele, died July 23 in London. He was 80.

His death was announced by his company, which shares his name. No cause was given.

Nutter was the shop’s charismatic frontman, and Sexton was known as “the wizard with the scissors,” the expert cutter who created the flamboyant shapes the shop would become famous for: the wide lapels and sharp shoulders, the nipped in waists and waistcoats, and the sweeping trousers.

The aesthetic was “continental, American, queer and camp,” journalist Lance Richardson noted in “House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row” (2018), “combined with a keen fidelity to old-school Savile Row craftsmanship.”

Wearing a Nutters’ suit, one client told Richardson, made you feel like “an honored custodian of something spectacular.”

When the Beatles marched across Abbey Road in 1969, three of them were suited up by Nutters. (George Harrison wore bluejeans.) That same year, when John Lennon married Yoko Ono in Gibraltar, he wore a white corduroy suit coat made by Nutters.

When Mick Jagger married Bianca Perez-Mora Macias in St-Tropez in 1971, he also wore a white Nutters suit. The bride wore Yves Saint Laurent, though she was soon ordering from Nutters, too. She accessorized the suits with bowler hats and her signature walking sticks.

Other female customers included model Twiggy, an avatar of ’60s style, who was once fitted out in a suit of cranberry velvet trimmed with braid. Model Patty Boyd and actress Joan Collins were devoted clients. The aristocrats came, too — Lord and Lady Montagu had matching Nutters suits — and more rock stars, such as Eric Clapton and David Bowie, along with artists such as David Hockney; Tommy Tune, the lanky American dancer and choreographer; and Kenneth Tynan, the tart theater critic.

Nutters opened on Valentine’s Day in 1969 at 35a Savile Row, the storied London street where bespoke tailors had outfitted the British ruling class for more than a century. Unlike its stuffy neighbors, whose windows were frosted glass, Nutters’ windows, framed by Corinthian pillars, offered mischievous dioramas designed by Michael Long — a Punch and Judy show; a mural of Egyptian ruins; purple and hot pink ostrich feathers.

When Simon Doonan began designing the windows in the mid-1970s, he once filled them with taxidermied rats outfitted in tiny tuxedos and diamanté chokers. The interior was scented with patchouli. There were sleek Bauhaus chairs. Empty Champagne bottles were lashed to the door with red ribbons.

The shop had been financed by Peter Brown, Nutter’s boyfriend at the time and the former assistant to Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles. (When Epstein died of an overdose in 1967, Brown took over some of his duties.) Cilla Black, another pop star managed by Epstein, was also a backer. “It’s going to be terribly posh,” Black told The Sunday Express just before the shop opened for business.

In its first year, the shop sold 1,000 suits, nearly half of them to Americans, including Nancy Reagan, then the first lady of California. Elton John ordered them in multiples. “It was quite an event going in to Nutters,” John Reid, John’s manager, told Richardson, the author. “You’d write the whole day off. Maybe you’d have lunch, a couple of bottles of Champagne.”



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The Daily Mail called the shop “a whiz-bang success” on its anniversary.

“We made chic, elegant clothing,” Sexton told Richardson. “That’s what I’ve been doing all my life. Tommy was fantastic at it, nobody could touch him, socializing and bringing in the right type of clients. There’s never been another Tommy, and there never will be, and as a team we were dynamic.”

They were a terrific duo at first. Although Sexton was straight, they called each other Pamela and Roxanne (Tommy was Pamela, or “Pammie”) and bantered with each other, the staff and their customers in a swirling verbal mélange of rhyming Cockney slang and Polari, a secret language often used at the time by gay Britons.

But Nutter was too chaotic to be a business owner, and in 1976 their partnership ended. Sexton took over the business, and Nutter floundered for a bit before signing on with another Savile Row firm. In the early 1980s, he opened his own shop, Tommy Nutter, down the block from the original Nutters. Around the same time, Sexton renamed his business in his own name.

Sexton would go on to dress musicians Annie Lennox, Mark Ronson and, in 2017, Harry Styles, whom he outfitted in so-called millennial pink. In 1995, he took on a young apprentice named Stella McCartney, when she was still studying fashion at Central Saint Martins. He helped her with her graduation show, which featured models Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Yasmin Le Bon. When McCartney became creative director of Chloé in 1997, Sexton worked for a time as a consultant there.

“My years spent as an apprentice to Edward were some of the most memorable and valuable in my career,’’ McCartney told Women’s Wear Daily, adding, “He was so much fun, a cheeky ‘live life in the moment’ man.”

Edward Sexton was born Nov. 9, 1942, in London. His father, William, was a public health inspector, and his mother, Isabelle (Pitt) Sexton, cleaned offices at the BBC. Edward grew up in the Elephant and Castle, a working-class neighborhood that lent him his rich Cockney accent.

At 15, he worked as a server at the Waldorf hotel in London's West End, serving patrons dressed for the opera. As he told Richardson, the experience was “my first realization that there were a lot of people doing different, nicer things than either I or my parents were doing.”

He began to buy bespoke suits; he loved the intimate process of having them made and devoted himself to learning the trade. He took night classes at Barrett Street Technical College and worked as an apprentice making riding wear for Harry Hall. He then became an under-cutter at Kilgour, French & Stanbury and later a full-fledged cutter at Donaldson, Williams & G. Ward, both venerable Savile Row tailors. “I figured if you’re going to be a good jockey,” he said, “you better have the best stables.”

It was at Donaldson, Williams that Sexton met Nutter, who was working as a salesperson and who was just as eager as Sexton to venture out on his own. Sexton already had a number of his own clients on the side, and together he and Nutter began to conspire about opening their own shop.

Sexton married Joan Carter in 1963 and is survived by her, along with a daughter, Angela; two sons, Paul and Philip; and five grandchildren. Sexton was working until his death.

Nutter retired from his business in 1992 and died of AIDS a few months later at 49.

“No one wanted to be a legend,” Sexton told Richardson, reflecting on Nutters’ zesty beginning. “It was just two young fellas working hard, believing in what they did.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










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