‘Hey man, how you doing? When was the last time I saw you?”
I’m trying to scrape my jaw off the floor. Having just been introduced to one of the most accomplished sportsmen in history, he now thinks that he knows me.
It’s one of the most surreal days of my life. On a lovely summer’s afternoon, lubricated by Chivas Regal and Perrier-Jouet cocktails, the Saville Row Tailors’ Association are throwing their London Collections: Men event. Apparently some of the biggest names in men’s style are here: Tommy Hilfiger; AA Gill; and a descendant of Mahatma Gandhi who causes women to melt in his presence. The finest British cloth-artisans are parading their wares, draped over the frames of men with cheekbones cut from marble, and torsos like Adonis, lounging like leopards on carefully positioned seating.
It’s very nice. And, apparently, very important (The FT has labelled this the Number 1 men’s fashion event in the world.). But all this is of secondary value to me; for, exceeding the dandiest outfits that I have ever laid eyes on, it is the venue that truly takes my breath away. The Association have chosen to hold their event at the Marylebone Cricket Club. The home of cricket. Lord’s.
“Do you know where we are?” I ask a passing PR girl, my eyes like saucers.
“The Long Room,” she answers, helpfully.
“Yes,” I respond, “But it’s the Long Room!” she smiles patiently and walks away. I shrug the acceptance of a trainspotter explaining the importance of a British Rail Southern Region 10201 diesel locomotive to a passing commuter, and make my way up the stairs to the door of the Players’ Dressing Room. To be here is almost beyond reckoning. To wander here freely is a privilege truly beyond reckoning.
I walk back down the stairs, through the Long Room, down the steps to the outfield and gaze towards the Media Centre and Old Father Time. Then I do it again. Twice. I imagine the long line of great captains and players who have done that very walk, cheered on by the gentle baying of the Members, as they prepare to partake in the greatest mental battle in sport. I am awed, breathing in the heritage, gravity and legend of the place. I really can’t believe I’m here.
As much as the venue, I had come to get an understanding of what is currently making British men’s tailoring (and British style and design in general) the most appealing in the world.
“It’s the workmanship and quality,” explains Joe Morgan of Chittleborough & Morgan, “In London, we’re not about fashion and speed – as they are in Paris – London is about timeless style. Craftsmanship. But it does have a vibrancy and youth – we have apprentices coming through, whose ideas we consider. We always look for ways to innovate, particularly with accessories, but a well-cut suit will always be a well-cut suit.”
Andy Rowley, of Budd the Shirtmakers, agrees, “Heritage is returning to the fore – timeless style is in fashion again, as people look for integrity, credibility, and things that are made to last. All our shirts are cut on the premises, and it takes time to make one of our shirts. That carries into a wider approach to dressing – it’s not something that can be rushed.”
“Why should women have all the fun?” continues Joe, “Dressing well is a joy. But it’s more than that. Taking time to dress well is part of what it means to be a man, and women appreciate a man who cares about his appearance.”
As I mulled over these insights, I gazed out over the delicately manicured outfield at Lord’s; a venue in which the true essence of the gentleman has been codified and distilled in the laws of a ball-game. Excellent cricket (Test cricket – not that noisy IPL malarkey) is about integrity, longevity, grit and determination: line and length for a bowler; patience and poise for a batsman. It’s the timeless truths that we return to time and again, whatever the passing trend for Pelican Shots and Switch Hits.
The tie-in between Chivas and Saville Row is about qualities that both brands share – craftsmanship, heritage, all that good stuff… And the essence of being a man. Naturally, as part of this, they wanted to get some dashing men talking about what it means to be a man, and to make a lovely little brand video about it. For some reason, (and by the reactions of the camera crew, they were as confused as to this selection as me) somebody had decided that I was one such person, qualified to answer the somewhat weighty question of “What It Means To Be A Man.”
It was whilst scrabbling together a response to this question, which has baffled history’s greatest philosophers, that I was introduced to someone rather better qualified to answer it.
“This is Brian,” I was told. I turned to look into the eyes of the greatest batsman of the modern era.
“Mr Lara,” I uttered, before totally losing the skill of speech. His eyes lit up and he cracked a grin.
“Hey man,” he replied, “When was the last time I saw you?” Now utterly bemused, I stared vacantly before muttering something about never-having-met-him-before-because-if-I-had-I’m-sure-I’d-have-remembered.
He looked at me sideways and smiled knowingly, “Nah, I definitely know you,” he said, “Anyway, I gotta go. See you around, man.” And so passed my encounter with a man who’s very being embodied poise, elegance, grace and power – never before or since has a person so perfectly encapsulated the skills of batting.
And in it was the answer to my quandary: The essence of being a man is not what you wear or what you do – but how you wear it, and how you do it. With integrity, pride, and a desire to be the very best.