Words Kirk Truman
Portraits Etienne Gilfillan
“My values are all based around quality and comfort. I won’t compromise either for fashion.”
David Newell’s mantra: does your suit speak for you? To David, a well-cut suit or jacket should enhance the features of the wearer and disclose flaws. His tailoring is likened to the precision of a plastic surgeon: reflecting and highlighting the persona of the subject.
Though born and raised in Birmingham in the 1970s, growing up, David felt the city’s grey and industrial backdrop was at odds with the creative instincts he wanted to pursue. Fortunately, his father, who had come to England from Jamaica in the 1950s was a picture of sartorial elegance and provided ample inspiration to help shape David’s ambitions. David’s first experience of Soho in the 80s had him totally hooked; he had set foot into the creative powerhouse of the world. He soon moved to London to live with his brother, to pursue his creative mission. “Soho was changing when I first came here and it will continue to change, mutate and evolve,” he says. “Therefore, in a strange way, nothing has changed!”
Newell began his career in fashion working for Michiko Koshino in the early 90s, later heading up the Gieves & Hawkes flagship concession store in Selfridges. He worked there for almost 10 years, running the most profitable business per square feet in the company. His success there spurred him onto bigger ideas. Newell wanted to become an entrepreneur in tailoring and begin his own business. During his decade-long tenure at Gieves & Hawkes, David had measured thousands of clients. This nurtured his ability to instinctively recognise combinations of measurements – which he would then feed back to his pattern cutter in order to achieve the desired look, style and fit his clients were after.
“I studied International Product Design at Central Saint Martins for four years, so I was designing accessories for Michiko Koshino way before I started sartorial design,” he says. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the institute of Savile Row, as I have learnt from the best and now have my own vision from looking through centuries of sartorial tradition. My values are all based around quality and comfort. I won’t compromise either for fashion.”
All established Soho tailors are defined by their own distinct vision, style and values. When starting up Newell Bespoke, David aspired to create an understated style: a quietly confident look with a kick of insolence. And declaring himself to be “in amore” with Italian tailoring, Newell singles out one notable talent that had a huge impact on his career: Soho’s own Raffaele Candilio. “He was a great influence on my take of Italian tailoring. He would show me how they worked back in Napoli and how jackets in particular are constructed in comparison to the English methods,” he explains. “We would have fruitful debates on which method was best. A lot of high voices and higher arm-waving – priceless!”
While Candilio preferred the softer Italian chic style, Newell sides with the more contemporary, structured British look. He has a good understanding of what it takes to successfully conduct a sartorial consultation, determining his clients’ needs and requirements – which he is able to skilfully interpret in order to achieve the desired suit. “There is no use in a beautifully crafted suit if it doesn’t fit right” Newell says. “You can have the best tailor in the world, but if the measurements aren’t correct, all you’ll end up with is a beautifully-made, ill-fitting suit – and what’s the point in that?”
Select clients of his include Formula One racing driver and 2015 World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, and American actor and songwriter, Jamie Foxx. Newell Bespoke operates from a small studio space on Dean Street, right in the centre of Soho, a place he shared with Candilio up until his death. Stooped in Neapolitan history, the studio is set within Candilio’s classical Italian tailor’s workshop. And Newell assures me that Soho will always run through the DNA of his brand. “Soho is the trunk of the brand. Although I strive to have many branches beyond Soho, this, in turn, will grow my roots stronger in Soho,” he says. “Newell Bespoke is passionate about making its world a smarter place, almost like a crusade, preaching the sartorial faith to the un-initiated.”
His rich source of inspiration, coupled with Italian sartorial influences, has enabled Newell to develop a multitude of styles and cuts in order to create the perfect look for all of his clients. From the traditions of Savile Row to the likes of fellow Soho tailor, Mark Powell, David has developed into a tailor that asks one question: “Does your suit speak for you?” His vision and his aim is to make sure the answer is always yes.