Interview & Portraits Kirk Truman
“Dressing well shouldn’t be elitist. It should be accessible to all…”
James Jonathan Turner was born and bred in the capital; he’s that rare thing – a genuine Londoner. When we meet, he’s impeccably dressed, as ever, just as you’d expect from a gentleman whose knowledge of men’s style is second to none. His distinctive approach to clothing feels like something elegantly plucked from a previous century –and his care and attention to detail is what shines through in his has work as a tailor and designer. As we sit by the canal in the blazing early autumn sun, before taking a walk towards Islington, we talk clothes and style, inspirations from the past and aspirations for the future.
You’re a Londoner – tell me about your upbringing in the capital.
I’m was born and raised in the East End. We lived in Poplar, Bethnal Green for a while, and then Hackney. Generally, when I was growing up, in a certain class, people wanted to groom and present themselves in the best way that they could do. Kids were dressing preppy. I guess the music was different back then too in the 1990s. Given the musical influences at the time, there was more emphasis on tailored clothes and generally dressing the part.
What did clothes mean to you growing up, and how did they define you?
Clothes were important to any working class youngster. I remember if my tie wasn’t tied properly, or my shirt wasn’t perfect, my mum would give me a clip around the back of my head. I didn’t want to look the way I felt. When I was growing up, kids respected aesthetics much more and valued it. You always made a real effort to not look like where you were from. Today, I’m confused. I sometimes feel like young kids consider it a badge of honour to dress as scruffy as possible.
How important was London to the way you saw the world?
London has always been everything to me – still is. It’s the centre of my life. It’s changed in a way that you can’t deny. It’s evolved, it’s advanced, and moulded itself to each era. It’s my home and it’s where I’ve learnt my trade.
How did you come to work as a tailor?
Tailoring, for me, was an amalgamation of a lot of things coming together. I’m a traveling tailor. Initially it was music, especially jazz, that influenced me. Secondly, it was cinematography and a string of film references. Figures such as Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart really made an impression on me. I loved their look, their style – everything. I mean, how couldn’t you? I suppose you could call it elegant masculinity. I knew that it was clothes I wanted to get into. I guess I just didn’t know which route I’d take.
How would you describe your own style? What are your personal influences?
My style? Ivy. Jazz. Classic. It’s a mixture of things. As I said, classic Hollywood and jazz influenced me, but also the music of the 1990s when I was growing up. In terms of the modern brands I gravitate towards – and I don’t say this just because I work for them, but because I truly believe it – Private White VC is one of the best menswear labels on the market today. Everything they produce is made in Britain. It’s minimalist and stripped back. They produce clothing for the modern man, which is made to last.
When you piece together an outfit, what does it say about you?
I’m a big believer in dressing appropriately. Today I’m wearing a suit, because I knew it would be right for our meeting. I think style is style, but you have to make a certain amount of effort. I don’t like to make statements with my clothes; I like clothes to speak for themselves.
Which parts of Central London resonate with you the most and why?
Jermyn Street, in Mayfair, and Soho have always felt important to me. Soho and Mayfair have both changed so much, but they still remain quintessentially London. Central London has evolved and grown, and somehow kept some of its defining characteristics; it’s lost some, too, but it’s retained its spirit.
Tell me about your earliest memories of the area.
Coming into the centre of town always felt like a big day trip when I was young. It was always a big day out. We’d pass through parts of Soho, down towards Drury Lane. It felt like a million miles away from the East End, and always made an impression on me as a place I wanted to be.
What are your aspirations for the future?
I want to be bold: I intend to grow what I’ve learned as a tailor and launch my own brand. I suppose I like the idea of starting something that is available to everybody. I believe that right now there is a real gap in the market for mid-century-style tailoring. Dressing well shouldn’t be elitist. It should be accessible to all; and that, for me, means producing ready-to-wear garments and not just limiting myself to made-to-measure and bespoke.