12/06/2024
Norwich, GB 14 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

EDWARD SEXTON, aged 80

THE WIZARD OF THE SCISSORS

Born into a poor family in Dagenham, his father William was a public health inspector and his mother, Isabelle Pitt, was a cleaner at the BBC. Edward was one of 6 children. He grew up in Elephant and Castle and had a strong cockney accent.

He attended the English Martyr’s School, Southwark. His extended family were active in the clothing trade with many of them being tailors or seamstresses.

Edward’s first Saturday job when he was just 12, was working in his uncle’s tailoring shop. He was enraptured by the current popular style of the ‘Teddy Boys’.

Teddy Boys (courtesy WordPress.com)

When he left school, his father told him to get a trade – “There will always be work for people with practical skills”.

His very first full-time job was as a waiter at the Waldorf Hotel. There, he saw, and got a taste for the high life.

He then went to work for Lew Rose, a suit manufacturing business. It was here that Edward did his training – in all aspects of the tailoring business.

Next, Edward did an apprenticeship with Jerry Vanderstine, a coatmaker, employed by Harry Hall, a specialist equestrian tailor based on Regent Street.

Edward so impressed his bosses that he was quickly moved to Harry Hall’s as an assistant cutter and trimmer.

Next stop was celebrity tailor Cyril A. Castle, where he was given his first position of responsibility. Whilst working there in the daytime, he was also taking an evening course in pattern cutting at Barrett Street Technical College (later to become part of the London College of Fashion).

Then, it was to the military tailor, Welsh and Jeffries. Edward was constantly going to Sandhurst Military College to fit officers for their uniforms.

Asked why he moved from company to company, Edward said, “I figured if you’re going to be a good jockey, you’d better have the best stables”.

Then he worked for ‘Donaldson, Williams and Ward’ on Savile Row. He found Savile Row, the centre of the London fashion trade, “staid and boring”.

One of the salesmen there was Tommy Nutter, and the two became good friends. They used to go for a pint after work and both felt their jobs were not challenging them – so they decided to go it on their own.

Tommy was a stylishly dressed socialite, with quite a few connections. He managed to get some financial backing from Cilla Black and her husband and manager Bobby Wills, and The Beatles’ manager, Peter Brown.

They opened their own shop, ‘Nutters’, at 35 Savile Row, on Valentine’s Day in 1969. Immediately, it was a contrast to all the other tailors on the street. It had windows where you could see inside, and mannequins displaying their clothes. The other shops were all without windows, heavy oak doors and customers were by appointment only – a bit like gentlemen’s clubs. At Nutters, anybody could walk in.

Inside, there were Bauhaus chairs with clothes draped over them and there were champagne bottles everywhere.

The clothes were more trendy and fashionable as well, reflecting ‘swinging’ London. Tommy was front of house, whilst Edward did the tailoring behind the scenes. They added glamour and colour to Savile Row. The shop had art deco wooden panelling, chocolate-coloured carpets and all the walls were mirrored. Their window displays were dramatic and often surreal – and would attract people from other shops on the street.

The Beatles asked him to create clothes for them. On the famous cover of the ‘Abbey Road’ LP, three of the Beatles are wearing his designs as they walk across the zebra crossing – George is the exception.

In 1969, he designed John Lennon’s suit for his marriage to Yoko Ono in Gibraltar.

Over 1,000 suits were sold in the first year at Nutters. The Daily Mail proclaimed it, “a whiz-bang success”.

Edward also designed Mick Jagger’s white wedding suit for his marriage to Bianca Perez-Mora Macias, in St Tropez in May 1971. Bianca’s favourite designer was Yves St. Laurent, but she was so impressed with Edward’s work that she moved her custom to him soon after the wedding.

The stars flocked to Edward’s shop. They included David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Marie Helvin, Twiggy, Joan Collins, David Bowie, Hardy Amies, Roger Moore, Peter Sellers, Bernie Ecclestone, Yoko Ono – and regular customers, the former Beatles.

Captains of industry such as Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch (and many others) wore his suits throughout the 1970s.

Edward earned the nickname ‘The Wizard of the Scissors’. He used to say, “When people wear a suit, apart from looking better, they feel better.”

Elton John was a regular customer and would order hundreds of suits at once. His manager, John Reid, said, “You’d write the whole day off. Maybe you’d have lunch there and a couple of bottles of champagne”.

Customers were attracted by the constant sharp verbal interchanges (‘banter’), based on cockney rhyming slang. They had pet names for each other. Tommy Nutter was called ‘Pamela’ and Edward was ‘Roxanne’. Customers assumed they were gay. Tommy was – but Edward wasn’t.

Unbeknown to his customers, Edward was married – to Joan Carter, and they had 3 children; Angela, Paul and Philip.

Edward and Joan (courtesy Permanent Style)

But Tommy and Edward grew apart (due to Tommy’s chaotic lifestyle and disorganized nature – Edward was extremely precise and organised) and they decided to dissolve the partnership in 1982.

Edward moved into the shop right next door to Nutters on Savile Row. Without Edward’s creative contribution, Nutters became a ‘ready-to-wear’ shop.

Nutters finally shut in 1990, and Tommy died of AIDS, in 1992, aged just 49.

Meanwhile, Edward left Savile Row, and moved to Knightsbridge. There he created an appointment-only establishment but catered for both men and women. He created what became known as the ‘Sexton Look’. He found working with men more of a challenge – “Men could not express themselves”.

He worked closely with couturier Caroline Charles and with designer Bruce Oldfield.

Whenever First Lady, Nancy Reagan, was in England, she insisted on visiting Edward’s shop.

But it wasn’t long before he came back to Savile Row. “Once Savile Row is in your blood, it’s in your blood”.

And he began to get more work abroad. Edward worked with a firm in San Francisco who created outfits for the film industry. In particular, he dressed Farah Fawcett in the film ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’.

He also opened a shop on 5th Avenue, New York.

Back in England, he was still Paul McCartney’s tailor. He agreed to take on Paul’s daughter Stella as an apprentice – and taught her everything he knew.

For her graduate show, Edward recruited Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Yasmin LeBon as her models. The show made front page news.

He also had Bernie Ecclestone’s daughter, Petra, as an apprentice.

In later years, when Stella McCartney became Creative director at Chloe (replacing Karl Lagerfeld) she used Edward as a consultant.

Still the stars flocked to Edward – Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox (who was well-known for her style) and Tinie Tempah, amongst others. Mark Ronson asked for his wedding suit to be designed along similar lines to Mick Jagger’s suit from 1971.

Edward was popular because he moved with the times. He was a bubbly, cheeky chappie who was passionate about his craft. “I love what I do. I have this passion for it. I love being in the workroom. I love a challenge. I don’t make suits, I build them, stage-by-stage”.

In later years, he designed  suits for Harry Styles’ World Tour in 2017. Styles ordered 7 suits from him. He also designed Rick Astley’s outfit for his Glastonbury appearance in 2023.

His final major job was to design Jarvis Cocker’s outfits for the Pulp reunion Tour 2023.

Pulp Reunion Tour – Jarvis in a Sexton suit (courtesy cult following)

His final apprentice was his own grandson. He was proud of this – the chance to keep a family tradition going.

In an interview, he reflected on his time working with Tommy Nutter. “No-one wanted to be a legend. It was just two young fellas working hard, believing in what they did”.

He also said, “I don’t think I’ve ‘worked’ a day in my life, because it’s been such a joy…It’s not a job, it’s a passion”.

In his very last interview, Edward said, “You’re only as good as your last suit.” He was always willing to rip up his work if it wasn’t perfect – “a mixture of creation and destruction”, a close friend said.

Unbeknown to Edward, his last suit was fitted just 2 weeks before he died. The customer called it, ‘a work of perfection’. He was devastated to learn of Edward’s unexpected death.

Then tributes flooded in. Stella McCartney said, “Edward was a true talent and one of the few, true pattern-cutting Savile Row creatives who had a business in craft and technical ability. So few have ever had it. Sadly, it’s a dying trade”.

She added, “My years spent as an apprentice to Edward were some of the most memorable and valuable in my career”.

He was described as, “a man who dressed icons”.

RIP – (The) Row’s Impressive Pattern-cutter

Previous Article

RALPH EHRMANN, aged 97

Next Article

JOHAAR MOSOVAL, aged 95

You might be interested in …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *