Monday, June 18, 2012
Photos by Kerry Taylor Auctions
In his 1960 memoir A Family Album the Duke of Windsor, somewhat implausibly, claimed that he had never been obsessed with his wardrobe. “Let it not be assumed that clothes have ever been a fetish of mine. Rather, I have become, by force of circumstances and upbringing, clothes-conscious. My position as Prince of Wales dictated that I should always be well and suitably dressed for every conceivable occasion,” he wrote.
Although it was made in 1950 or 1951, some 14 or 15 years after he ceased to be Prince of Wales, this checked evening suit undermines the Duke’s argument. Who else but a menswear fetishist would select the MacDonald Lord of the Isles tartan for a three-piece suit – and then have it made with a double-breasted jacket? Only a clothes-conscious obsessive would request covered buttons and a flamboyant Edwardian-style cuff, which has a curved turn-back of a fulsome two and a half inches to accommodate the four cuff buttons.
This suit was a popular one with the former Prince Edward, who held the title of Lord of the Isles as the eldest son of the British monarch (George V in his case). The Duke sometimes substituted the checked backless waistcoat with a similar item in green corduroy, which is hardly a common cloth choice for an evening ensemble.
The suit jacket was made by Scholte of London, while the trousers, with zipped fly, were tailored by Harris of New York. The matching waistcoat was made by Hawes and Curtis, as were the two pique waistcoats. Scholte made the green corduroy version. Who else but a menswear obsessive would involve three tailors on different sides of the Atlantic for an outfit?
In the 1998 auction of the Duke’s wardrobe at Sotheby’s in New York, this four-piece ensemble, plus a couple of white pique highland-style dress waistcoats, sold to an anonymous buyer for $4,887 (the equivalent today would be $6,884 or £4,438). It is under the hammer again on June 26 in the latest auction organised in London by vintage fashion specialist Kerry Taylor, who coincidentally handled the 1998 sale when she worked at Sotheby’s.
The estimate this time for the suit, which has a 38in chest and a 29in waist, is £8,000-£12,000 (about $12,400-$18,600), which suggests that the allure of the Duke, who died in 1972 shortly before his 78th birthday, is only getting stronger.
Frustratingly, there seems to be no record of the mill that provided the MacDonald Lord of the Isles tartan. In the 1998 auction an aluminium box of about 75 swatches of the Duke’s suits, including evening suits and Highland dress, and 14 overcoat cloths, was unsold. Its whereabouts today are unknown to me. The cloth is widely available today from firms like D C Dalgleish of Selkirk (“The world's last specialist mill weaving only authentic traditional quality tartans”) and Strathmore Woollen Company in Forfar (“One of Scotland’s most renowned suppliers of authentic tartan fabric and manufacturers of superior quality traditional Highland wear”).
The title of Lord of the Isles is now held by Prince Charles. I am not expecting him to be seen in a suit like his great-uncle David’s anytime soon.
Posted by Will at 6:48 AM