Smart moves

Smart moves

Investing in your wardrobe is just as important as any other business decision, asserts the designer retailer Julian Blades. He offers Brian Nicholls some sartorial tips.

Julian Blades wears his philosophy on his sleeve - in his whole attire for that matter. He practises what he preaches; that in a well-tailored suit you stand differently, your posture is immediately noticed.

And with a thoughtful choice of accessories you will be wearing not just something to do the job, but something which makes you stand out in the crowd.

When we meet, he cuts a stylish and elegant figure in his suit of subtle brown tones teamed with blue shirt, pink and blue tie and purple dress handkerchief.

It perfectly suits the co-owner (with his similarly impeccably attired wife Rhona) of Jules B, the business that has won, more than once in its 24 years, Best UK Independent Retailer.

While some retailers and tailors have been victims of switched tastes and the dress down trend, Julian Blades and the 80 staff who run the company’s eight men’s and women’s designer stores in Newcastle, Yarm and Kendal continue to thrive, eschewing any concession to lower standards of appearance.

Moreover, he believes his reason will begin to prevail, particularly and paradoxically, at a time when we are otherwise tempted to cut back our spending. Certainly, stepping inside a Jules B store in these drab times is invigorating; all bright lights and cheery hellos.

When recession does begin to lift, he predicts, there will be a scramble for jobs again, and a battle for contract wins to hoist turnovers and profits back onto upward curves.

He believes it is the people who have paid greatest attention to their appearance who will receive letters of appointment and confirmations of orders.

“This is something I feel very strongly about,” he says.“Clothes are not a luxury; they are a tool, and no more so than at work, where they are as effective as any other important piece of the business.

A poorly dressed business person can give an impression, rightly or wrongly, that he or she lacks self esteem. “It’s an old saying, but true: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. A good appearance can also raise self esteem.

First impressions count, and whether it’s a job or an order you’re going after, you are presenting yourself, so you need to be dressed well and appropriately co-ordinated, wearing a properly tied tie, a pocket handkerchief neatly folded, and a smart, but not necessarily expensive suit.

That way, you are sending a message: “I’m well organised, disciplined.” Julian claims the confidence of a solid clientele which includes most of the leading business people of the North East, who are appreciative of the advice and service his business offers.

“They know how important it is on entering a boardroom that you can convey your confidence and position through the effect of a good appearance.

“You will feel good, so you perform well. And, well attired, you also put yourself across better.There is no more important a time than now to start achieving this effect. Competition you face, whether for a new job or a new contract, will be tougher than it was before.” He speaks from a family background of more than 100 years in tailoring.

“Tailoring in our family goes back to my great-great grandfather. It is bred in me. All my life I have been surrounded by people who advocate this sort of thing,” he explains.

“I enjoy my identity and reflect it in my own clothes. It is not just that I feel better for this, but that it enables me to express my personal preferences in, say, the style, the lining, and even the stitching of my suits.” It is not out and out sales talk.

While the Jesmond, Newcastle Jules B menswear department boasts abundant evidence of designer names on its shelves, Julian is cautious against being a slave to branding.

Nor is he fazed by the wide abandonment of ties in business circles. “Not every situation requires a tie,” he says, but even the tie-less need rules. “The crown on the shirt must be deep, so that the collar stands proud and will not collapse.

Neck shapes are also an important consideration to bear in mind when you choose to wear a shirt without a tie.” Leading international designers are represented in the premises because Julian and Rhona buy for individual merits in style, quality and value for money; not simply because of the designer labels attached.

“Brand obsession is for people who feel slightly insecure,” he suggests. “You need to show your own personality in what you wear. Be innovative. Be individual. Our customers, I must say, are self-assured.” The person lacking confidence who steps into a room, head drooped and wearing a drab suit, is immediately disadvantaged. Too many Brits, in his view, betray themselves to strangers by falling into this trap.

”If you can’t dress deftly and walk deftly you are not going to stand out. I travel a lot. It’s amazing how often you can pick out the English among airport passengers abroad. I look at their appearance, and if I were a foreigner I would not wish to entertain them in business. They should be reflecting pride in themselves, in their business and in their country They may think appearance is trivial, but it can give them the advantage over their rivals.

“Concentrate on what works best for you in style and look. Don’t be a victim of fashion. Many young people, even those who are brand conscious, don’t necessarily dress well. Choose what suits you. You must feel comfortable in what you are wearing.”

Preferences need to be decided, of course, such as whether jackets should be two or three buttons and with or without side vents.

“We attract the type of customer who is interested in achieving what is right for them. We have guided many of them into realising what for them will create instant effect.”

There are important considerations besides button numbers and the presence or otherwise of vents. A person of pale complexion, for example, needs to avoid light cream shirts if they are to avoid looking ill; better a smart blue shirt for them.

“People with healthy complexions can look even better in a grey suit. Any shirt, regardless of colour however, must be spotless, well pressed. A dress handkerchief properly folded in the breast pocket and tasteful cufflinks and tie pin can add nuances of the pride and care you should be striving for.” Julian says it is up to the tailor or retailer to offer guidance.

He explains: “It is our job in that respect to read a person’s psychology before we offer what may amount to education about what they wear.

“For example, it helps us to know in what circumstances the suit will be worn. If the customer’s job takes him on regular flights abroad we shall look at high performance fabrics, and judge the weight of the cloth by the climate of countries he is most likely to frequent.

I would say 99.9% of our customers accept our recommendations.” If ready-made is the preference, a Boss suit might be recommended initially, with recommendations leading later to Armani and on to Pal Zileri class, which Julian considers the Aston Martin of menswear.

Off the peg, the ranges are priced between £450 and £1,500.  Made to measure will be £595 up to, well, the sky’s the limit.

Made-to-measure suit orders alone reap the business more than £1m a year.

That a whole tier of sharp dressers exists in the North East is borne out further by Pal Zileri’s despatch of a tailor from Venice to Jules B customers twice a year for three days, during which time the visiting craftsman has appointments every half hour with customers who appreciate the benefits of a superbly cut suit.

These customers gather in Newcastle from as far as Glasgow and Aberdeen. One of them, an oilman, whirls down from Aberdeen by helicopter. The service has been provided for 10 years now.

“We are their bigges tcustomer worldwide in receipt of this service.” Julian states casually.

Being smart is fine, but what does he relax in? “Living in the country, often an old sports jacket. It’s one my father [the tailor John Blades] made for me. I designed it with him.” He wears jeans too.

He notices the raised eyebrow and adds: “Everything is acceptable if you know how to wear it.” He admits to a fondness for a moth-holed old V-neck cashmere pullover.

“I’ve been hunting hard a long time but never have found that moth, and it always seems to get into something,” he laughs. He recommends a twice yearly visit to the tailor, once for winter wear and once for the summer wardrobe.

“Many people don’t realise their clothes should differ in these two phases of the year. And don’t skimp. You need a budget in planning your wardrobe because, remember, you are going to invest rather than purchase.”

It can be a tall order if you match up an Armani shirt, Ascot tie, Oliver Sweeney shoes, Jeffery West belt and a pair of Falke cashmere socks. Expect little if any change from £550. Then comes the suit.

But of course that is the cart before the horse. You need the suit first and the co-ordinates from there. For that outlay you can definitely expect to perform better, Julian maintains.

“You will be looking at something appropriate and serving you well, like a good computer because, like a good computer, it will step up your performance.

Important little tricks of the trade can help you make what could be an important impression.” And if you prefer to talk hard cash, look at it this way; the new job you are going after pays more than you’re on now.

If you gamble £1,000 on looking smart enough to clinch it, and the gamble pays off, then you’re going to be in pocket. It’s simple maths really, plus a little flutter and a burst of self-confidence.  And there we are, back to Julian’s philosophy.