Book Review: Sharp Suits

Words by: Matt Clarke

eric-sharp-suitsWritten by veteran menswear journalist Eric Musgrave and featuring a brief but personal foreword from the beau of Savile Row, Richard James, Sharp Suits is a collection of eight separate essays on the suit; each housing a good number of well curated photos illustrating the different guises the man’s suit has taken over the years.

The essays (more like categories, really) include the double‐breasted and single-breasted suit as well as suits from various geographies (US, France, Italy) and a section on the suit in film. The reason I purchased this book, however, was for its image catalogue and I am pleased to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the variety, quality, and quantity of images within this book.

Images occupy about 60‐65% of the book’s pages and are printed on high‐quality paper in high resolution with fantastic colour reproduction. A good variety of styles and periods are represented with examples ranging from Edward VII’s lounge suit in 1864 to Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suit in Quantum of Solace 144 years on. Apparently, many of the images were sourced from the archives of the Woolmark company whose image database can be accessed without cost or registration here:

Whilst the majority of the photos are good some are truly remarkable. The greyscale photo of lanky Spanish nobleman, Don Jaime de Mesia Figueroa, in an elegant eightbuttoned double‐breasted suit in the late 60s as well as a portrait of an immaculately attired – and young! – Valentino Garavani are good examples thereof. Many of the photos will be new to the reader which is another boon whilst the captions are succinct and unfailingly helpful in drawing the reader’s eye to certain points of interest.

However, despite the generally pleasing choice of photos, there are some omissions and bones of contention. Despite having an entire section dedicated to Italian suits, the accompanying image catalogue felt decidedly lightweight and didn’t do justice to the region’s renowned contributions to menswear: I was astounded not to find a single photo of Gianni Agnelli – the quintessence of the stylish Italian – for example. It is quite understandable that space is limited and not all tastes may be sated but to forgo someone whose style is, even now, so widely appreciated to include gimmicky images of gauchely attired popstars or sportstars – P Diddy and Christiano Ronaldo being cases in point – seems an unhappy decision and one that jars with the otherwise elegant choice of photos.

The text accompanying the images is well‐written and a nice aside. It does good job of sketching a general history of the topic, starting from basics without seeming boring, contrived or patronizing. The style is journalistic rather than academic and one detects a slight overreliance on certain sources e.g. Hardy Amies but, in general, the text reads very well and Musgrave does a good job of engaging the reader by punctuating description with personal anecdotes such as the commissioning of his first ever ‘bespoke’ suit at Burtons; a pleasant digression which helps convey the personal touch in a book that was clearly a labour of love.

Overall this is an excellent book, written by an author who is unquestionably passionate and knowledgeable about the topic. The text is decent and the image catalogue superb. Well presented in hardback form this book represents superb value at under Ł12 including delivery from Amazon and would be an excellent addition to anyone’s bookshelves.