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Mencyclopaedia: Henry Poole & Co

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Winston Churchill wearing Henry Poole & Co

Winston Churchill wearing Henry Poole & Co Photo: REX

Last week in its wood-panelled shop at 15 Savile Row, Henry Poole threw open its doors later than usual to toast the imminent opening of an exhibition dedicated to its history at The Bowes Museum. And thanks to the speeches of Angus Cundy (the man in charge at Poole), and James Sherwood (its archivist) the audience received a crash-course in one of the most influential stories in menswear.

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Angus Cundy: “Henry Poole moved to London to make his fortune and in 1806, opened a showroom in Bloomsbury and became a military tailor. He became busy making uniforms for the Napoleonic Wars and in 1828 purchased 4 and 5 Old Burlington Street. On his death in 1846 his son, also Henry, turned the company round by making the back entrance – then a stable block in Savile Row – the main entrance. The then residents of the row, mainly doctors and surgeons, were horrified and promptly moved to Harley Street. Also in 1846, Henry befriended Prince Louis Bonaparte, nephew of the former emperor Napoleon and exiled from France living in London’s St James’s Street. In 1852, Prince Louis became Emperor Napoleon III, and gave Henry Poole its first royal warrant in 1858.

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“The client who gave the company the most fame was the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. He came to us in 1860, gave us our second royal warrant in 1863 and in 1865, together with Henry Poole, he designed a new dining suit to be worn at Sandringham. A short silk smoking jacket, and crucially with trousers to match, it was for informal dinners.

“Subsequently, we made these short evening coats for a customer who lived in Tuxedo Park, and thus a dining suit in the States is known as a tuxedo or even a tux. We have a total of 40 royal warrants, which we are told is more than any company in the world.”

Satisfied customers: Bernard Montgomery and Napoleon III PHOTO: REX/PEPPERFOTO/GETTY

James Sherwood: “Henry Poole made Mr Selfridge look like an amateur. Before he’d even inherited the company Henry understood the power of product placement and celebrity endorsement. His first celebrated customer was jockey Jem Mason, the Frankie Dettori of his day, who won the first Grand National in 1839 on a horse called Lottery. Henry befriended Jem Mason and as the company history records wherever he went Jem was kitted out in the best Poole could provide; other young sporting men followed, buying their clothes from Henry Poole.

Lessons from the stylish: Tabitha Simmons

“I’ll give you one more example of how Henry Poole coped with who’s who in the 19th and 20th centuries: in 1897, Colonel William Cody as Buffalo Bill, bought his Wild West show to London and performed in the presence of Queen Victoria to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. Thanks to her friendship with Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, Queen Victoria agreed to be the godmother to their eldest son, the Prince Imperial. The Prince Imperial was murdered by Zulu tribesmen in 1879. The prime minister who led Britain into the Anglo-Zulu war was Benjamin Disraeli, who immortalised Henry Poole as the most fashionable tailor in London in his 1880 novel Endymion. Disraeli supported Britain’s participation in the Crimean War in which the seventh Earl of Cardigan led the charge of the Light Brigade wearing a tunic tailored by Poole’s. When Cardigan died, his widow, Countess Adeline, proposed marriage to Disraeli but he declined. One of Disraeli’s chief political opponents was the ninth Duke of Devonshire, who was the celebrated courtesan Catherine “Skittles” Walters’s most enduring conquest. Skittles owed her fame to Poole’s tailoring skin-tight riding habits that she wore without underclothes, as she rode in Rotten Road flouting her business. Her other conquests included Napoleon III and the Prince of Wales. Poole’s has dressed emperors, kings, prime ministers, tycoons, heroes and not a few villains.”

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