Oliver Brown is the place to go for maximalist tailoring (and top hats)
At Oliver Brown, first impressions can be misleading. Should you stumble across its smartly painted shop front on Lower Sloane Street, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’d come across one of that slightly tired breed of English gentlemen’s outfitters that make stifling tweeds, posh red corduroy trousers and little else.
True enough, you can rely on Oliver Brown to cater to all your traditional formalwear needs; whether morning dress for the races, black tie for a dinner party or sturdy tweeds to shoot in – but there’s a lot more to this uncharted menswear gem than that.
Take some time to explore the shop, and a couple of things will make themselves apparent. The first is that Oliver Brown has a genuine sense of fun running through its designs, and an enjoyably maximalist approach. Whether a handsome mid-grey morning suit with a shawl collar and turn-back cuffs (something I’ve never seen done before, but it really works), the largest collection of ready-to-wear velvet smoking jackets in London, or the endless rails of bright French blue blazers on show, this is an outfitter that likes to push the boat out.
This philosophy comes care of Oliver Brown’s owner, Kristian Ferner Robson, who saved the brand from liquidation in 1998, and who’s taken a great deal of pleasure in re-establishing it since. Thanks to Ferner Robson’s efforts, these days Oliver Brown’s reputation for society dressing is unparalleled; the company loans out over 2,000 morning suits across Royal Ascot week alone. The shop also houses the largest collection of antique Victorian top hats in the world – so you know where to visit for your wedding topper this summer.
One of Oliver Brown's antique Victorian top hats on parade
An elephant grey velvet smoking jacket – a swish choice
The indispensable blue three-piece lounge suit
The second thing you might clock is the curious Spanish flavour running through some of the shop’s products. Oliver Brown has a superb line in Teba jackets, for example – imported from a traditional Spanish maker. The Teba jacket, for those who might not be familiar with the term, is a lightly structured shirt-jacket with a boxy front, in-set sleeves, notch-less lapels and practical pockets on its front. It was created for King Alfonso XIII, who wanted an unstructured, but solid jacket to hunt in. The story goes that he was so fond of his tailor’s creation he started to gift replica jackets to his courtiers, one of which went to the damnably well-dressed Count Teba, Carlos Alfonso Mitjans y Fitz-James Stuart, (try saying that squiffy), and the name stuck. Today, Oliver Brown stocks a smart range of Tebas, in forest green, burgundy and navy cashmeres, tweeds and linens for summer. Treat them as an overshirt and layer over a simple T-shirt and lightweight chinos.
Venture into the store’s airy bespoke department, with its rails of basted jackets and substantial cutting table, and the source of this Spanish influence makes itself clear. Oliver Brown’s Head Cutter is the charming Juan Carlos Benito Jorge, a third generation tailor who trained under his father in Madrid, before moving to ply his trade in London. He is, for my money, one of the most underrated bespoke cutters in London today – both technically gifted and stylish.
He’s developed a house style for Oliver Brown that feels modern, elegant and that mixes British and Madrid-based design features. Traditionally, Spanish tailoring is light, airy and makes use of soft, rolling curves and lightly padded shoulders – quite like Milanese tailoring. These touches are evident in Juan Carlos’s open jacket quarters, curving lines and lofty, rolling sleeveheads. British jackets feature generously cut, masculine chests with plenty of structure for formal look, and square lapels – both of which Juan Carlos has worked into his own cut, too.
The results speak for themselves. Oliver Brown’s bespoke tailoring is superb, and whether you’re after something traditional, or a little more directional, Juan Carlos is the man for the job. Not that you won’t find half a dozen things to pick up from the ready-to-wear collection. Right now, the shop is stocking some sharp-looking suiting, plush moleskin trousers and some five-pocket needlecord jeans that I can’t get enough of – all in a range of confident colours.
The point I’m trying to get at is that Oliver Brown is far from your typical gentleman’s outfitter. Paying the shop a visit is an enjoyable, curiosity inducing experience, whether you’re after a three-piece suit or a pair of socks. Be sure to poke your nose in next time you’re in South West London.