polo accessories How Prince Charles has always been king of wardrobe recycling
Prince Charles was photographed this week wearing a pair of shoes that were quite clearly older than his children.
Older than his classic Aston Martin, probably. But far from being embarrassing to the detail obsessed Prince, the decrepit age of the fogeyish, wilfully unfashionable lace ups and their cracked hardiness will have tickled him something rotten.
Charles practically invented eccentric, ‘stealth wealth’ dressing. The David Beckhams of this world might be slaves to fashion, splurging their money on designer label kit, showy accessories and overpriced, faddish tat.
But even before the credit crunch kicked in, Charles was flying the flag for good quality, beautifully handcrafted ‘investment pieces’.
Clothes that never went out of fashion because they were never in fashion. Clothes that are over and above fashion and which he is thus happy to wear for decades on end, repairing them as and when necessary.
His suits are unmodishly double breasted. His dinner jacket is cut like a slouchy cardigan. His ties are almost comically narrow and tightly knotted. His morning suit is a slightly gauche, grey on grey, called a ‘pick and pick’ fabric; the lapels of his waistcoat are accessorised with dandy ish, white ‘slips’ or ‘demis’, which attach to the inside of the garment with buttons.
‘Charles loves his details,’ his friend Nicky Haslam once told me. voted him World’s Best Dressed Man, beating off competition from the likes of President Obama.
‘The brilliant thing about Prince Charles is the way he never follows any trends, but still manages to look so stylish,’ says Jeremy Hackett, of the men’s outfitters Hackett.
‘He wore double breasted suits when everyone else had switched to single. It was a brave, if unconscious move, but one that paid off because now he’s made that double breasted style his own.’
‘Charles is the ultimate town and country man,’ says Dylan Jones, editor of British magazine GQ.
‘He looks effortlessly stylish whether he’s deerstalking in the Scottish Highlands or attending a black tie dinner in London.
‘Look at his ties. Charles was doing a skinny neck tie for years before Pete Doherty caught on. Oh, and no one puts their hands in their jacket pockets with quite the same casual insouciance as our future King does.’
And few men like to shop with quite the same narcissistic vigour as Charles, either.
Take those old shoes he wore to walk around Hereford Cathedral this week. They cost around 2,
500 and were made for him by Lobb of St James’s not, as many sartorial commentators have noted, by John Lobb, Bootmaker of Jermyn Street.
There is a subtle, but crucial difference. John Lobb, Bootmaker is a Paris based, Hermes owned footwear brand that has branches all over the place. They charge a mere 400 per pair.
Lobb, on the other hand, is a bespoke only operation in the quiet end of St James’s.
This outfitter has made footwear for Aristotle Onassis, Roald Dahl, Cole Porter, Lord Olivier, Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath.
To make a pair of shoes is a lovingly laborious process involving a hand made wooden last, eight pieces of leather and expert stitching techniques. You don’t throw a pair of Lobb shoes out because they get old.
You keep them, cherish them, have them mended, feed them with finest saddle soap and then get buried in them.
Charles clearly loves wearing clothes with provenance, with a bit of a story to tell.
When Donatella Versace fingered his dinner suit lapel at a 2001 party at Waddesdon Manor the magnificent stately home in Buckinghamshire once owned by the Rothschilds and joked that she hoped it was a Versace design, Charles was delighted to inform the Italian fashion doyenne that it was actually made for him by Savile Row’s Anderson Sheppard and was at least 20 years old.
A confidante of Charles once told me that one of his tweed coats belonged to George VI. Crikey! The royal moth balls must be Chernobyl strength.
But when Charles is not rummaging around Buckingham Palace’s dressing up box, searching for more regal vintage gear to recycle for himself, where does he shop for new stuff?
The list of Royal Warrants includes Asprey as the royal jewellers; the Savile Row tailor Gieves Hawkes; Austin Reed and Burberry for casual clothes; outdoor gear from Barbour; the Scotch House for knitwear, and Loakes for (more) shoes.