Female model wearing tailored suit
Model wearing tailored suit and shirt

Nigel Curtiss’s brand is expanding into suits for women (modelled here by the designer’s daughter Aiden), luxury leather goods and less formal wear for men

Close up portrait of a woman with black hair and a black top

Gauhar Kapparova

Nigel Curtiss makes suits for A-listers, with cuts and fabrics that fuse the wearer’s own personal style with a timeless elegance. LUX’s Editor-at-Large, Gauhar Kapparova hears how he moved from being a model into design, about his time in Japan, and what makes the perfect Curtiss capsule wardrobe
Portrait of a man in a suit

Nigel Curtiss

LUX: Why have you chosen to move entirely into custom design now?
Nigel Curtiss: I moved into custom design for many reasons. Firstly, for a pragmatic one, being a small luxury-level designer selling to retail was not fun anymore. Many stores, especially independent ones, were struggling and the problems were passed down the line. Secondly, I was becoming weary of the system, the cost of a show, the samples, a showroom, fighting for space on a shop floor, and most importantly my collection not being bought and displayed as I imagined it. I felt increasingly detached from the end user. In a way, I felt comfortable going in the opposite direction of fast fashion. Slowing it down, making it more personal.

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LUX: You’ve said that you don’t design just clothes but an identity. Do you mean the client’s identity?
Nigel Curtiss: I feel that in modern-day fashion you end up wearing the personality of the designer. In many cases you are shouting that from the rooftops by wearing their logo. It is not so much about the personality of the wearer but being part of a tribe. My clients generally prefer to show their own personality. I work closely with them to understand what makes them tick. The clothes need to complement the person, not take over. There is an underlying theme in what I do – amazing fabrics, lightweight construction, comfort and perfect fit. The client gives me the clues to do the rest.

LUX: Do you notice a style divide between your clients in the US and the UK? Does your design approach change accordingly?
Nigel Curtiss: No, I don’t. Maybe because the clients who want to work with me have the same desires and all demand the best. The only location-specific changes are due to climate. Clients in Miami can’t wear what I sell in NYC in the winter.

LUX: Clean, uncomplicated lines are a signature part of the Nigel Curtiss look. Do your clients inspire you to add design touches that tap into their personal tastes or lifestyle?
Nigel Curtiss: Absolutely, that happens all the time. Quite often, when I understand that they have a more expressive personality, I will suggest some details that will make the difference without taking over the garment.

Detail image of man's hand in pocket of tartan trousers

LUX: You began an almost decade-long tenure working at Comme des Garçons after first being cast as a model for them. How did you make this transition?
Nigel Curtiss: I guest lecture at Parsons School of Design and get asked this question a lot! I always say that I think I’ve had a lot of luck in my career, but that I made my own luck. I modelled in the first CDG show in Paris. They didn’t use models, compliments”, or “My wife says I look great/sexy in this”. That’s when we know we’ve cracked it.

LUX: Made-to-measure tailoring that doesn’t date taps into the idea of slow fashion. How sustainable is your business?
Nigel Curtiss: Sustainability is becoming so important. Made to measure is already a far more sustainable fashion option. We have no dead stock, in fact no stock and no landfill. What we do isn’t a passing fad. My clients wear what I make them for years until it’s worn out, and that’s a long time. Also, we try to limit our carbon footprint and are looking at biodegradable packaging, recycled hangers, and so on.

Read more: Fine dining on the ski slopes of Andermatt, Switzerland

LUX: Quality fabric is a cornerstone of your design ethos. Who makes the best fabrics?
Nigel Curtiss: There are so many great sources of fabric. English wools; Italian wools, shirting and silks. I love Japanese fabrics, too. But for me, it has to be amazing quality, beautifully designed and close to my manufacturing base. I’m not going to ship fabric half-way around the world.

LUX: Has a particular fabric ever inspired a design, rather than vice versa?
Nigel Curtiss: For me, the fabric is always the starting point. I don’t design first then look for a fabric.

LUX: If you could ban one item of men’s clothing, what would it be?
Nigel Curtiss: This is one of those questions that always comes back to haunt you. I can’t think of anything I hate except anything that’s boring. Oh, and fast, disposable fashion.

LUX: What five pieces make up the perfect Nigel Curtiss capsule wardrobe?
Nigel Curtiss: Only five? That’s going to be tough. Charcoal-grey suit. Navy sports coat (you can wear it with the charcoal pants). Perfect slim, dark denim jeans (you can wear them with both jackets). The perfect white shirt, and a pale blue one (if that doesn’t count as my fifth item). The Nigel Curtiss navy polo shirt. It’s my classic and all my clients buy it. The collar stands up just perfectly to wear with a jacket or without. I have some high-profile clients who wear them with a suit on a daily basis. That’s six or seven outfits!

Read more: Artist Richard Orlinski on pop culture & creative freedom

LUX: You have a great celebrity following, with Kyle MacLachlan, David Schwimmer, Pierce Brosnan, Jeff Goldblum, and so on. Is it different designing for the red carpet?
Nigel Curtiss: The vast majority of my red-carpet attendees are the powerful men behind the scenes – the studio heads and the top executives. They are happy to be more low profile. I’m always very happy to work with any celebrities and dress them so they stand out in the most positive way. It shouldn’t be about the clothes.

Two leather bags stacked on top of each otherLUX: You also dress a lot of high-profile athletes and sportsmen. Do you take a different approach to designing their clothes?
Nigel Curtiss: We try to use more performance fabrics, with natural-stretch, cool, lightweight fabrics. We might need to work more on the silhouette, but the concept stays the same.

LUX: Who will you be dressing for the 2020 awards season?
Nigel Curtiss: Well, we are already working with a few but I’m not at liberty to say anything yet. Also, you really don’t know until the day.

LUX: What is the first thing you notice about a good suit?
Nigel Curtiss: The balance. The fit can be altered for a client but if the balance is off, then it will never be right. But I can’t think of a design detail that I would look at and say it’s ruined the suit. I’m happy to look at creativity in context.

LUX: Are there rules for dressing well or is this an outdated concept?
Nigel Curtiss: Being British, we were brought up with so many rules. For dressing, for how to eat, the list goes on. Working with Rei encouraged me to re-evaluate those rules. I don’t like them. However, I think that if you are unsure about how to dress, then rules can help you feel better about what you are wearing. Some of my clients need to start in that place and then we edge them towards being confident in what they are wearing. Compliments help a lot!

LUX: What is next on the horizon for the Nigel Curtiss brand?
Nigel Curtiss: A proper, luxury Nigel Curtiss women’s tailoring brand is very close. Watch this space.

View the collections: nigelcurtiss.com

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue.

Reading time: 6 min
Heir to the tailoring dynasty, Luca Rubinacci is a regular on blogs around the world

Heir to the tailoring dynasty, Luca Rubinacci is a regular on blogs around the world

Our columnist is renowned as one of the world’s most inspiring dandies; and he says wintertime can combine flair with practicality, whether your February is spent in Mayfair, Moscow or Manila


To be unique, you don’t have to be fashionable; you just have to build your own style. It is your profile, your message to the world. It isn’t about wearing the most glamorous clothing, it is about making your own mark and you shouldn’t be afraid of asking for inspiration if you need it.

In winter, heavy cloths, unlined, are always a good bet. Colours appear much warmer because the materials – cashmere, wool and heavy tweeds – give a deeper tone.

Pick your colour palette carefully. Black and brown are a very gentlemanly combination look at these guys. Red, green and mustard yellow worn during the day give a rural impression. Colour will almost always make you feel a little happier. I tend to prefer darker colours in the winter for the city, but lighter colours do look good when skiing. It brings a countryside ambience to the slopes.

With 45 tailors in the studio, Rubinacci is arguably the largest handmade tailor company in Europe

With 45 tailors in the studio, Rubinacci is arguably the largest handmade tailor company in Europe

I have recently created ‘Dandy Pashminas’. Closed, you just see a dash of colour, but when you open them up you see a cartoon of ‘La Toilette du Dandy’, an image I discovered in a vintage book of my father’s from the thirties. It captures the dandies as they are primping and preparing. Only you know what’s inside your scarf, it’s your secret. I like to parody fashion, which is why I created the ‘Happy Skull’ pashminas, a play on the reams of skull motifs that emerge from designers’ studios. We don’t use characters like Superman; we are tailors, not a fashion brand.

Winter shoes can be difficult. This season, I was inspired by Knickerbocker shoes, but tried to create something warm. The shoes have a formal shape, so I used tweeds in grey, green and brown, with a splash of colour on the inside. They have a thicker sole than our winter shoes and double canvas to protect from the rain. They are not boots. They are the sort of shoe worn by a gentleman who walks a few paces from the car to the restaurant, or from the hotel to the meeting room.

An image taken from a vintage book, ‘La Toilette du Dandy’ is a secret known only to its owner

An image taken from a vintage book, ‘La Toilette du Dandy’ is a secret known only to its owner

I personally don’t like carrying an umbrella, so I replace it with a flannel hat. People have a tendency to think they are oldfashioned, but with a little colour they can be made more modern. Forest green, tobacco or blue are popular with younger customers and it’s better than a baseball cap. There’s something quintessentially English about it.

I noticed that whenever men arrive at a dinner or at their friend’s home, the first thing they do is remove their coat. They feel constrained by it. It is stiff, you can’t stretch your arms – it isn’t comfortable. If they are wearing a jumper, they keep it on. However, if you remove the lining from the coat and use softer materials, it changes how you behave in the coat. It won’t only be the man that notices; any woman he is accompanying will also feel the difference when she touches his arm.

There is a misconception that work clothes mean you must be conventional. I created a Korean style jacket pullover in cashmere for my friend with a painted silk Thai lining. You can be smart and retain your individuality and humour. I’m always wary of a customer who arrives in the store and asks for the most fashionable item. It may well be a red jacket, but there’s no guarantee that it will suit them. They might look like a clown. If it doesn’t look good, I won’t sell it to them. They may not like, or be used to hearing no but it shouldn’t be about fashion. It needs to be about you, what you feel comfortable in. That’s when you receive admiring looks, in summer or winter.


Reading time: 3 min
Thomas Wong - ‘Shi Fu” has been in the tailoring business for 56 years

Thomas Wong – ‘Shi Fu” has been in the tailoring business for 56 years

Master tailors are not confined to the town houses of Savile Row or the ateliers of Italy; with the boom in Asian prosperity has come a boom in Asian style. Erica Wong speaks to a Singapore-based tailoring maestro about his unique style

Shi Fu, or master, as Thomas Wong is commonly referred to, asks if I’d like a cup of tea as I take a seat next to him at a quaint coffee shop along Orchard Road. His tone is calm and certain, almost Mr. Miyagi-like. Chairman of the Master Tailor Association Singapore for the last two terms, lecturer at the LASALLE College of the Arts, and owner of one of the oldest tailor shops on the island, Wong has been making suits for the regions’ elite for well over four decades. The industry has changed much but the fundamentals remain the same, as Wong explains…

EW You’ve seen the industry through thick and thin…

TW I started in this line of work when I was 16. I was an apprentice and at that time shops in Singapore were in shophouses. Each shop housed their entire ‘production line’ from start to finish. Tailors trained their teams to do everything from scratch in their own character using their unique methods. As a result every shop has their own style, their own ideas about how to make a suit. The team would discuss the orders or any problems that arose, work out solutions together, which would reflect the philosophies of the brand. If a customer finds that ‘chemistry’ with Tailor A or B or C, they would consistently return to them. There was no competition between A, B or C because they each had their unique cut, style, quality and fit which was very different from one another. Without intentionally doing so, each tailor was a ‘brand’.

Today, the shophouse ‘all under one roof’ concept is gone. Tailors outsource the different parts of the job to independent workers who at times sub-outsource out, since there are only a handful of craftsmen who know how to do each job. Most of these independent workers accept jobs from a number of tailors so you can imagine how the original set up of the tailor ‘brand’ has been lost, the traditional collaborative production lines severed and the uniqueness of each brand has been diluted. The tailor’s role has become that of a coordinator who charges a middle-man fee. In my mind, that’s not a tailor. To be a bespoke tailor, you need to make a particular garment per a customer’s particular request. Instead, tailors are now middle-men who take the request and pass the garment around to various parties who make it in whichever way they know best. This isn’t a very responsible way of offering the bespoke tailoring service.

EW What is at the core of your design ethos?

TW I’ve always been interested in illustration and so naturally in [Chinese] calligraphy. I believe that when people are interested in the visual arts they have sensitivities towards the minute details. Whether that dark green is the right tone or the stripe is slightly too wide, the demand for perfection is innate. When it comes to designing or making patterns or cutting fabric, I apply that same temperament and attitude. Throughout every step of the process I keep thinking about how the suit will fit on the client. Should this cut, length or even shadow appear on his frame? Will the suit look forced or natural on him? Wearing clothes need to be a comfortable affair. If the suit isn’t comfortable or doesn’t make its owner feel better about himself, he winds up as a hangar for the clothes. Then he might as well not wear it at all. The person cannot be a mannequin for the suit, the suit must highlight the man’s strongest features. Of course as a bespoke tailor I need to adhere to the client’s requests so I also need to fit my design into the parameters of his request. This is the challenge.

For example if a larger man wants a double-breasted suit even though most tailors might think it a bad idea, I try to figure out how to not only defy the theories against it but to make him look slim in the cutting of his choice. How should I do the cutting? What kind of fabric should I recommend? What fabric patterns will be the better option? The quality of the fabric also makes a difference. So, in-depth knowledge about all these factors is imperative for a bespoke tailor. Even before you take the job, you need to offer your professional opinions. If you don’t have the fundamental basis and you deliver exactly what the client asks for, then you’ve escaped your responsibilities.

Every aspect — the cut, darts, seams, fabric and accents — plays an important role in the final product

Every aspect — the cut, darts, seams, fabric and accents — plays an important role in the final product

EW With 40 years of accumulated knowledge, what are the main lessons that you relay to your students?

TW Firstly, never take short cuts. Not in any step of the process.

Equally important is to work with integrity. Other players in the field have asked why suppliers provide me with top quality work and lesser quality to them. The answer is very simple. An analogy I often give is a woman who sees her friend’s perfect glowing skin after leaving the spa and requests to achieve the same results. But if she’s not willing to pay for the same top quality skin care products or use the same top aesthetician, how can she expect the same results? It’s just not possible. The same applies for my craftsmen. Everyone may share the same pool of talent but if I pay top prices for top quality and others aren’t willing to do the same, who do you think will be given priority? It’s a simple formula. I always tell my students that we can’t deliver anything sub-par because the dollar notes customers give us are not partial dollars. The $1,000 they give us is $1,000, no less. So if you charge $1,000 you can’t provide a $100 product.

EW There seems to be less and less people who fit into your traditional sense of a tailor. Where do you see the industry heading?

TW Last year, the Asia Tailor’s Congress was held in Singapore and it was Loro Piana who noted that Singapore’s tailors aren’t charging enough. Times have changed and yet we continue to charge low prices so our pricing strategy benefits the end customer, and we don’t pay our workers enough. That’s why less and less people are entering the field and those who are skilled have turned to other lines of work such as driving taxis, which is more lucrative.

What’s more, there’s an interesting phenomenon at play today. Technically the more affluent the country, the better their know-how ought to be and the more demanding the customer, and yet they try to take shortcuts. On the flip side, the poorer the country, the more traditionally trained craftsmen they have, and yet the market generally can’t afford the good fabrics and infrastructure to produce the suits. Over the long run, I hope to see a revival of the traditional crafts and skills, applied in modern contexts. That’s why I teach, in hope that my students will pick up some of the things I learnt many years ago, and apply them in their future careers.

Reading time: 6 min