A Conversation with Lugets: Waterloo, Tailoring and Suits

Along the sidewalk opposite Exeter Cathedral, you will find a shop full of tweeds and herringbone – not exactly the typical the Princesshay kind of franchise. Yes, you have found Lugets, and this week I have had the privilege to interview Justin, the assistant manager of one of the oldest boutiques in Exeter.

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Au: Could you tell me a bit about Luget’s?

Ju: Effectively the company was started around 200 years ago. The company record says 1814, but we believe it was slight earlier than that: it was founded by two brothers – a shoemaker and a tailor. The archive of any company history was lost in the war, but next year we will be celebrating our 200-year anniversary!

Au: So it was founded around Napoleon times then?

Ju: Absolutely – as a matter of fact we used to have on our previous notepaper a heading of the Battle of Waterloo, but now we have removed that.

Au: What kind of fashion direction does Lugets take – say, what kind of merchandise do you bring in?

Ju: When it comes to retail, the fashion direction can be varied. We have things that generally work across a wide age range. Our age group could start around fifteen, up to somebody in their nineties. We have things like Gant, which is popular among all age groups; we also have brands like Magee, which would appeal to a more mature group of customers who really enjoy tweed.

Au: Would you say the direction is somewhat elitist?

Ju: We have tried to break down barrier years ago – it is not what we set out to do, and certainly when it comes to suits and tailoring, we are very particular about what manufacturers to use and how it is done, respecting the history of the company. We do, on the other hand, drop into other things to make it interesting: for example, you can look at that red smoking jacket; there are not many places you can get something like that!

Because we are independent, we can go to [different] companies. Even for Gant: we have got pieces in the shop like the striped trousers in the shop window, and a mountain coat that was sold to an Exeter student this morning. (Really?) Yes, he bought it, and it is gone. There is only one of those, and you won’t find them on the Gant website. We are the one of the only two shops that have it in Euopre – a small run – someone in Germany has got it, and that is it. You can get things that is rather specialized.

Au: I am very impressed by how you get these things out of Gant.

Ju: Yes, we have a good relationship with individual agents. You see them there in London, and they are like ‘we have samples left, do you want to buy them at a special price?’ You just won’t get it anywhere else.

Au: Would you say the main driver of this shop is suit?

Ju: No it isn’t at all. We sell not as many suits as we used to. Also, we don’t really buy in a lot of ready made suits, we prefer to have them made. It starts at around £650, and that is to have something factory-made; prices can go up to around £2,500, and that is going back to the old, traditional craftsmanship. The tailor lives just outside Exeter, she is obviously Seville Row-trained and she works with couple other companies. But that is for the very top crown of the company – some people think it is a thing of the past but it is, in my opinion, still worth doing.

The next level down would be made-to-measure personal tailoring, it is the factory-made garment we are talking about here. (Is it a second-class suit?) Yes, you can say so. Years ago they weren’t that brilliant, and the way forward was only bespoke. But now the technology is such that it is allowed.

Bespoke suits is probably around 20% of the business. The rest is retail, and advice. (Advice?) Yes, because people come in and say they are going to a special occasion, but they don’t quite know what to wear. We should then say ‘it should be this’: it is very much about advice and knowledge and the years of experience.

Au: From your experience, what is a good suit?

Ju: The wearer. Most people don’t look good in what they wear (laughs), because they don’t feel quite comfortable in it, which is the key – it is the key to anything. Some people can wear a suit from M&S and they can look a million dollars with it. There is no point in spending 900 pounds on where you could have it for 400. Then other things follow.

Au: Is the ‘fashion’ element relevant to suits?

Ju: Classic suits work in a slightly different way than fashion. Fashion is quick but changes in classic menswear are rather slow-moving. The drift in and out of fashion: say the width of lepal might change very slightly over a certain period of seasons rather than immediately. For example, in the early 90s, you would not have found a three-button suit. They were really big in the past, and you would not have been three-button suits since the 50s, but then it made a comeback in the 90s. The two-button suit – gone. You could not get a two-button suit – it was either a three-button or double-breasted. And then the double-breasted faded out. Now, for the first time in twenty-five years, the two-button has come back in the last eighteen months or so.

In many aspects, it has to do with the price of a suit. It is pointless spending 3000 pounds on a bespoke suit that is fashionable whereas in a year’s time, it could be totally out of fashion and completely unwearable. It is not the topshop fashion, which is cheaper and has a quicker turnover. But Reiss, and to an extent, Zara, are in the right sort of area. We have leaned towards that direction with some of our cuts in some of our jackets – with our classic manufacturers: the shorter jacket is coming in, and they have redesigned their blocks, which would mean the new look is here to stay. It has moved into classic menswear.

Au: What is the most suitable kind of suit for young men my age?

Ju: Well I suppose most students come in to look for their first suit to go to an interview in. Often it is an interview with a law firm, or somewhere in London, or it an army interview. We would recommend the business type of suit: something that is hardwearing and never go in and out of fashion. It is also a safe and stylish choice. It is adaptable: you might wear it with a pattern shirt, whereas an older man might go with a white shirt.

Au: What kind of advice would you give to us who are out looking for our first suits?

Ju: Come here! (Laughs) Do come here, we will accommodate to what it is for, what the budget is. And if we don’t think we can do it, we will point you to the right direction. At the end of the day, it is not about hard-sell here, it is about advice and knowledge.

Lugets offers a discount to the holder of a valid student ID.

 

by Justin Chan, Razz Fashion Correspondent

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