Menswear designer Oliver Spencer’s first foray in the fashion business was selling vintage clothes on Notting Hill’s fabled Portobello Road market. It was here that the young art college graduate was offered the chance to plunder rolls of opulent fabric seconds from jacquard weaver Stephen Walters & Sons Silk Mill. Based in Sudbury on the Essex and Suffolk border, the company has been in existence since 1720, and for Spencer, it was too good an opportunity to miss, turning what were essentially leftover ecclesiastical fabrics into waistcoats. With the opening of his Piccadilly Arcade store the Favourbrook brand was born – and indeed remains one of only a handful of independent formalwear retailers, crafting clothing for customers with a penchant for textiles. Notwithstanding a starring role in the epic British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral, the Favourbrook brand has largely built its reputation through word of mouth. The brand’s diverse customer base appreciates that they offer something different while honouring the timeless tradition of formalwear. And it’s obvious to any bystander that they love what they do.
While Favourbrook is undoubtedly a stylish destination for occasionwear, in tailoring circles it is revered for its waistcoats and also its fabrication – it has one of the largest and most diverse collections of wool and silk waistcoats available anywhere in the world. But it is by no means resting on its laurels in terms of their future development. “We tend to start with interesting fabrics and work from there” says Favourbrook store manager Julian Brown, who’s recently returned from a buying trip with Oli to Milan Unica, the fabric fair that has become a reference point for high-end fabrics and accessories. There’s a conscious effort to explore new textures and patterns as well embrace technological developments; the pair prefer to work with natural fibres wherever possible and place great importance on the handle of the cloth and the way it drapes. When the fabric is quite plain, the interest is in the texture and detail. “You can make a fairly average morning suit look great with a good waistcoat, tie and shirt, but I’ve seen plenty of morning coats ruined by a bad waistcoat choice” says Brown. Textural fabrics, silks and linen herringbone predominate their current spring/summer collection which has just dropped in store. Best sellers so far have been earthy tones: olives, creams, dusky pinks and even browns.
“The Favourbrook silhouette can be defined as classic”, says Julian, “with trousers cut a bit wider, following the recent trend away from slim fit. When the fabric is looser, the drape and the handle is even more important” adds Brown. The Favourbrook morning coat is cut from an Edwardian pattern which is a little bit longer, with an elegant swoop on it. The general rule of thumb is that the tail aligns with the back of the knee, or, specifically to ours, at the top of the calf. There are other key factors to achieve the look, for instance if you research formal wear styles back in the 1930s, you’ll notice the waistcoat and trousers were cut super high – maybe three inches above the belly button. The reason being was that it was more elegant and flattering to have a much longer leg with a tailcoat. You want the whole concentration to be around the small of the back. There’s nothing worse than a long waistcoat which makes the body look long and the legs really short”
A snapshot of the space:
Oliver Spencer threw open the doors of his capacious Pall Mall groom’s fiefdom back in 2017. Husbands in waiting can expect a stylish parquet-floored natural light-infused showroom from which to select their sartorial wedding day finery. A show-stopping wrought iron spiral staircase stands pride of place at the rear, separating the formal wear suiting from what can be described as a vast library of floor-to-ceiling waistcoats flanked by a wall literally awash with bow ties of every conceivable denomination and four changing rooms to edit the final cuts. While there’s an absence of 360-degree mirrors, what they do have is a completely mirrored wall directly outside the changing rooms and additional mirrors they can roll out if necessary. In essence, Spencer has created a traditional menswear store but with a sense of humour: eclectic nuances break up the clean lines, such as a series of framed illustrative prints of yesteryear gents hung on a Stiffkey blue wall behind the vast marble counter, some deliberately hung upside down or on their side, reflecting the intrinsic quirkiness the space exudes. It’s very much a hands-on sort of place, and it would be remiss not to embrace the vast array of textured cloth and the respective ‘hand feels’ of the fabrics.
Favourbrook may be rooted in tradition, but Spencer says they are by no means constrained by it: “We believe that wearing the correct attire for a special occasion needn’t mean losing your individual style and personality”. Indeed, Spencer’s attention to detail is evident on every rail: while all the standard formal wear is on offer, there’s inspiration for coaxing grooms out of their comfort zones to instead embrace their inner-creativity by teaming an off white textured dress shirt with a midnight blue velvet smoking jacket and tartan trews for instance. Favourbrook, being in the esteemed neighbourhood it finds itself is spoiled for choice on the culture front: besides the National Gallery in nearby Trafalgar Square, there’s a proliferation of members clubs including the esteemed RAC Club just down the road, as well as Berry Bros & Rudd wine merchants and the vinofile heaven that’s 67 Pall Mall. Meanwhile, Franco’s on Jermyn Street and 45, the exquisite dining room and bar in Fortnum & Mason, are popular lunch spots.
Who is dressing you?
The store is headed up by former Royal Academy alumni Julian Brown, an artist who began working for Oli some twenty years or so ago, ably assisted by Sam and Chloe. Julian favours separates, so usually sports jacket and trouser combos over suits on the shop floor. He has a penchant for combining velvet and corduroy ensembles in the colder months and opts for linen in warmer climes. He’s known for his rather natty eyewear, namely dark grey transparent Cubitts chunky frame specs.
There are no virtual consultations, it’s an in-person only kind of affair. While Favourbrook doesn’t like to set limitations, within reason of course, (and they are very au fait with the idea of allowing their customer’s dogs to accompany them), the onus is very much about making customers feel as welcome as possible in store. Although a word of warning if bringing friends to an appointment: too many may well result in too many opinions, which may cloud the decision making. “There are 3 of us in store who are made-to-measure trained, as well as a couple of support staff” says Brown. During the process you’ll usually see one of the three of us. As much as possible, they try to keep who they see consistent, so if someone meets Julian for the initial consultation then they may make a follow up appointment for the fitting and then place their order. It’s always preferable if the same member of staff can be present for the collection too. One in five of Favourbrook’s customers is a groom, so Favourbrook dress an average of a thousand grooms a year in the Pall Mall store. It’s vital that grooms bring along a shirt that fits them well in addition to the shoes they’ll probably be wearing when they exchange vows. While Favourbrook does provide them, shirts come in standard sleeve lengths and they don’t stock every size of shoes. While some grooms come well prepared, others have been known to rock up in shorts and flip flops with the intention of being done and dusted in under 10 minutes. The first consultation is usually about narrowing down the options, namely whether you opt for a suit or morning coat. Black shoes are an absolute must for weddings. While Oxfords are de rigeur, Brown is not against a black penny loafer “provided they’re not of the fancy brass buckle variety!” As for how far in advance you should be booking an appointment, “Grooms are much better since Covid” admits Julian. He recommends six to nine months ahead of the big day as ideal.
Favourbrook has two main collections, summer and winter. Summer has just dropped in store, and winter will be ready at the end of August 2024. Everything is their own label without exception and lookbooks from the two previous collections are viewable online. “We have a lot of what we call core collection garments anyway” says Brown. Favourbrook also have a fabric archive in Dalston which is a bit of a coup for customers if they’re after a particular vintage silk pattern including those from Stephen Walters in Sudbury where it all started out for Oli. On average grooms tend to try on two or three morning coats and six or seven waistcoat options. As for whether they offer bespoke, Brown says “Bespoke is a really difficult terminology in tailoring. What bespoke tends to mean in Savile Row terms is that everything is handmade.” They do offer full made-to-measure and full made-to-order and can undertake certain bespoke details, for instance if a customer requests a wider lapel on a suit or morning coat or a certain style of buttonhole, that can be done. In a nutshell, the different levels of service range from off the peg, made-to-measure and custom made garments. A great bulk of the clothing is made in England, while the rest is crafted in Portugal. Their linen suits, constructed from ultra soft yarns are sourced from the finest mills in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Northern Ireland.
Favourbrook’s waistcoat offering is spellbinding: across the two stores the brand has amassed around 1,000 waistcoats, 600 in the dedicated waistcoat store in the Piccadilly Arcade and 400 in Pall Mall. The collection boasts around two hundred different fabric styles. There are more bow ties than you can shake a stick at; benchmade Northamptonshire shoes (with Oxfords coming in at £320); bowties, braces, pocket squares, cummerbunds, top hats, ties, slippers and bags, you name the formal wear, Favourbrook have it. The only thing they’ve stopped doing is cufflinks although they do stock a rather natty line of antique tie pins. As for dedicated events, they have several throughout the course of the year, the main one being the Royal Ascot event they run in collaboration with Kingsclere where horse trainers, jockeys and special guests such as Claire Balding will talk invited guests through the race card and impart advice on who to look out for. They also run an event with Supercars in store.
Suit jacket and trouser combos start from £940; with the addition of waistcoats and accessories it’s around £1500; with made-to-measure, it’s POA. Favourbrook has its own alteration tailors who charge cost for all alterations in house, but they are not based on site. For instance, they’ll shorten the sleeve on a jacket and tailor in the body for around £80.
Recent highlights have included Julian dressing a couple tying the knot over Christmas with shawl lapel dinner jackets which were quite long in the body. He also recalls dressing a wedding party in very dark charcoal morning suits with olive coloured double-breasted waistcoats. Nine gentlemen were completely fitted out, including a man with a 58” inch chest which he admits was a great accomplishment. Then there was the case of the double-breasted Khan cashmere suit which was unbelievably expensive fabric, but looked absolutely amazing, coming in at a cool £400 per metre – fairly nerve wracking to make!
There are no jump-the-queue or priority offers currently available, but grooms can secure a consultation easily through the Favourbrook website. Brown says “Most of our customers have been recommended by someone to be honest”. Interestingly, grooms have often been known to stop by on the morning of their wedding to get master knotter Julian to tie their tie for them!
Your 15 second sneak peek inside:
What’s the first thing you’ll notice?
What a wonderfully calming and spacious vibe the premises exudes.
You’re sitting on…
A velvet-encased chaise longue at the rear of the store.
The view from the inside out:
Gazing out through the glass fronted facade onto regal Pall Mall, known for the various gentlemen’s clubs built here during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Reform Club and Traveller’s Club on the opposite side of the road being a case in point.
Most likely to overhear someone say?
Apart from “I’ve never seen so many waistcoats in my life!” Brown says a lot of people comment on how beautiful the store is. Favourbrook’s former premises was on Jermyn Street and the team gave a lot of thought to where they moved to, but above all wanted to give customers a great in store experience with the space to be able to display garments to their full potential. “For instance we have a wall brimming with 1,000 bow ties, 400 waistcoats, seven or eight variations of morning coat. People like the choice. We’re very condensed with what we specialise in and haven’t, for example, branched out into things like knitwear, we try and provide depth in what we’re known for” adds Brown.
Forget the morning suits, I’ll take the….
Steam train. The vintage model Lancashire and Yorkshire liveried train owned by Oliver Spencer which scales the rather precarious heights of the store’s spiral staircase like an out of control locomotive. “It’s something I swapped with a customer a long long time ago”, says Oli. “It’s a wonderful thing and has become my lucky mascot if you like. I absolutely love it”.
Nothing says a Favourbrook groom like…
Attention to detail.
You had me at:
“It’s really about the whole experience,” says Brown. “We are very well known for our service. Often couples will come in to see us after their wedding to show us their photos”. People drop in for a chat. “We pride ourselves on being honest and polite. It’s not about over-selling”, he says, but “building a relationship, and trying to create that old-fashioned concept of having your own tailor”.
Black Windsor herringbone wool morning coat, £720; Grey Westminster stripe wool high waisted flat front trouser, £275; Gatsby high stand white shirt with a full collar, £160; Black houndstooth tie, £90; Ivory Randwick double breasted eight button shawl lapel piped waistcoat – Ascot, £290; Black Oxford leather shoes, £320; White silk pocket square, £50
Grey Norfolk herringbone wool morning coat, £720; Grey Norfolk herringbone high waisted flat front trousers, £275; Light grey linen waistcoat with mother of pearl buttons £290; Grey abstract design ‘Osterley’ tie £110; Black Oxford leather shoes, £320
Ivory Randwick dinner jacket, £840; White Marcella poplin cotton bib front dress Shirt, £175; Black Hampton wool flat front dress trouser, £290; Black with woven silk pickwick white polka dots bow tie £65; Black Oxford leather shoes, £320
Burgundy velvet double breasted smoking jacket, £1,090; White Marcella poplin cotton bib front dress shirt, £175; Black Hampton wool flat front dress trouser, £290; Black bow tie in grosgrain silk £65; Patterned navy and red Winnington silk single breasted six button waistcoat £360; Black Oxford leather shoes, £320
Discover a world of sartorial style at favourbrook.com or visit their flagship store at 16-17 Pall Mall, London.
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