This is England, 1966. In July, Geoff Hurst runs a few rings round West Germany, in September Nick Tentis was born in Ilford, Essex. It was a reasonably rawcuss catchment area to grow up in. Especially when he enrolled at the local comprehensive on the outskirts of Dagenham, where fights would break out on a regular occurrence. Nick managed to keep his nose clean because he was as he puts it ‘a bit of lad’ and into his football as well as his art. In 76’ going on 77’ when a young Nick Tentis turned 11, his creative streak would lead him to walk to the beat of bands like The Selecter and The Specials, as his gang would adopt the look of original rudeboys and begin rubbing shoulders with the type of tonic that would stay with him for a lifetime.
When it was time to leave the comprehensive behind, Nick had aspirations of going to art school and becoming a painter. For one reason or another that didn’t quite happen, but in the early 80s, unlike now, university wasn’t your typical card in your typical hand. Nick Tentis didn’t take a direct route into tailoring but he wasn’t your typical young man, he would do it his own way. At 16 he got a job in an outfitters called Robot shoes on Kings Road selling 50s and 60s style suits. “It was great for me being a kid from Essex and suddenly I’m working on the Kings Road and meeting Chelsea girls it was brilliant, I was thrust into a whole different world.”
Nick opened the door to his first store on Archer Street in Soho when he was 21. He began by buying bin bags full of vintage American clothing from a dealer who was cleaning up in the Vegas thrift shops. When the bin bags started to run out (like they do) he noticed a gap in the made to measure market for 50s style suits. “People would come in and say I’d like a suit made in blue mohair, we only had black. So we’d get the fabric, go to one of the old Greek tailors in Soho, give them a drawing and the measurements, get it made up and do all the fitting.” Nick began to find his feet, make a name for himself and build up a clientele, until 3 years ago a premise became available on Savile Row. In a playground on the outskirts of Dagenham a young rudeboy with a creative streak had dreams of being an artist, he put those dreams in his pocket and took them for a walk down the Kings Road. 30 years later he’s a designer on Savile Row.
There is a river called Regency Street that historically has divided the workers of Soho and the more affluent establishment of Mayfair. On one side the workshops and on the other the posh shops, the rifle makers, millionaires and military outfitters. On The Row itself there is a real dynamic mix of people that you won’t find in many places. From traditional tailors like Gieves and Hawke’s that were established in 1771 to contemporary designers like Nick Tentis and the recently moved in luxury legacy of Alexander McQueen, who himself learnt his trade on this hallowed road.
With each premise bringing their own unique take to the cutters table, there is room for everyone. I say everyone. Nick holds nothing against Abercrombie & Fitch for being Abercrombie & Fitch but by blaring out the type of music that would give you a headache the scent of a Lush soap shop and endless queues blocking age-old doorways. They showed an instant lack of respect for a lot of people that have been there for a long time. Ironically on a street where things cost money, the one thing that everyone else on The Row has in common is something that costs nothing, manners.
I remember plucking up the courage when I was younger to walk into Kilgour, on Savile Row. As soon as I crossed the threshold I felt well out my depth and had this overwhelming feeling that the shop assistants knew it too. I lasted about 2 seconds, looked at a few price tags, realised it wasn’t for me and decided to make a dash for it. Not seeing the perfect transparency of the glass door, I cracked my head straight into it. Gave it a proper nut. Walked out casual as you like and down the road like I’d been clocked by Ricky Hatton. Thankfully Nick’s shop is a slightly more inviting affair, sighting a modern approach that deals with the modern man.
“We try and set our standards as high as any other Bond Street store, because otherwise why bother? But the idea was to have something that was not typical of every sort of retail shop, particularly in more traditional locations like Savile Row. So we always have the doors open, everyone’s kind of friendly and easy going, not over formal but still professional. You know we play music but it’s done in a cool way. Also we’ve got the barbers downstairs, we’ve got the coffee bar upstairs, and that for me its all about the experience of shopping and you know doing shopping as a sort of past time. Rather than it being a sort of practical solution because that’s what the Internet’s for.”
When Elliot and I were trying to find someone to wear Nick’s stunning suits, we joked that we needed to find someone slightly less pretty than me like you, and slightly harder than you like me. Owen was the boy. We wanted the shots to confront you like if you stepped into the lift or turned the corner and there was this geezer stood there head to toe in Nick Tentis. I think Elliot did an amazing job of capturing that, as close as we could to seeing the real thing in real life.