Each industry, no matter how obscure, has its experts, but It’s rare that you have the opportunity to chat to one of them. Today the subject of our Textual Conversations is definitely one of these. Raconteur, Eric Musgrave has been observing and writing about the fashion business for 40 years. His long career in “the trade press” saw him work at, among others, Drapers Record, Menswear, Fashion Weekly, International Textiles (in Amsterdam) and Sportswear International (in Milan). He has been editor of Drapers twice – with a seven year gap between the stints – and during each period Eric was named Business Media Editor of the Year by the Professional Publishers’ Association.
Way back in 1985 he was launch editor of For Him Magazine, the first modern style title for men in the UK, which later (after Eric’s time) was converted into FHM.
In recent years, Eric has been a prolific writer on menswear, textiles, British manufacturing, bespoke tailoring and the history of fashion retailing for titles as varied as the Financial Times, The Rake, Sportswear International and the Robb Report.
As well as writing Sharp Suits, a pictorial history of men’s tailoring that has just appeared in its third edition, Eric has contributed to various books including Menswear by Tom Phillips and Fashion The Whole Story. This year Eric’s photographic history of his home city was published under the title Leeds Then And Now.
If you could give your teenage self advice, what would it be?
You know, you could really do well for yourself, Eric. You are far more able and talented than you think you are. Aim high, mate.
What would be the one piece of clothing you would rescue from your home in the event of a fire?
I can answer this with some certainty as I lost almost all my wardrobe in a fire at my house in London in 1999. I would save lots of other things before clothing because while I like clothes, I do not venerate them. They are just “stuff”. The only thing I was bothered about when I heard my unoccupied house was ablaze was rescuing photographs of my kids. Luckily, they escaped unscathed. But if you really push me, I’d want my 1960s-vintage Leeds United shirt with the old oval “owl” badge. It’s a replica one I bought about 15 years back and I don’t think anyone makes it now. I have never worn it. I am saving it to wear in my coffin.
If you could only wear one brand for the rest of your life who would it be?
I have never had any particular loyalty to a brand, although I have had my temporary favourites along the way, and I have never “followed” a designer. I don’t think in the terms of your question, but if you insist, I’d probably go for Community Clothing as it comprises British-made basics, reasonably priced and I like the concept behind it. At the other extreme, I’d like everything I wore to be bespoke from a tailor I like such as Kathryn Sargent or Fred Nieddu, both of whom have made me some favourite pieces.
Who is your style icon?
Again, I don’t really think about style icons. There have been so many well-dressed men in the world to admire and be inspired by. If pushed, I’d say Cary Grant for the consistency and sheer effortlessness of his dressing.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?
Don’t let the bastards grind you down, by Norman Stanley Fletcher.
I prefer being at home to being in an hotel. For its homely Italian charm, I used to very much like the Torre Guelfa hotel – more a slightly upmarket pensione, to be honest – in Florence during Pitti Uomo. It has what’s supposedly the highest privately-owned tower in the city and the views from up there are marvellous. It had only about 16 rooms and once it became well known it was hard to secure them during the busy fair week.
If you could collaborate with one brand, who would it be?
It would have to be a brand that has a strong manufacturing base in the UK (or at a push Ireland), so that really narrows the field. I could fancy working up some outerwear pieces with the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill, but then we’d have the challenge of finding a British factory to make them into garments. I passionately believe in maintaining the manufacturing skills we have in these islands. It’s simple really – use them or lose them.
If you could have invented anything what would it be?
A cure for cancer, which is a filthy disease.
If you had one day to live, what would be your biggest regret?
Not taking the advice I gave in question 1.
Who’s the most famous person’s number in your phone?
Famous / notorious is probably Philip Green. Famous / funny is probably Ray Kelvin.
How did you get into the industry, what was your big break?
After getting a history degree, the only job I fancied was being a journalist, which reveals my youthful lack of imagination. I had a false start in the Fleet Street office of D C Thomson, the Scottish publisher of papers and magazines, where my Humphrey Bogart / James Cagney-inspired wardrobe of the time was not well received. Happily, my second chance came on 28 January 1980 when I started work as a reporter on Drapers Record, which by that time was 93 years old and the No 1 trade title for the fashion business. I was given the opportunity by the editor Gerry Saunders, who had worked there for donkey’s years, and was “Mr Drapers”. I suspect he was impressed that my older sister Sue worked as a dress designer at the time. When, after many other jobs, I returned to Drapers Record as editor 20 years later in April 2000, the by-then-retired Gerry became a good friend and mentor to me. Funnily enough, my other job offer at the time I joined Drapers Record was from a trade paper called Newsagent, so I might have become an expert on papers and publications.
Who would be your ideal diner guests?
For a very small and personal dinner, I’d like my paternal grandfather, Arthur Musgrave, who died three years before I was born in 1955, and my late father, Eric, who died in 1995. I know virtually nothing about Arthur, besides he was a medic in the First World War, and I know very little about what made my dad tick as we never once had a grown-up conversation.
On a lighter note, I’d love to have as celeb dinner guests: my favourite writer, American humourist S J Perelman, to learn about his use of the English language; songwriter Cole Porter, for the same reason; jazz legend Count Basie, to learn about how a black man became so successful in the mid-20th century; fashion innovator Nino Cerruti, who is an overlooked master of menswear; actress Sophia Loren, because she is stunningly beautiful, amusing and has had a fascinating life; actress Margaret Rutherford, a British eccentric of the sort you don’t see any more; and the Queen, just to see if she is good company when he takes her crown off