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Inside The Star-Spangled House of Nutter

Written by Chief Editor.

On the first of May in the US (and a week and a half later in the UK),  House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row is to be published.

Author Lance Richardson told EJW last summer that despite the title, this is actually about two people: Tommy Nutter and his brother, David Nutter. The latter was Elton's photographer and friend for years. More recently, Lance shared lots more news about his biography with Eltonjohnworld.com. . . .
 
EJW: Your book's title calls Tommy a ''rebel tailor.'' In what way do you think he was a rebel, and is this what attracted you to the subject?
 
LR: The label 'rebel' actually comes from Tommy himself: ''I was always a bit of a rebel,'' he once said. ''I wanted to break away from what everybody else was wearing, and slowly creeping in was the whole 'Swinging London' thing that was about to happen in the Sixties. I was being a kid at that time, and although I was working in a very traditional place I would rebel when I wasn't actually at work. I'd be wearing things that were quite different.''
 
Eventually, of course, the rebellious things he was wearing outside of work became the work: when he opened his own boutique in 1969, he united ''swinging'' youthful street fashions with the exquisite craftsmanship of Savile Row, which until that time was very staid and old-fashioned, He came in and sexed up the Establishment.
 
But Tommy was a rebel in another sense, too, and it was this that first attracted me to writing about him: he was unashamedly gay at a moment in time when being so could get you ostracised, if not worse. I found his defiant sensibility really compelling, and it's a sensibility that informs his clothes.
 
EJW: Did you encounter any surprises along the way?
 
LR: Half the book was a surprise--literally! I pitched and sold a book about a tailor on Savile Row, then arranged to meet Tommy's brother, David Nutter, who I expected to simply be another interview source. I soon realised, though, that David was just as interesting, being a rock photographer, and that you couldn't write about one Nutter brother without also writing about the other. So it became a biography of two people. This required quite a significant adjustment in terms of expectations and approach. But I think the final product shows it was worth it. What was expected to be something small became, by the end, a sweeping family saga spanning numerous decades.
 
EJW: One of Tommy's clients was Elton John. Can fans expect to find a good deal about the singer in your biography?
 
LR: More than you might expect. Elton was indeed one of Tommy's clients, but I'd argue that he acted as Tommy's muse for many years. Elton encouraged him to let his imagination run wild. Right up until the end--1992, when Tommy died of AIDS--he was sketching the most insane and extravagant tailoring experiments for Elton. These sketches survive in his papers.
 
But that's just the predictable stuff. What you probably don't know is the full involvement of David Nutter with Elton (or ''Sharon,'' as David referred to him, like many others in the inner circle). David was  more than a photographer on, say, Elton's 1976 transatlantic tour (a tour immortalised in It's a Little Bit Funny). He was a very close friend. When John Lennon was shot, for example, in 1980, it was David that Elton called at 2 a.m. in a state of shock. That kind of thing. This close friendship plays a hugely important role in the book. And there are many, many splendid never-before-seen photos of Elton, too, because David (who lives in New York) has boxes of them sitting in his house, and he was generous enough to share. I guarantee you've never seen some of them.
 
So Elton is connected to both brothers, ping-ponging between. They were both involved in his infamous wedding in Sydney, though you have to read to find out exactly how.
 
EJW: How much of an impact do
you think Tommy and David made in the worlds of fashion, art, and music?
 
LR: I think Tommy and David were witnesses, physically present for an extraordinary number of epoch-shifting cultural moments, from the Beatles breaking up or Studio 54--and weathervanes, but which I mean they produced work that seemed to respond to and measure the zeitgeist. It's not an accident that a 26-year-old opened a shop and became famous virtually overnight, or that he dressed three of the four Beatles on Abbey Road, and that he put Bianca Jagger in a man's suit. His clothes embodied the era. And ditto David's photos (of John and Yoko's wedding, of Elton John's tours).
 
In terms of Tommy's legacy, Tom Ford has acknowledged an influence. And Tommy Hilfiger. Todd Snyder just had a show at New York Fashion Week in February that directly referenced him. In London, Savile Row looks like it does - open windows, boutique-style - because of Tommy, and tailors who became known during the 'Cool Britannia' period, like Timothy Everest, owe a huge debt to him. He even had an impact on how John Galliano drapes his dresses, believe it or not.
 
Here's a random tidbit: David Nutter has a credit on Snow Queen, the B-side to Don't Go Breaking My Heart. Again, you'll have to read to find out why.
 
EJW: Who are some of the other celebrities featured in House of Nutter? Did any contribute directly?
 
LR: David Hockney, Cilla Black. Freddie Mercury, getting angry. Michael Jackson, getting wistful in a hotel room. The Beatles, of course. Jagger. Long John Baldry. Diana Ross, being shady. I spoke with Tim Rice; Manolo Blahnik; Simon Doonan; Peter Brown; Neil Sedaka. The list goes on.
 
EJW: Did you see the Fashion and Textile Museum's Tommy Nutter exhibit in 2011? If so, what stood out for you?
 
LR: I did not, but I saw some  of Tommy's suits in New York, at the recent Rolling Stones exhibition {at Industria} and also at an exhibition at FIT about two years ago. They're actually scattered around in museums all over the place: Los Angeles, Boston, New York, London, Bath, Edinburgh . . .
 
EJW: Is this your first book? What other subjects have you covered in the past?
 
LR: It is my first book, and my pre-existing writing is actually very different - everything from shamans in Texas to abortion debates in Ireland to Ibadi Islam in Oman. I am not a ''fashion'' writer, or even a ''music'' writer. I just write about things that interest me. And the Nutters, given everything they got up to, are very interesting indeed!