Edward Sexton
The death was announced on the website of Sexton's shop on London's Savile Row. No additional details were given. Image Credit: Twitter

Edward Sexton, a British fashion innovator whose bespoke suits brought a sharp new silhouette and bold colours to London's Swinging Sixties scene, becoming the tailor for models, film idols and rock stars, including the Beatles with suits worn by Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney on the ‘Abbey Road’ album cover, died July 23 in London. He was 80.

The death was announced on the website of Sexton's shop on London's Savile Row. No additional details were given.

Sexton learned his craft under the exacting standards of Savile Row traditions and never lost his attention to detail - insisting, for example, that precisely five-eighths of an inch of shirt can peek from under a jacket cuff. His mark on fashion took shape in the 1960s as London became a center of a style revolution with counterculture statements such as the minidress and paisley-print jackets.

Sexton seized the moment by giving the classic Savile Row style a groovy makeover: suits with a narrower cut, accented by jaunty lapels that mixed materials and textures and a pop art palette of pastels, checkerboard patterns and intentionally clashing tones.

Sexton and fellow menswear specialist Tommy Nutter opened a shop in 1969 that basked in the fame of the celebrities they dressed. Two of the Beatles wore suits from the collaboration of Nutter and Sexton on 1969's ‘Abbey Road’. (George Harrison wore jeans, and John Lennon's white suit was credited to French designer Ted Lapidus.) In 1971, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones wore a cream-colour, three-piece suit by Sexton for his St Tropez wedding to Bianca Prez-Mora Macas.

For the next five decades, Sexton's suits - occasionally for women - were sported by rockers including Elton John and David Bowie, fashionistas such as model Naomi Campbell and shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, and artists Andy Warhol and David Hockney. In 2017, British singer Harry Styles wore suits by Sexton, including one in canary yellow and another guava pink, for a global tour; and Rick Astley opened his set at the 2023 Glastonbury music festival in a salmon-hued ensemble by Sexton.

"To keep the edge," Sexton said in a 2016 interview, "you got to challenge yourself all the time."

Sexton kept his personal style a bit more old school, however. He favoured the fitted tailoring of the 1930s and 1940s such as Humphrey Bogart's suits in ‘Casablanca’, once saying that he could cut a double-breasted suit that makes a "fat man look slimmer and can make a skinny guy look more beefy." Sexton also explored variations of the venerable English hacking jacket with its three-button front and pockets made to be used.

Sexton always appeared in public in impeccably tailored suits and often with perfectly knotted ties - just one of the ways he made a stand against trends toward casual dressing and, to his enduring dismay, the dominance of denim. In his view, there were unbreakable rules to dressing. The fabric must match the season, trouser cuffs must be exactly 1 5/8 inch, lapels must never buckle or stick out from the jacket, among many other sartorial codes.

"If a man walked in wearing a stripped shirt and a striped tie, believe me, I would talk to him before he left the shop," Sexton told the Chicago Tribune in 1987.

Youthful start

Sexton was born Nov. 9, 1942, in Dagenham in East London. His father was a public health inspector, and his mother worked on the custodial team at BBC.

At 12, Sexton started running errands for his uncle's tailoring shop and learned the basics of how to press, cut and sew material. As a teenager, Sexton replied to a help-wanted ad in the journal Tailor & Cutter.

He left school at 15 to work with tailors in London's East End. Within a few years, Sexton had moved up to cutting and needle work at shops on Savile Row, one of the global centers for bespoke tailoring. In his spare time, he took classes at the Barrett Street Technical College, which later became part of the London College of Fashion.

Even as he mastered the craft, Sexton felt constrained by the tradition-bound ethos of Savile Row. He found a kindred soul in Nutter, a salesman at a Savile Row tailor. In the mid-1960s, they began to hatch plans to set off on their own.

Their shop, at 35a Savile Row, was a paean to rebellion. It was the first Savile Row tailor to have an open street-front window, where people could see the inside of the shop. For more than a century, Savile Row establishments resembled private clubs with only clientele welcomed inside. The guest list for the shop's opening party included the Beatles's McCartney and model Twiggy.

Sexton "crafted the legendary sartorial language at the nexus of rock 'n' roll and Savile Row," Simon Holloway, creative director at the London-based luxury goods brand Dunhill, told GQ magazine.

Nutter's, as the shop was called, sported chocolate-colored carpets and mirrors recovered from a razed mansion. Trash cans held fabric and suits. Champagne flowed. Nutter was the showman and disrupter, and Sexton made sure the designs worked, including modified hacking jackets in vivid colours with padded shoulders and nipped waists.

Punch magazine called the whole scene "an eccentric mix of Lord Emsworth, 'The Great Gatsby' and Bozo the Clown." That was high praise at the time.

Nutter and Sexton became part of a constellation of fashion iconoclasts in London, including minidress designer Mary Quant and Levant-inspired artisan Thea Porter. Sexton earned the nickname "the wizard with the scissors" with styles that later influenced designers including Tom Ford and Stella McCartney, who was mentored by Sexton on the advice of her father, Paul.

"Imperfections," Sexton once said, "don't sit well with me." Nutter's inattention with finances eventually led to their split. In the mid-1970s, Sexton bought out Nutter and rebranded the line as Edward Sexton. (Nutter opened a ready-to-wear shop on Savile Row in 1983; he died in 1992.)

In the 1980s, Sexton designed for clients such as the Bee Gees and actress Joan Collins. In 1987, he made the costumes for a television movie, "Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story," starring Farrah Fawcett as the heiress to the Woolworth store fortune.

Sexton's moved beyond bespoke designs with a line for Saks Fifth Avenue in the 1990s and maintained an appointment-only atelier in London's Knightsbridge section. In 2022, after more than three decades away from Savile Row, he returned with a flagship store in partnership with interior designer Daniel Hopwood.

Survivors include his wife Joan and three daughters.

Although Sexton built his name as a rebel against Savile Row, he remained a guardian of its principles. "I am convinced," he told the London Evening Standard in 2014, "that it is in our genes as Londoners to dress well."