“Clothing Evolves.” Oscar Udeshi seeks to bring simplicity and functionality to the world of men’s tailoring
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
Those looking to find rigorously minimalist but impeccably stylish tailoring would do well to wander up to 8 Davies Street where Oscar Udeshi holds court. Having long had an interest in the history of men’s fashion and fabrics, Oscar believes in producing supremely elegant clothes, “that have the appearance of being structured but are actually a softly tailored garment.”
Born in Hong Kong to an Austrian mother and a father from Zanzibar, Oscar came to the UK to study economics at the LSE prior to working at Deutsch Bank. However, like many, the City held little attraction for him, “I was not inspired by the atmosphere” he recalls, “there was too often a feeling of not building anything useful.” A car crash in Scotland proved to be a reckoning point. Having made a bucket list at 18, Oscar perceived how few of these life experiences he had ticked off and so began to do so. He travelled extensively and returned to university to do a Master’s degree in philosophy.
Oscar found he had rather quickly accumulated the thick end of 40 suits and 80 ties – to say nothing of the shirts. He had always had a keen interest in men’s style, fashion history and fabric, and his post-finance travels allowed him to further this particular interest. “All men’s fashion over the past century has had a functional basis. If you understand and respect the history and the “why” behind the evolution of men’s clothes, it becomes easier to intelligently play with the rules.” Oscar made the decision to move into menswear, realising he was unemployable – as he couldn’t work for someone he couldn’t learn from or respect – he decided to become his own boss, “there is also more to life than a pay check.”
London was both the convenient and logical place to begin this new journey, “it is a Mecca of men’s style – nowhere else on earth brings together the history and breadth of what London has.” Oscar established a rapport with one of the last proper Jermyn Street shirt makers and began an informal apprenticeship. This mentoring arrangement ran for five years. And, in 1999, UDESHI was founded. Originally focused on shirts, Oscar had seen many of the earlier James Bond films, and, taking inspiration from them, was frustrated at the inability to buy ready-to-wear cocktail cuffed shirts. He was also keen to offer a genuine made-in-England article, as well as designing a very small range of understated ties, “I wanted to offer something slightly different, it was about subtlety and texture, further nuances that I couldn’t find.”
Starting as a wholesaler, a Japanese client asked Oscar why he did not offer the full range of men’s garments, as from a marketing perspective the client believed this would enable the growth of the brand. Whilst Oscar did opt to embark on this path, it took some time to get there as he found it difficult to locate the right workshops and clothing blocks to satisfy his standards. There was also the pertinent question, “What can I bring to the party?” Oscar wanted to offer an immaculately tailored, minimalistic and functional aesthetic. The house cut has a high gorge, is one buttoned and waisted, with the shape created through the cutting rather than any form of padding. Despite being at the more fitted end of the spectrum, UDESHI jackets are kept as soft as possible. Oscar constantly aspires to use the very lightest canvases on the market. Details are continually played with. The jacket side pockets are slanted or sometimes cut on a curve – a slight nod to the traditions of southern Italy. This gives a different look but also serves a practical purpose, as keys or coins are less likely to slip out and it’s a more natural posture to put hands into slanted pockets.
Whilst Oscar has a strong working knowledge of all aspects of the tailoring process and is able to draft a pattern for a jacket, coat or trousers and cut them, he is very honest in saying that he cannot match the precision and standard of a full time, comprehensively trained cutter. As a result, he specialises in measuring rather than cutting. Oscar works with three trusted cutters, each of whom specialise in a different area. This ensures UDESHI can offer a range of garments including completely unstructured jackets, utterly unlined and unpadded. In 2006, he moved into his current premises, finding that, as his bespoke and made-to-measure work grew with an actual shop front to show it off, his wholesale exposure was reduced. That said, Oscar’s latest range of unstructured jackets, he hopes, offers fresh possibilities in the latter arena. They have been constructed in a manner that allows very easy alteration, “it will even be possible to widen across the shoulders which is exceedingly rare” he points out.
Despite London’s seminal status as an epicentre for men’s style, from a business perspective Oscar reckons the UK has never had the best production infrastructure. Many factories have closed in recent years and it has continued to be practically tricky to access those remaining. Whilst there is a re-invigorated wave of support – both official and informal – for apprenticeships, many of the factory-based artisans, those who understood very high quality production values rather than in-house one-off creations, have retired and their children are much less likely to continue the artisan heritage. Oscar points as an example to the fact that there is currently no real English shirt fabric producer; even bespoke shirt makers head to Italian shirting mills.
With his Davies Street location, Oscar sees a lot of walk-in trade. He has found he caters to a very cosmopolitan clientele, “they have travelled extensively and are very internationally minded; they are open to new ideas and guidance but are also rigorously practical. Their clothes must be minimalist, functional and show off the best workmanship.” Off the back of this, he comments he sees few modern day dandies. This particular aesthetic means that unlike some tailors, UDESHI does little work in tweed; Oscar has a number of lightweight Harris tweeds but does not use many of them. “One of the simple tests we do is the ‘restaurant test’” he comments, “be it a suit, jacket or sweater, do you feel comfortable and therefore at ease in a restaurant?” This also invariably means lightweight fabrics rule, indeed even a number of cashmere prototype garments have had to be altered to remain comfortable in all surroundings.
Oscar finds many customers have now become immune to the glut of style and fashion writing currently available, “they don’t bother reading magazines – they know these have just become big advertorials.” This aversion to the somewhat incestuous, imprecise and navel gazing nature of style journalism is shared by Oscar himself. Once customers find what they want, they will stay; the rapport is established, “give the customer what he wants and treat them as intelligent and passionate people” he observes. As part of this, in response to requests, for some time UDESHI offered made-to-measure jeans and khakis – it was part of the evolution of what his clients wanted at a particular time.
The need to understand and respect the evolution of men’s wear still shines through. For example, Oscar points out that he offers a larger collar on his shirts, not just because of the modern trend to go tie less, but also as a nod to the English traditions of bespoke shirt making, where a larger collar was an indicator of a uniquely-made garment. The design of the shirt is continually offset by small, distinct twists; all his shirts use thick Italian mother of pearl buttons rather than thin English ones. He offers overcoats with, unusually, twin vents as they allow the coat to drape better, also offering more functional access to pockets.
With a distinct and stylish take on the needs of the modern gent, UDESHI rightly remains a beacon in Mayfair for those seeking modern, distinct and immaculate tailoring that still carries a deep understanding and appreciation of its place in the continuum of men’s style. And long may it remain so.