Modern tailoring needn’t be saved for the boardroom: mix and match garments more casually and invest in beautiful separates to be passed down as heirlooms, re-tailored to fit the next generation.
Savile Row is the most celebrated single-speciality street in the world, a handsomely preserved throwback to a bygone era of elegant luxury and a globally respected icon of English artisanal style. Bespoke tailors have occupied this narrow strip of Mayfair since the early 19th century.
Fashions have come and gone, as have wartime bombing and multiple recessions, but the Row’s skilful occupants kept sketching, cutting and stitching throughout. The coronavirus pandemic may be the toughest challenge they’ve ever faced, but the community is banding together to keep upholding London’s sartorial superiority; the latest lockdown might have made things harder still, but they’ve been embracing new technologies such as remote fittings via video-call, and still pride themselves on providing a truly great service.
Such technological marvels are aeons away from Savile Row’s first tailors. The Row has belonged to the Pollen Estate since 1764 and several early residents remain, such as Henry Poole & Co, whose business moved there in 1846, and Huntsman, which arrived three years later, although the 21st century has seen an influx of newcomers. Beyond the storefronts and the Chesterfield chairs are workshops where traditions are maintained while the world changes — by decree, each unit must produce at least 60% of the shop’s output on the premises.
Seventh-generation tailor Simon Cundey joined his family firm, Henry Poole & Co, in 1988. The company invented the dinner jacket (in 1860 for the Prince ofWales and, later, for one of his friends from Tuxedo Park, New York), and the Prince of Wales check (this time not for the Prince ofWales, but for a lady client). Although the Row has made womenswear for some very prominent customers, it is no stranger to hard times.
‘My father had to go down to three days a week during the 1961 recession,’ says Mr Cundey. ‘My grandfather traded through two world wars and the Great Depression. Great-grandfather? That’d be the Boer wars.’
William Skinner of Dege & Skinners, founded in 1865, calls this fight for survival ‘WorldWar Three’, but says that ‘at least this time we’re not having V2s dropped on us’. On his wall hangs a photo of some jauntily dressed camels, tailored for the Sultan of Oman’s pipe band. ‘We can adapt to make all sorts of different things.’
Among others, Dege & Skinners staff and many along Savile Row have been making PPE for NHS and care-home workers, who say they feel an extra sense of pride wearing scrubs with a prestige label. Some tailors have left handwritten thank you notes on the tags. Mr Skinner, who made wedding uniforms for both Prince William and Prince Harry, is also the chair of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, which was formed to protect the street and promote its virtues.
He describes the Pollen Estate as ‘very generous, helpful and understanding.We are a community and our shared passion is to maintain this unique destination for bespoke tailoring’. Looking at the current situation, he adds: ‘I’m pretty certain this is a blip — one we can weather together. We’re part of the DNA of the West End and we’re very much open for business.’
The estate collectively promotes its tenants and has organised events in the Row that bring the brands together, such as the first Christmas lights switching-on soirée in 2019 and 2015’s Wool Week, where sheep grazed in the road. These have proved enormously popular and attracted high-profile supporters, as well as new customers.
Plans are now afoot to stage a motoring event, with each shop tied to a two or four-wheeled marque. Huntsman was the inspiration behind Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kingsman’ action comedy films. The director-producer was brought to the shop by his mother to have his first suit made and that is when the seed for the film franchise was sown. Campbell Carey, head cutter and creative director of Huntsman, says the films have engaged a huge audience. ‘It has opened their eyes to bespoke tailoring and made it look fun. We’ve also done a collaboration with Reebok.We’ve always innovated. We have this austere exterior, which I think is very intimidating, but once you’re inside, it’s not like that at all.’
Although many of the ‘Kingsman’ generation advocate sustainability, they often choose to buy fast fashion, despite its appalling track record on both the environment and staff treatment. The difference in price is vast, but Savile Row clothes are made to last and can be passed down the family. Huntsman offers a free refitting service if you come in with one of your father’s suits. ‘A lot of people baulk at a £6,000 price tag, but if a suit is well cared for, it’s not expensive per wear. Increasingly, people like to know where their clothes are made and what they’re made from.’
The Row’s latest innovation is The Service, a coffee shop that takes care of the tailors’ caffeine cravings. The idea is the brainchild of James Sleater of Cad & The Dandy, the tailors he established in 2008. Each label showcases a jacket at the shop, which also provides consultation space for those that have little to spare on their own premises because of social-distancing measures. It also helps fuel the sense of camaraderie that has bound the tenants of this sliver of W1 for 200 years.
It’s that glue, says Mr Cundey, that will ‘get us through the Covid crisis as one, with our craft intact. It’s all about the craft and you can’t have the craft without the retail’. The tailors are coming together to adapt to the new normal while preserving what makes Savile Row special.
Below, Country Life’s luxury editor Hetty Lintell picks out some timeless looks from the world’s most famous street of tailors.
Fashion shoot directed by Hetty Lintell; photographed by Chris Allerton; styled by Gareth Scourfield; grooming by Truefitt & Hill (www.truefittandhill.co.uk); models: Aiden Brady and Louis Hurst at Models 1; watches courtesy of Chopard (www.chopard.com). Other accessories and shoes specialists on Savile Row include Drakes (drakes.com) and Gaziano & Girling (www.gazianogirling.com).
Louis wears shirt, tie, grey puppy-tooth wool peak lapel jacket, wool trousers, gloves and handkerchief, all Huntsman. Aiden wears olive check wool jacket with suede cuff detail, sweater and wool trousers, all Huntsman. Shoes and boots, both Gaziano & Girling (020–7439 8717; www.gazianogirling.com). All available on Savile Row. Spectacles, E. B. Meyrowitz; watch, Chopard.
Huntsman — 020–7734 7441; www.huntsmansavilerow.com
Norton & Sons
Aiden wears striped shirt, wool tie, brown check double-breasted wool peak lapel jacket, pocket square and wool trousers, all Norton & Sons. Louis wears chocolate wool peak lapel jacket, flannel trousers and wool tie, all Norton & Sons; shirt and scarf, Drakes; shoes, Gaziano & Girling. All available on Savile Row. Watch, Chopard; tortoiseshell handmade glasses, Article One.
Norton & Sons — 020–7437 0829; www.nortonandsons.co.uk
Aiden wears black velvet and silk shawl-collar evening jacket, dress shirt, pocket square, bow tie and evening trousers, all Henry Poole. Louis wears midnight-blue velvet shawl-collar smoking jacket, pocket square and tuxedo trousers, all Henry Poole. Patent leather shoes, Gaziano & Girling. All available on Savile Row. Roll neck, John Smedley; sneakers, Harrys of London.
Henry Poole — 020–7734 5985; www.henrypoole.com
Louis wears red and lilac check wool sports jacket and blue Japanese
selvedge denim jeans, all Richard Anderson. Aiden wears brown and cream dogtooth check wool sports jacket, orange needlecord trousers and orange and brown floral-print linen neckerchief, all Richard Anderson. Pocket square, Drakes; tan boots, Gaziano & Girling. All available on Savile Row. Knitwear, John Smedley; watch, Chopard; sunglasses, E. B. Meyrowitz; socks, London Sock Company; sneakers, Harry’s of London.
Richard Anderson — 020–7734 0001; www.richardandersonltd.com
Dege & Skinner
Aiden wears grey wool double pinstripe peak lapel suit, lilac shirt, tie and pocket square, all Dege & Skinner. Shoes, both Gaziano & Girling. All available on Savile Row. Watch, Chopard; socks, London Sock Company.
Dege & Skinner — 020–7287 2941; www.dege-skinner.co.uk
Cad & The Dandy
Aiden wears cream wool double-breasted peak lapel jacket, pocket square, wool trousers and blue herringbone wool long overcoat, all Cad & The Dandy; blue chambray shirt and brown spot wool tie, both Drakes; brown leather lace-up shoes, Gaziano & Girling. Louis wears tan check wool blazer and olive waxed gilet, both Cad & The Dandy; cashmere sweater, neckerchief, cream trousers and lace-up boots, all Drakes. All available on Savile Row. Watch, Chopard; handmade spectacles, Viu.
Cad & The Dandy — 020–7434 4344; www.cadandthedandy.co.uk
Louis wears blue check wool sports blazer, blue gingham-check shirt, blue pattern tie and denim jeans, all Cifonelli; suede lace-up shoes, Drakes; watch, Chopard. Aiden wears wool blazer, camel cable-knit sweater and grey flannel trousers, all Cifonelli; suede lace-up boots, Drakes; socks, London Sock Company. All available on Savile Row.
Cifonelli — 020–7734 2211; www.cifonelli.com
Aiden wears tobacco wool double-breasted wide-lapel jacket with matching wide-pleat trousers, mustard embroidered shirt and silk pocket square, all Richard James; lace-up shoes, Gaziano & Girling. Louis wears Prince of Wales-check zip bomber jacket with matching wide-pleat trousers and mustard knitted polo shirt, Richard James; lace-up shoes, Drakes. All available on Savile Row.
Richard James — 020–7434 0605; www.richard-james.com