Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smooth by Richard Anderson: review
Andrew Martin finds that Bespoke, Richard Anderson's account of the life and lore of a Savile Row cutter, suits him nicely
13 Sep 2009 in The Telegraph / http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/6163356/Bespoke-Savile-Row-Ripped-and-Smooth-by-Richard-Anderson-review.html
Having noted again this summer the perverse need of many holidaying Englishmen to emphasise their beer bellies by wearing tight-fitting replica football shirts, I would call this autobiography of a master suit cutter very timely.
The book is dedicated to the cult of bespoke. Whereas a ready-to-wear suit is, as someone once said, 'a suit made for somebody else’, a bespoke suit is so called because the customer 'bespeaks’ his requirements to a man who then cuts the five basic templates: three for the jacket (which ought properly to be called a coat) and two for the trousers. He is aided in his work – at least in the elite emporia of Savile Row – by a supporting cast of mere tailors, who provisionally assemble, or 'baste’, the pieces together for subsequent fittings and make the linings, button holes, pockets and so on. Regarding the cutter’s task, Richard Anderson quotes the Dictionary of English Trades (1804): it is 'to create a good shape where nature has not granted one’, and at the highest level, the cutter will note – besides the 19 measurements needed for a suit – the client’s style, temperament, even his sense of humour. All will determine the shape of the ensemble, which will cost anything upwards of about £4,000.
In 1982, aged 17, Anderson joined the particularly prestigious and intimidating Savile Row outlet Henry Huntsman and Sons, a firm known for a cut of suit described by one of its American clients who dabbled in poetry as 'swervy suave severity’. The Huntsman suit-cutters of the time – Savile Row legends both – were Colin Hammick and Brian Hall, and Anderson describes them with Dickensian relish. Hammick was long, lean, slightly fey (for 20 years, he called Anderson 'Young Richard’), mercurial, abstracted. On being excitedly told the name of a new customer, who was on the phone and anxious to speak to him, he languidly inquired: 'Who is Hugh Laurie?’ Hall, by contrast, is depicted as bristling, impatient, ferociously well-organised. Whereas Hammick, who only had one lung, chain-smoked raffish Piccadillies, Hall chain-smoked four-square Embassy Number One. Hall wasn’t above saying to a client: 'You, Sir, are not my idea of a Huntsman customer’, and Anderson writes that in the wake one such pronouncement, a 'mortifying blow-up’ ensued. This is his tone and that of Savile Row: dandified but tough, reflecting the origins of the Row in supplying coats and britches to the military.
Anderson is justifiably entranced by the lore and terminology of his trade. Leftover material is called 'mungo’; the ability to remember a customer’s figuration is 'rock of eye’; 99 per cent of us have a slightly lower right shoulder. As Anderson painfully inches his way towards the level of Hammick and Hall, a trouser cutter has a nervous breakdown; employees arrive and depart ('Pugh had a laugh exactly like Mutley’s in Wacky Races’); tales of famous customers are told. Gregory Peck comes in with his stunt double, the pair to be fitted with identical white mohair lounge suits. Peck was 'one of Huntsman’s no-fuss customers’ but the stunt double was 'a right pain in the arse’, requiring three times as many sittings. Peck confided to an employee that all the man would be doing in the suit was falling off the back of a lorry and rolling around in some oil.
This droll and engrossing book goes off towards the end, when it becomes a rather breathless advert for the business Anderson set up on leaving Huntsman in 2001. But even that’s hard to begrudge, in a man so evidently in love with work.
Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smooth
By Richard Anderson
SIMON & SCHUSTER, £14.99, 320pp
A cut above: The king of Savile Row reveals the secrets of life as a top-end tailor
Katharine Hepburn is demanding trousers three sizes too big, Stewart Granger won't stop cursing, and Rex Harrison is over in the corner, throwing a strop. In his new memoir, Richard Anderson draws aside the changing-room curtains...
BY CHRISTIAN HOUSE SUNDAY 20 SEPTEMBER 2009 in The Independent / http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/a-cut-above-the-king-of-savile-row-reveals-the-secrets-of-life-as-a-topend-tailor-1788484.html
What does one wear to interview a Savile Row tailor? As I approach the façade of Richard Anderson Ltd at number 13, my Hackett slacks and Tyrwhitt shirt begin to feel like sacking. I've even got a chocolate stain on my inside leg, sponged but persistent. I'm here to discuss the eponymous owner's memoir, Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed, and I'm reminded of Anderson's entrance to Huntsman (arguably the most distinguished establishment on the Row) one snowbound day in 1982. His school blazer just didn't cut it.
I needn't have worried. A boyish fortysomething, Anderson is adept at putting people at ease, as befits a man who spends his days capturing the particulars of a body line or customer's whim. We sit at one of the tall cutting tables, surrounded by the hanging skeletons of tawny patterns, each holding a paper DNA of a client's silhouette. Bespoke is a beautifully crafted celebration of this peculiar arena, smoothly weaving three overlapping narratives: a coming-of-age tale, a history of "The Row" and an examination of the tailor's craft.
Anderson recounts his initial reaction to this alien atmosphere. "Oh, I loved it," he smiles. It was "electric, masculine and aggressive" and fitted perfectly with his football-playing, cocky teenage persona. The world into which "Young Richard" walked that winter morning was an arcane one anchored in time-worn traditions. "It might as well have been 1882," he laughs. Surfaces were strewn with half-made garments and "massive shears like scissors on steroids nestled in their folds". Under the tutelage of Huntsman's managers, Brian Hall (grumpy, chain-smoking) and Colin Hammick (smooth, unflappable), he was introduced to the world of bluff edges and blind-flies, rip downs and roll lines; 27 years later, he is the proprietor of the youngest bespoke tailoring house on the Golden Mile.
With the recent opening of Abercrombie & Fitch, at the junction with Burlington Gardens, the Row has found itself in a rather undesired limelight. Abercrombie & Fitch of Savile Row is as incongruous a label as Café Rouge of Brick Lane. The deep pockets of the American casual-apparel outfit have raised the stakes on property prices and created worries that a reputation expertly burnished over two centuries could lose its lustre. Anderson, however, claims it is positive for the future of the Row. "Footfall has increased and that can't be a bad thing. Before, it was a destination venue. But now, while children are in [Abercrombie], their fathers will wander up and buy a shirt, a belt, a tie," he says.
At this point, a customer arrives for his inaugural fitting. Anderson apologises and heads to the backroom, leaving me with his amiable apprentice, Rebecca. An Australian who left the Great Ocean Road to take up the role six years ago, she embodies progress in the industry. "I've got a young face," she says, "and at first you could see the clients' reactions: who's this girl? In my first week I remember ending a client call by saying 'No worries,' and the room went quiet. Then someone told me, you can't say that." Returning from his whistle-stop fitting, Anderson points out that when he started, his girlfriend wasn't even allowed in the front of house.
The process of tailoring has also changed. "Each tailor in the team had his own role; one affixed the collar, another the sleeves, another the lining, and so on," to form a production line not unlike that at Bentley or Daimler. Economic necessity has faded out that expensive practice in favour of a single tailor taking responsibility for the whole process. However, an exacting approach remains, and Anderson retains the services of dedicated workers to whom he passes on duties after he has created a blueprint for the work. "Some tailors will specialise in Nehru jackets, others morning suits," he says. "We try also to keep a single tailor working on a customer's commissions for consistency of quality."
Anderson is respectful of his competitors' virtues and I'm impressed by the clubbable qualities of the Row. Even so, does he not see suits or coats when out walking and think he could do much better? "Oh God, all the time!" he exclaims.
Yet his immaculate manners have helped navigate some precarious situations with famous clients. High-end frequently means high maintenance. The Row has a fine record of pandering to the pompous antics of the great and good. The Huntsman years are full of stories of bad behaviour. Stewart Granger stomped around, turning the cutting-room blue with unwarranted language, while Rex Harrison would go mad at the drop of a stitch. "Oh, he was a boy!" declares Anderson. Yet for every Granger and Harrison there would be a darling like Katharine Hepburn, who "liked her trousers about three sizes too wide, so they billowed like ship's sails when she walked". The fitter's relationship with their client is a balancing act of deference and authority.
His erudite memoir positions Anderson as the Anthony Bourdain of the rag trade. And as I leave him to his bodkins and bolts, I wonder, glancing to my caramel-blotted trousers, if his book might even teach me how to smarten up my act.
'Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed' (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) is out now. www.richardandersonltd.com
The benefits of bespoke
'It's as crisp and sharp as a shot of limoncello'
The term "bespoke" derives from how a customer's fabric would be "spoken for". The client's will is the metronome by which Savile Row ticks – and justifiably so considering the price tag: Anderson's standard bespoke suit is racked at £3,500. Yet, Anderson points out, the cost equates to a suit's durability. To highlight this, he pulls out a grey two- piece, with a one-button jacket, that he cut 15 years ago. It's as crisp and sharp as a shot of limoncello. If Huntsman's famous one-button coats were the innovation of their time, then what, I ask, has been the most prominent development of late? "The Blackberry or mobile-phone pocket. We'll take the measurements of a particular model," says Anderson. "That's the beauty of bespoke!"