London: the tailors of Savile Row
John O' Ceallaigh meets the stylish stalwarts and emerging stars setting trends on Savile Row.
By John O' Ceallaigh12:52PM BST 15 Jun 2012 in The Telegraph / http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/9333705/London-the-tailors-of-Savile-Row.html
Synonymous with men's style, Savile Row in London has been a bastion of bespoke tailoring for almost 200 years. While working traditions and standards have been maintained times are changing. The rise of the high street has done away with the need for custom-made clothing, the ongoing recession is a cause for concern and changes to the street - such as the proposed development of an Abercrombie & Fitch children's clothing shop at 3 Savile Row - threaten to alter the area's character permanently. Here Savile Row's directors, tailors and newcomers share their stories about life on one of the world's most sartorially evolved streets.
Anderson & Sheppard came into my family’s possession when my father bought the company in the early ‘80s, when I was around 12 or 13.
Women weren’t really welcome then but now a lot of our customers choose their suit with their wives or female friends. That said, we don’t cut for women. I’ve had some jackets made and we’ve done Kate Moss and some other one-offs but that’s about it. I typically wear knee-length dresses to work.
We knew things would change in 2005 when the lease on our Savile Row property was to end and the building was to be gutted. I joined in 2004 and oversaw our move to Old Burlington Street, directly beside Savile Row. People said the change of address would affect business but we make about 115 suits a month and a two-piece suit starts at around £3,500.
I had worked in marketing cosmetics, first with Estée Lauder and then Dior. People might think tailoring is a dwindling industry but my background meant I could see it’s very contemporary. Nowadays people either buy instantly online or want a specialist product made by the very best people. Coming in as a woman also meant I could ask questions that maybe a man would be embarrassed to ask, whether that was something about accounts or basic working methods. I’ve found men less easy to sell to than women – they question things more. It’s a personal experience and customers range from the extremely wealthy to those who’ve saved up £100 a month for years. We had a taxi driver in recently who wanted a nice suit for his friends’ funerals, and his own.
I’m the only women in this particular position but once our move proved successful I was accepted, and there are many women who work around Savile Row generally – gone are those days when it was considered a terribly, terribly sexist place.
Henry Poole & Co appeared on Savile Row in 1846 and is the original tailor here. Back then it was full of doctors and surgeons and they didn’t like trade arriving so they cleared off to Harley Street – you got rid of one lot of people that stitched you one way and got a new lot that stitched you another.
I grew up in Teddington and underachieved in school. When I was 16 my father asked what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be a tailor. I had no idea why I said that but he arranged an interview at Savile Row for me and I got an apprenticeship. I worked my way up and up until recently I’d work 12 hours a day – you can make a good living here but you work hard for it.
I’m 65 now so unfortunately I’m old enough to have been through a number of recessions. None of them are ever comfortable but this one is different. Everything’s being disturbed by all this euro business and although our customers still have money they don’t necessarily feel like they can turn up in a brand new suit in times like this.
Our customers’ professions vary but average age is about 45, which is probably the point of time in life when they’ve made it in whatever they’re doing. We also get a number of young Japanese guys who aren’t earning a fortune but want something from Savile Row. Whether you ask in Tokyo, Paris or Moscow, people know Savile Row; it’s part of the country’s fabric and has been very powerful but you can’t rely just on reputation – you need to keep moving forward and we’re actively training young people in what we do. Less than 10 years ago the average age around Savile Row was about 60, now it’s closer to 40. There’s a lot of emerging talent here and we’ve got the nucleus of the young team of the future.
Gregor Clemens, MD of Hand & Lock
Hand & Lock isn't on on Savile Row but we’re closely associated with it. If someone gets a Savile Row shirt or bespoke suit monogrammed we’re the people who do it. If you get a uniform from Savile Row we’re the ones who supply the badges and embroidered accoutrements and gold work – basically all the bling. We say that until we’ve gone over the uniform it’s just a suit. Savile Row needs us because they can’t do what we can do – this craft is so specialist.
The business began when Mrs Hand set up a military clothing business in 1767; Mr Lock founded a business specialising in fashion embroidery in the early 1900s and when the firms joined together they kept both divisions. Mrs Hand’s military connections meant they always worked closely with the royal family – detailing you see on the princes’ uniforms is provided by us. From the early 1900s we’ve also done something for almost every royal wedding and for this year’s Diamond Jubilee we did the embroideries for the thrones and the banners on the royal barge, as well as the gold and silverwork on Robbie Williams and Sir Paul McCartney’s outfits.
I’m from Germany and we got rid of our nobility there unfortunately but I consider myself a royalist. We’re proud of our association with the Royal Family but we get all types of customers. Monogramming a letter costs £11.40 plus VAT and most people just get two letters but occasionally Sir Edward vonwhatever will come in and get his full name embroidered on a shirt. We get a lot of young fashion designers and women who want us to repair their favourite dresses or bridal veils, things that are precious to them. Recently a guy asked us to embroider ‘lucky bride’ onto the back of a pair of see-through knickers – we try to do whatever’s asked of us.
Emma Martin, 2012's Young Tailor of the Year and a coat maker at Dege & Skinner
Growing up in Essex I loved making clothes so I moved to London at 18 and did a fashion foundation course at London College of Fashion. I didn’t like the atmosphere though and it seemed too unstructured for me. You’d do a bit of sewing here, some designing there, dress a few models… I wanted something more defined so my brother suggested tailoring; I went to Newham College to learn the basics. It’s just a normal college in Eastham, there’s nothing special to it and it’s kind of rough but it runs one of the best bespoke tailoring courses anywhere.
As part of the course I did one day’s work experience a week on the Row and that’s how I began at Dege & Skinner. As a tailor you learn to appreciate the smallest detail. Now a good man’s suit really makes me tick and it’s hard to see friends my age – I’m 24 – that don’t look the part or wear well-made garments. I tell friends who can’t afford to shop here to go vintage. I’d much prefer an altered vintage, bespoke suit that than something from the high street.
The Young Tailor of the Year competition formed part of a BBC ‘Britain’s Best’ series that was looking out for young people working in traditional industries so it was amazing to win. The person who taught me during my apprenticeship here was 72 and had been a tailor for 50 years, he was incredible.
I don’t get to meet many of the clients but when I started I spent some time on the shop floor. One customer who spoke to me sounded so posh that I couldn’t understand a word he said. I had to get a colleague to speak to him but everyone is very graceful and I’ve never felt like anyone has looked down on me. It’s an absolute privilege to work here.
My background is in marketing. After university I helped to develop Mary Quant’s cosmetics business in Asia and then I became head of marketing at Dunhill. Having worked with two British icons, the idea of working on Savile Row became irresistible and I joined as chief executive of Gieves & Hawkes in 1996. The name Savile Row is instantly recognisable around the world and protecting its reputation was crucial to me so I established Savile Row Bespoke. Our aim is to protect and develop the art of bespoke tailoring as practised in the Row and the surrounding streets. Businesses here form a community and we share a common desire to ensure that hand-craft tailoring continues.
The challenge now is to make sure that Savile Row doesn’t become an overspill of Regent Street but maintains its unique character and association with world-class craftsmanship. Abercrombie & Fitch’s plans to open a children’s store on Savile Row is quite ridiculous – how could anyone say that it fits in with the character of the Row? There are over 100 working tailors here and this is a special place where it’s still possible to see world-class craftsmanship and to appreciate all the inspiration that gives to the British fashion and luxury industries – areas where we are truly world leaders.
The opportunities for Savile Row to develop the super-luxury of hand-crafted garments and other related businesses is enormous. People are fascinated by the authenticity of what we do and we have a passionate group of young apprentices coming up that should see us into the next century.