A very Royal appointment: the Prince of Wales visits his tailor
In his capacity as cheerleader for both wool and apprenticeships, Prince Charles visited his Savile Row tailor in person for the first time in 30 years.
BY MICK BROWN | 04 JANUARY 2013 in The Telegraph / http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/article/TMG9778740/A-very-Royal-appointment-the-Prince-of-Wales-visits-his-tailor.html
In the 30 years that he has been having his suits and coats made by the Savile Row tailor Anderson & Sheppard , the Prince of Wales has never actually visited the company's premises - until now. The form is usually as follows: the Prince, deciding that it is a time for new suiting, will call for fabrics to be sent, and his choice will be conveyed to Mr Hitchcock, the company's chief cutter (at Anderson & Sheppard everybody is 'Mr', forenames having seemingly been left on the pavement outside)
Following a tradition that goes back to the founding of the company 106 years ago, a new customer at Anderson & Sheppard will choose his fabric, and then be measured by a cutter, who will enter the details in the Measure Book, a series of leather-bound volumes that carry something of the heft and mystique of the Book of Kells , and which contain the names, addresses (town and country) and measurements of every client to have passed through the establishment's doors. Customers are traditionally asked to enter their name in their own hand - proof that the suit has been ordered in case of any untoward argument over the bill. Uniquely, the Prince's entry is neither in his own hand nor even his own name. It reads 'Charles Smith'. Nobody expects an argument over the bill.
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Having cut the suit in the cloth of the Prince's choice, to the measurements entered in the book, Mr Hitchcock sets off to Clarence House - a five- minute walk through St James's - for the fitting. The Prince likes to see Mr Hitchcock soon after eight in the morning, 'then it's not interrupting his day, as it were'. A valet will be waiting to escort Mr Hitchcock to the Prince's study. The suit will be tried on. There will be murmurs of approval, a tug here, an adjustment there. 'It's very good really - even if I miss something the valets will say, well it looks a bit short at the back there, or something. They'll point me in the right direction.'
One fitting will normally suffice. This is how things have been done since 1982. But today the Prince is coming to Anderson & Sheppard to meet the people who measure, cut, sew and press, to lend his support to the firm's apprentice scheme - the Prince is keen to encourage apprenticeships, and Anderson & Sheppard employs seven - and to push his own Campaign for Wool, which he launched in 2008 to promote the use of woollen products in fashion. The Prince of Wales is not really a wash-the-artificial-fabric-and-hang-it-over-the-bath-to-dry kind of guy.
For almost a century Anderson & Sheppard maintained premises in Savile Row. But in 2005 the firm moved around the corner to new premises in Old Burlington Street. The air is of a gentleman's club. Wood panelling, a buttoned leather sofa, an open fire. At the back, shelves are lined with order books. Bolts of cloth rest on a stool. A glass cabinet is filled with ties, silks, braces and buttons. On the wall hang etchings of 19th-century dandies and an imposing oil painting of Captain Morgan 'resting against his horse in a wooded landscape'.
On a small table by the door a bottle of The Macallan whisky and a bottle of Domecq sherry have been laid out for customers' refreshment. A cup of tea has been made for the Prince, and is brought out on a tray, along with a selection of biscuits and a jar of marmalade, and placed on a table in front of the fire. The minutes tick by. The cup of tea is taken away and replaced by a fresh one.
The shop has not been closed for the visit. An American customer is presently in the fitting-room. He emerges and does a double-take. Prince Charles has walked through the door.
It can take nine pairs of hands to make an Anderson & Sheppard suit: a salesman to advise on the cloth; a coat cutter (tailors do not talk about 'jackets') and a trouser cutter; separate tailors, or makers, for both; a specialist waistcoat maker; a trimmer, a presser and a finisher. Prices start at about £3,500.
The line of an Anderson & Sheppard suit has remained largely unchanged since the 1920s. The coat is cut full over the chest and shoulders to lend a softer hang, or 'drape'. The distinctive shoulder padding is hand-stitched, which allows more comfort and 'give' than machine stitching, while high, small arm holes ensure the coat does not ride up or fall back from the neck when the wearer moves his arms. The lapels are usually cut in proportion to the size of the chest. Trousers are normally flat-fronted, with side adjusters. (Belt loops? It's being made to fit, for God's sake.) Coats are usually double-vented. 'It's the English way,' Mr Hitchcock says, as if nothing more needs to be said.
Its progenitor, though, was actually Dutch. Frederick Scholte first developed the style that became known as 'the English drape' in his premises at No 7 Savile Row in the early 20th century, as a more comfortable alternative to the stiff constraints of military and formal dress. His most enthusiastic customer was the Duke of Windsor, who encouraged Scholte to push the boundaries of the style still further, and became its most celebrated wearer. Scholte was mentor to a Swedish expatriate named Per Anderson, who founded his own Savile Row business in 1906 with a trouser cutter named Sidney Sheppard. The pair adopted the Scholte cut, and quickly became its most celebrated exponents.
Whereas Scholte scorned showbusiness people as customers, considering them riff-raff, Anderson & Sheppard welcomed them with open arms. In an age when the Hollywood maxim was 'dress British, think Yiddish', Fred Astaire, Rudolph Valentino and Cole Porter all became loyal customers - along with Noël Coward, Evelyn Waugh, countless crown princes, millionaires, film moguls - and Marlene Dietrich.
In the late 1970s the firm was acquired by a loyal customer, the financier Tiny Rowland, and the Rowland family remain majority shareholders. Rowland's widow, Josie, is chairman, but the commercial side of the business is now run by his daughter, Anda. As well as being the head cutter, Mr Hitchcock is the firm's managing director.
The son of a carpenter from Battersea, Mr Hitchcock began his tailoring career as a Saturday boy in a local tailor, joining Anderson & Sheppard as an apprentice at the age of 16 in 1963. In those days it was common practice for customers to bring in their sons when they were 21 to have their first suits made; they would be rewarded with a 10 per cent discount, an investment in someone who would likely remain a customer for the rest of his life.
Bespoke tailoring, though, took a hit in the 1970s and 80s with the rise of good ready-to-wear suits, and the trend towards more casual dressing among men. This trend is now in reverse. 'In the 80s people refused to dress like their fathers,' Anda Rowland says. 'Now the younger ones want to dress like their grandfathers.'
Anderson & Sheppard now makes between 100 and 150 suits a month (in the 1920s and 30s it made 400 a month) and business is flourishing. Turnover for 2001 was £3.2 million; the projected turnover for 2012 is £3.8 million. The firm employs 27 full-time staff, including seven apprentices, and 43 outside tailors.
It takes four to six years for an apprentice to master the craft of cutting, and the firm now receives about 400 inquiries a year about joining the apprentice scheme - a fact that Mr Hitchcock partly attributes to what he calls the Alexander McQueen effect. McQueen worked as an apprentice coat cutter for the firm in the 1980s, until he was let go for his erratic timekeeping. Only later was it discovered that he was taking time off to accompany his ailing mother to hospital. McQueen's suicide in 2010, depressed over his mother's death only days earlier, served to focus more attention on Anderson & Sheppard as the place where Britain's most flamboyant and original fashion designer had first learnt his craft.
But the firm's most famous customer is, in some senses, the most improbable fashion icon of all. The Prince of Wales is a man who readily admits that 'my fashion sense only changes every 25 years'. And even that seems an exaggeration. His fashion sense seems never to change at all - a style that fashion pundits like to describe as timeless elegance.
Mr Hitchcock describes the Prince - who like Leonard Cohen is seldom seen in anything but a suit - as 'very frugal', and Mr Hitchcock is more often called on to effect repairs to an old suit than to run up a new one. An example: some years ago, the Prince sent a suit with frayed cuffs for repair. Mr Hitchcock improvised a turned-back cuff. Recently, visiting Waitrose with his wife, Mr Hitchcock picked up a copy of Waitrose Weekend and was surprised to see a picture of the Prince wearing the same suit at a formal function. 'I thought he was going to just wear it in the garden.'
Every winter sees the Prince bring out the full-cut double-breasted overcoat in herringbone tweed with patch pockets that he has worn since 1987. When he married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, he was wearing the morning suit that Mr Hitchcock had made for him 13 years earlier.
Mr Hitchcock reaches for a large cardboard box, with HRH Prince of Wales written on the lid. Inside are offcuts from all his suits, in case of repairs: a pocket of the herringbone tweed overcoat ('he wanted them larger'); a lightweight check, an end-piece of Balmoral tweed, 'Woven Exclusively for HRH Prince of Wales'.
'I was down at Highgrove one day,' Mr Hitchcock says, 'and I said, "We have a little bit left over, sir, but it's not enough to make anything." The Jack Russell was running around. I said, "Shall I make the dog a coat?" He said, "Well, measure him up if you can get hold of him." So we cut a little pattern out, put some Velcro underneath, and the dog wore it when they were out walking.'
The Prince knows about tailoring, and he knows about cloth. In 2008, alarmed at the state of the woollen industry, and in particular at the plight of sheep farmers, who find it can cost more to shear a sheep than they make from the wool, he founded the Campaign for Wool, to encourage manufacturers, designers and retailers to use and promote wool products. In 2010, to promote the campaign, Savile Row was turfed over to host a flock of grazing sheep, tended by two farmers dressed in Anderson & Sheppard bespoke wool suits (not an item, it must be said, that would be found in the wardrobe of many sheep farmers).
The increasing use of synthetic fabrics over the past 30 years has hit the wool industry hard. In Britain the number of sheep for breeding use has fallen from 25 million to about 14 million - millions were slaughtered following the foot and mouth outbreaks of 2001 and 2007 - and in Australia, the world's largest producer of wool, from 200 million to 70 million.
The campaign has had a considerable effect in promoting design competitions at colleges, encouraging fashion houses to utilise wool and retailers to promote it. In 2011 the volume of wool spun in British mills was up 12 per cent on the previous year, and the fall in the numbers of breeding sheep has been arrested as farmers begin increasing the size of their flocks to meet rising demand.
'What's amazing is how much time the Prince puts into the campaign, and how well informed he is,' says Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Condé Nast UK and vice-chairman of the Campaign for Wool. 'The wool industry can hardly believe their luck, because they've been fighting very hard for years, and they're up against formidable competition in these enormous multinational synthetics companies. It's a long supply chain from the farmers in Cumbria to Topshop, but Prince Charles has talked to everybody. We've had a number of meetings at Clarence House where we'll invite, say, 24 people, and they all come along because it's him. He'll give a very moving and well-informed speech and ask them to help with the campaign - and they do what he asks!' It's the Prince Charles effect.
The Prince steps through the door. He is wearing a classic double-breasted suit in a light grey and blue glen check. Mr Hitchcock recognises it as having been made some time in the 1990s. It has jetted side pockets, no flaps - the Prince, who has a habit of putting his hands in his coat pockets, does not like flaps - 3¾in lapels, 1¾in turn-ups on the trousers and side vents measuring 9½in from the bottom of the coat to the pocket. It is made from pure wool, 11oz, woven by Lesser & Sons in Huddersfield, 'a light weight for this weather,' Mr Hitchcock observes. 'But he's in and out of cars, I suppose.' He is wearing a blue and white Bengal-stripe shirt, a light-blue silk tie, with a silk square tucked in his breast pocket. He is accompanied by his equerry - a uniformed Army major - his protection officer and his valet. He looks around, in a 'so this is what a tailor's looks like' sort of way, and is pleased at what he sees.
Mr Hitchcock leads him to the desk, where he is introduced to Mr Heywood, the shop manager. He examines the Measure Books ('Pablo Picasso! Marvellous!') and - finally - signs his name against his own entry. He is introduced to Mrs Rowland and Anda, and has a conversation about merino wool.
In the cutting-room, the cutters pretend to work until they are introduced. The Prince examines the cutting boards, and rummages among his box of fabric odds and ends, as if he is meeting old friends. He holds up the piece of tweed. 'That's my overcoat!' He looks up at the paper patterns hanging from racks, like laundry, up to the ceiling. 'So when you drop off the perch, so does the pattern?'
He moves downstairs, to meet the apprentices, the tailors, the finishers, the packers. As he walks, left hand plunged into his pocket, he seems to radiate some invisible force field, which causes people to slide deftly out of his way so as not to obstruct his progress or put anything untoward or surprising in his line of view.
He is the consummate professional. Every hand is shaken. He seems to be avidly interested in everything, everyone. 'You arrive at 8.30? And can you escape for lunch?' 'You're 36? No!' 'Cyprus? Really? And' - he points to a photograph propped on a ledge - 'these are your grandchildren?' No one speaks unless they are spoken to. That is the form. Until one jovial older gent decides to share some memories of his long years in tailoring, and how 'I used to see the two princesses going into Norman Hartnell's.' The molecules in the air seem to rearrange themselves. 'I remember Mr Hartnell very well,' says the Prince genially, and moves on.
His visit was planned for half an hour. He has stayed an hour. He comes up the stairs, and pauses at the door for a final farewell.
The tea is untouched.
'No time for a chocolate biscuit?' Mrs Rowland asks.
'I wish…' the Prince says, and is gone.
Everybody is glowing, as if some remarkably clever trick has been pulled off. Which, in a sense, it has. The visit has been a triumph. 'It's marvellous for the apprentices,' Mrs Rowland says. 'A real encouragement to them. They'll remember it all their lives. We all will.' She gestures to the table. 'Biscuits, everybody!'
In plenty of time for Christmas, Anderson & Sheppard has opened its accessories shop at 17 Clifford Street, literally round the corner from its main tailoring shop at 32 Old Burlington Street, Mayfair. Officially styled as “our stand-alone haberdashery and trouser shop”, it is superbly done and is awash with highly desirable goodies that will delight any menswear connoisseur. Minding the shop every day is Audie Charles, late of Douglas Hayward, who has worked with A&S’ Anda Rowland to create this very welcome addition to the menswear map in central London. Make sure you visit and take time to linger.