Savile Row tailoring

Gieves & Hawkes on No. 1 Savile Row

Savile Row tailoring is traditional and modern, men and women's bespoke tailoring that takes place on Savile Row and neighbouring streets in Mayfair, central London. In 1846, Henry Poole, credited as being the "Founder of Savile Row", opened an entrance to his tailoring premises into No. 32 Savile Row.[1] The term "bespoke" is understood to have originated in Savile Row when cloth for a suit was said to "be spoken for" by individual customers.[2] The short street has been termed the "golden mile of tailoring", where customers have included Charles, Prince of Wales, Jude Law, Winston Churchill, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Laurence Olivier, Duke Ellington, Lord Nelson and Napoleon III.[1][2][3]

In 1969, Nutters of Savile Row modernised the style and approach of the traditional tailors; a modernisation which continued in the 1990s with the arrival of designers including Richard James, Ozwald Boateng and Timothy Everest. With increasing rents the number of tailoring businesses on Savile Row had declined to 19 by 2006.[4][5] There were also criticisms from Giorgio Armani of falling behind the times.[6][7] However, since the mid-noughties Savile Row has been enjoying a remarkable resurgence, perhaps typified by the arrival of young and innovative tailors like Cad and the Dandy, who have sought re-invigoration by means of modern technologies such as the internet.


Tailoring has been associated with Savile Row since the 19th century, when Beau Brummell, who epitomised the well-dressed man, patronised the tailors congregated on the Burlington Estate, notably around Cork Street. By 1803 some were occupying premises in Savile Row, but none of those original tailors survive today.

The Savile Row Bespoke Association was founded in 2004 to protect and to develop bespoke tailoring as practised in Savile Row and the surrounding streets.[8] Founder members include: Anderson & Sheppard, Dege & Skinner, Gieves & Hawkes and Henry Poole. The member tailors are required to put at least 50 hours of hand labour into each two-piece suit.[9]

In a March 2006 report by the City of Westminster (Department of Planning and City Development), "Bespoke Tailoring in London’s West End", it was estimated that between 6,000 to 7,000 men's suits were made in and around the Savile Row area annually.[4] This represented a turnover of approximately £21 million.[4] A Reuters article in February 2013 suggested that the total revenue for the informal group of suitmakers was now estimated to be £30-35 million pounds, with several tailoring houses having over 10% growth in recent years.[10] The Fashion Industry's contribution as a whole to the British economy is an estimated £26 billion a year.[11]

As of August 2014, Norway’s Oil Fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, had acquired a 57.8 percent interest in the Pollen Estate.[12] This includes properties in Mayfair, among which is Savile Row.[12]

19th century

Main article: Henry Poole & Co
The model David Gandy wearing a bespoke suit by Henry Poole & Co (2014)
Main article: Gieves & Hawkes

20th century

In 2004, A&S' lease at No.30 expired, and the building's landlords wanted to raise its rent.[28] Shortly thereafter, Anda Rowland assumed A&S' daily operations.[28] Rowland, daughter of entrepreneur Tiny Rowland (who had acquired A&S in the late 1970s, and whose family still holds an 80 per cent stake in the business) had been working at Parfums Christian Dior in Paris.[27][28] After Anda Rowland’s mother, Josie, decided to relocate A&S to its current, smaller premises on nearby Old Burlington Street, she appealed to her daughter for assistance in managing the firm.[28] Before Anda's arrival, A&S did not operate a web site or viable computer network, costs were left unrecorded and approximately £500,000 worth of unpaid tailoring bills (money owed to A&S) had accrued.[28] Rowland stated: "We’d been in the old buildings since the 1920s and, like many Savile Row tailors or traditional companies, your image becomes tied … like Harrods, it becomes tied to the building."[27]

Anda Rowland's initial act at A&S was to create an internet presence for the firm.[27] A&S' website is a marketing tool and, says Rowland, “it helps to remind people or reinforces the idea that we have one foot in the past, but, also, one foot very much in today”. Since 2005, A&S' sales have risen exponentially so that, allowing for the hiring of six additional full-time apprentices, for a total of eight.[27] As part of its 2012 revival, A&S opened a haberdashery shop on Clifford Street, at the end of the Row. Previous A&S customers include: Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire, Pablo Picasso, Bryan Ferry, Manolo Blahnik and Tom Ford.[27] In January, 2013, HRH Prince Charles visited A&S.[29] In the 30 years that A&S had tailored his suits and coats, HRH had never actually visited the company's premises.[29] In 2012, A&S' revenues topped £4 million and its annual revenues have increased over 13 percent each year since 2009.[10] A&S manager Colin Heywood stated: "We're doing very well, actually. We've found that business has picked up in the last few years, and we couldn't be busier."[10]

Amies was one of the first European designers to venture into the ready-to-wear market when he teamed up with Hepworths in 1959 to design a range of menswear. In 1961, he made fashion history by staging the first men's ready-to-wear catwalk shows, at the Ritz Hotel in London[33] Amies also undertook design for in-house work wear, which developed from designing special clothes for groups such as the Oxford University Boat Club and London Stock Exchange. Amies also designed costumes for films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey.[34]

Amies is perhaps best known to the British public for his work for Queen Elizabeth II. The association began in 1950, when Amies made several outfits for the then Princess Elizabeth's royal tour to Canada. Although the couture side of the Hardy Amies business was traditionally less financially successful, the award of a Royal warrant of appointment as official dressmaker in 1955 gave his house a degree of respectability and resultant publicity. One of his best known creations is the gown he designed in 1977 for Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee portrait which, he said, was "immortalised on a thousand biscuit tins."[32] Knighted in 1989, Amies held the warrant until 1990, when he gave it up so that younger designers could create for the Queen.

In May 1973, Amies sold the business to Debenhams, who had themselves purchased Hepworths which distributed the Hardy Amies line. Amies purchased the business back in 1981. In May 2001, Amies sold his business to the Luxury Brands Group. He retired at the end of that year, when Moroccan-born designer Jacques Azagury became head of couture. In November 2008, after going bankruptcy, the Hardy Amies brand was acquired by Fung Capital, the private investment arm of Victor and William Fung, who together control the Li & Fung group.[35] The current collection is overseen by design director Mehmet Ali. The Hardy Amies name is still licensed globally, particularly in Japan.

Tommy Nutter dressed three of the four Beatles on the cover of their album Abbey Road.

Meredith Etherington-Smith wrote: "Nutter was a gentle humorist who had a wide and interesting circle of friends attracted by his enthusiasm, by his gentle, self-mocking personality and his acerbic comments on the vagaries of others, always ending with the expression 'But who am I to talk?'."[40]

New generation

Backstage at the Richard James London Collections: Men runway show, 2012

Modernisation, which had begun in 1969 with Nutters of Savile Row, had slowed by the early 1990s, so Savile Row tailors were "struggling to find relevance with an audience that had grown increasingly disassociated".[43] Three 'New Generation' designers are credited with keeping Savile Row ahead of the times: they were Ozwald Boateng, Timothy Everest (a former apprentice of Nutter's) and Richard James.[44] Having each broken away independently from the Savile Row mould, public relations professional Alison Hargreaves coined the term "New Bespoke Movement" to describe collectively the work of this "new generation" of tailors.[45] Interest reached a peak in 1997 when the three were featured together in Vanity Fair.[45] The issue, entitled "Cool Britania", portrayed the tailors as the forefront of nineties style and design.[46][47] The newcomers altered their shop fronts and utilised marketing and publicity to their advantage.[48] For example, when Richard James (tailor) opened its Savile Row store in 1992, it introduced Saturday opening, something of a revolution to Savile Row at that time.[49] Eight years later in 2000, Richard James (tailor) opened a new shop with large plate glass windows that allowed customers to see inside.[50]

The new generation challenged the traditional Savile Row styling, bringing twists and "a fine sense of colour to bespoke suits."[51] They were seen to "push the envelope of modern suit making and bespoke active wear, creating more contemporary silhouettes with bolder fabrics."[52] Unlike the older establishments, this new generation of tailors set out to garner celebrity clients, disseminate their products via supermarket chains and attract wider national and international custom, raising the profile of their new tailoring style.[48] In 2001 Richard James (tailor) was awarded the title Menswear Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council, following that up in 2008 with the Bespoke Designer of the Year award, in recognition of its contribution to British tailoring.[53] Boateng received the French Trophee de la Mode for Best Male Designer in 1996.[48]

In an interview with Another Magazine in 2012, Sargent stated: "Really I wanted to be a skilled worker rather than just a designer. I wanted to be able to fit something perfectly." Continuing, "If you know how things are made and know the potential possibilities, you can be more creative. Where else do you learn that except for Savile Row?"[78] "Savile Row has changed so much – I was lucky to come in at a time when it was changing. Now I just want to concentrate on doing really good bespoke work and on making my own contribution to the history of the Row".[78] When being interviewed by The Daily Telegraph in 2013, she observed: "Women know how to make men look good in suits - most men consult their wives or girlfriends or mistresses... Women are accepted in medicine and in law; why not tailoring? I hope equality will become so not an issue that soon we won't be able to believe that it ever was."[79]

Other companies on Savile Row

Conduit Street tailors


As of November 2014, there are only two family-owned tailoring houses left on Savile Row, namely Dege & Skinner and Henry Poole & Co.[98] Managing Director of D&S William G. Skinner, when interviewed by The Business of Fashion (BofF) website, stated: "Ready-to-wear has been available on the Row for some time, but recession and a tough economic climate have led some retailers further down the road of ready-to-wear..."[99] Although in recent years the global luxury menswear market has grown at roughly double the pace of luxury womenswear, the tailors of Savile Row face the stark reality that bespoke tailoring is simply not a scalable business.[100]

How different companies compete in the forthcoming years will vary. Starting with the 150-year-old company Dege & Skinner, William Skinner points out the young people involved: the future generation of tailors, serving apprenticeships within the trade.[98] He stated in an interview to The Guardian: "That highlights our belief in the future of the bespoke tailoring business. We have invested in the future of the trade, because we are confident about the future of the trade. We have a good business model; we make money and we reinvest it in the company. We are not a museum piece by any means."[98] He continued: "A lot of people don’t want to go into a high street shop, they want the relationship and the service that we give. As long as we can maintain that, there’s every chance of surviving."[98]

At Gieves & Hawkes (G&H), founded in 1771, the approach differs. In 2012, G&H was bought up by Trinity Ltd., part of Hong Kong's Fung Capital, the private equity partnership of Victor and William Fung, the chairman and group managing director of Li & Fung, the world’s largest supplier to consumer brands of clothing.[100] Ray Clacher, Chief Executive of G&H, stated in an interview to The BofF: "In the last 12 months, we have [become] a more style-driven, less suit-dependent company than we have been in the past... We have hired in excess of 40 new heads just to look after design, production and development and merchandising."[100] He continued: "We have opened seventeen stores and we have certainly spent over £10 million in terms of pure hardware — going into digital, websites for Japan, China, the UK."[100]

Patrick Grant, designer and owner since 2005 of bespoke tailor Norton & Sons and its sister ready-to-wear line E. Tautz, stated to The BofF : "The simple truth is that there are opportunities to sell ready-to-wear clothes thanks to Savile Row’s history."[100] He continued: "Personally as someone who has a business on both sides, I would like to see anything with a Savile Row name on it actually made on Savile Row... If you have got ten thousand suits being made by hand on Savile Row, but you have got a million suits somewhere in a factory in Asia also called Savile Row, I don’t think it can do anything other than hurt the business here."[99]

Kilgour & French was taken over by the company '14 Savile Row', a subsidiary of Fung Capital, in 2013.[101] 14 Savile Row also owns Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell. They managed to re-install Carlo Brandelli as Creative Director, who had resigned when Kilgour was taken over by in 2008 by JMH Lifestyle.[101] According to Brandelli, Savile Row has been invigorated, but he stated to The Daily Telegraph: "It has changed over the last few years but it is still not enough." He continued: "Too many of the tailors are like the wrong kind of museum."[101]

Huntsman's Roubi L’Roubi is adamant that ready-to-wear is crucial to the survival of the Row.[102] He stated to the website Economia: "There’s a way of carrying the traditions and modernising. They are not mutually exclusive."[102] He also broaches the subject of the dwindling proportion of female customers: today it accounts for less than 5% at Poole, Huntsman and Gieves & Hawkes.[102] He states: "It’s because women want instant purchases. They want to buy it, take it home and wear it that evening."[102] At present, the companies that advertise as bespoke tailors for women include: Nooshin, Katherine Maylin, King & Allen and Kathryn Sargent.

Henry Poole & Co. are wanting to expand into China.[103] In an interview with CNBC, Simon Cundey, director of Henry Poole & Co, stated: "We've had a number of customers who have ordered in London and want the attention to detail we offer them and we hope that by bringing that option to Beijing we can grow the market there."[103] Henry Poole & Co already has two stores in China through a partnership; however tailors make the framework for the suit in London and send it over to be assembled in a Chinese factory.[103]

See also


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Further reading

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