Nina Koo-Seen-Lin heads to Savile Row, the home of bespoke tailoring…

The Birth of Bespoke British Tailoring

Say the word ‘suit’ and it’s likely you’ll think of Savile Row. In fact, the street in Mayfair has been the place to go for a bespoke, custom-made suit crafted by the finest of skilled tailors. In today’s world where throwaway fashion is prominent, Savile Row has become a beacon in the fashion industry for high quality clothing that lasts.

The founder of Savile Row is often purported to be Henry Poole, who inherited his father’s firm in the mid-19th century. Poole & Co became the tailor for the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, who was a style icon in his time. Henry has been credited for the dinner jacket and smoking jacket and the company is one of the longest surviving tailors on the Row.

The term ‘bespoke’ is said to have originated in Savile Row when a particular cloth for a suit was labeled as ‘to be spoken for a particular customer’. The Savile Row tailor prides himself on making a suit that best fits their client. His or her job goes beyond recording leg measurements. They have to quietly assess the client’s body shape, type and mannerisms in order to create the perfect suit that matches the precise customer specification. This time honoured tradition from first measurement to the finished article takes a minimum of 52 hours labour, and at least three fittings. The result is a piece of wearable art.

 

Traditional Tailors to the Rich & Famous

When it comes to names, the tailors on Savile Row are as well-known as those who wear their clothing. Dege & Skinner, Gieves & Hawkes, and Norton & Sons are all traditional tailors that still remain on the Row today. Famous clients include British and foreign royalty, prime ministers (such as Winston Churchill), US presidents as well as Hollywood film stars and entertainers (Cary Grant, Robbie Williams, Alexander McQueen, Colin Firth and Michael Jackson to name a few).

150th anniversary cloths

Tommy Nutter, aka the rebel of the Row, and Edward Sexton were responsible for the modernized style and approach to traditional Savile Row style and tailoring in the late-sixties. Clientele included heartthrobs of the day including Steve McQueen, Michael Caine, Terence Stamp and The Beatles.

Huntsman is famous for its house tweeds, woven on the oldest working mill in Britain, Islay. Hollywood’s 20th century leading men, for instance Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Rex Harrison and Gregory Peck favoured this tailor. As well as bespoke suits, the label has a ready-to-wear collection and there’s a range of overcoats – a garment that’s often overlooked nowadays, but one creative director Roubi L’Roubi is determined to put back on the style map.

 

The New Establishment

The call for bespoke suits dwindled with the arrival of ready-to-wear fashion brands and fashion houses such as Versace and Armani. But the early to mid-nineties saw the arrival of Cool Britannia (Brit Pop, the Primrose Hill set, and the Supernova Heights clique). The revival for a love of all things British meant Savile Row became a popular fashion destination again.

A new establishment of tailors came to kick-started the bespoke movement once again. Patrick Grant, Ozwald Boateng and Richard James are the ones who are leading the way to draw a new generation of suit wearers. For apprentice tailors Savile Row is the Oxbridge for suitmaking studies. Eithan Sweet and Emma Martin are the names to look out for in the future.

 

Savile Suits You, Sir

When it comes to cost, a Savile Row tailor-made suit is far from cheap. The average price is in the range of £3000 to £4000. However, the emergence of Highstreet brands on the Row such as Ben Sherman and Abercrombie & Fitch means men can now buy a customized suit in the price region of £800. Good quality clothing that’s made to measure can be affordable if you look for it.

There’s something special about a man in a suit. The perfectly fitted jacket with a pair of trousers to match makes a man look and feel good. And most women love a man in a suit. Any store that caters to men’s fashion can design and sell suits, but one glimpse through the shop windows on Savile Row, and it’s clear that not all suits are created equal. Some are tailored to be the absolute best.

Nina Koo-Seen-Lin