Timeless Suits From London's Savile Row Back in Fashion

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With a blazing fire, leathersofa, and a half-empty bottle of single malt whisky by the door,London bespoke suit-maker Anderson & Sheppard feels more like agentlemen's club frozen in time than a 21st century luxuryretailer.

At the back of the shop a number of impeccably dressedtailors cut cloth on wooden work benches much like they havebeen doing for the last 100 years. One can almost imagine pastcustomers like Charlie Chaplin, Pablo Picasso or some fadedVictorian gentleman turning up at any moment.

This Savile Row tailor, where first names are banned andcustomers are always "sir", may feel like a museum to Britain'sfaded imperial glory but the bespoke menswear business on "theRow" is enjoying a remarkable resurgence.

Anderson & Sheppard is just one of the names on London'smost renowned street for high-end tailors.

Alongside Gieves & Hawkes, Dege & Skinner, Henry Poole & Coand others, tailors on "the Row" have been dressing royalty,aristocrats, statesmen, great warriors and the wealthy sinceBritish dandy Beau Brummel first introduced trousers tofashionable London society at the start of the 19th century.

Behind the fusty facade "the Row" is attracting a newgeneration of less exclusive young clientele despite suit pricesstarting at 3,800 pounds ($5,900) with a combination of clientdiscretion, a subtle online presence and absolute attention todetail and quality.

Anderson & Sheppard had a 2012 turnover of 4 million poundsand growth has been over 13 percent every year since 2009.

A number of other houses on Savile Row have also enjoyedover 10 percent growth in recent years with total revenue forthe informal group of suitmakers now estimated to be 30-35million pounds.

"We're doing very well actually. We've found that businesshas picked up in the last few years, and we couldn't be busier,"Anderson & Sheppard manager Colin Heywood said as he showedReuters around the shop.


The renaissance of classic British menswear is a dramaticturn-around for an industry that was left on the ropes by therise of decent quality ready-to-wear suits and shirts in shopsduring the 1970s and 1980s.

Clothes that were then dismissed as old fashioned,over-priced and going the way of bowler hats, are now thesubject of renewed interest reflected in sartorial blogs andforums from India to the United States.

"We've noticed that we get a lot more younger customerscoming in. I think that's particularly the result of theinternet. There's so much more written about bespoke tailoringnow in books, magazines and online," Heywood said.

The celebration of Savile Row's handcrafted suits in onlineforums, top men's magazines and promoted by its own associationon the Savile Row Bespoke website has allowed tailors on the Row to make a centuries-old traditionirresistible to well-off modern men seeking top quality.

"People find it a lot more accessible and I think it takesaway that fear element of people coming in for the first time,"Heywood said.

One customer, 38-year-old James Massey who runs a publicrelations firm, said a bespoke suit was impossible to match.

"I could probably go and spend the same amount of money inSelfridges on a Zegna suit that's made in a factory in Italywith a bit of handstitching, but this is actually madespecifically for me," he said.

Dylan Jones, editor at GQ UK, puts the renaissance ofBritish tailoring down to the way men now shop for clothes.

"It's a generational shift. Men today consume far more likewomen. They're far more sophisticated consumers than they usedto be and they expect very good produce at every entry level,"he said.

"Menswear is starting to approach 50 percent of a lot ofpeople's business. It's a real growth industry."

Savile Row is particularly popular in international circleswhere the classic British look is increasingly fashionable.

"One thing that plays fantastically well with foreign pressand buyers is the heritage aspect of what we do and there is somuch interest in Savile Row," Jones said, referring to theevents he runs as chair of the menswear committee for theBritish Fashion Council.

Within this overall growth market where men are spendingmore on clothes and demanding higher quality, Savile Row remainsuniquely placed in a global industry which luxury consultantsBain & Company estimated was worth more than $34 billion in anOct. 2012 note.

"London is the home of menswear. We invented the suit andSavile Row is the most important men's shopping street in theworld which offers a quality and aspect of heritage that yousimply can't get anywhere else," Jones said.

Cottage Industry

While big fashion brands such as Tom Ford, Dior, and PaulSmith, invest heavily in marketing, distribution and staff,Savile Row tailors remain a cottage industry employing only afew dozen people who produce suits on site.

With fewer overheads and an international reputation fromgenerations of suit-making which does not cost a penny inadvertising, Savile Row is a surprisingly competitive anddurable business model.

"Any of these big fashion brands will have a much biggermark-up than the Savile Row tailors. No one goes into bespoketailoring to get rich," said James Harvey-Kelly the mensweardesigner for French brand Vicomte A who also runs his ownmade-to-measure company.

"The quality is sensational and that's what Savile Rowtrades off. They use sensational cloths and its sewn together byabsolute experts. They last for generations."

On the other side of Piccadilly the manager of traditionalshirtmaker Budd, Andrew Rowland, said his company was reapingrewards for sticking by its principles through the tough times.

"We've never done anything different, but the others haveweakened," he said in the cosy shop just off Jermyn Street abovewhich bespoke shirts are still scissored by hand.

Jermyn Street used to be the home of London's bespokeshirt-making industry, but many of the old stores such as T.M.Lewin and Hawes & Curtis expanded into mass sales, pushing downthe price by producing shirts in Vietnam and Turkey.

One long-term customer is British actor Edward Fox, whoplayed the title role in "Day of the Jackal". Before sittingdown to a cup of tea with Rowland, he explained why he has beencoming back for 55 years.

"This is a Budd shirt. It must be at least 10 years old.Just as good today as it was 10 years ago. You don't actuallyhave to spend that much on clothes, you have to look afterclothes and you have to buy well originally".

However, traditional tailoring is not always ideal for moredesign-conscious people, according to Harvey-Kelly.

"Everything for them (Savile Row) is about it fallingperfectly with no creases. But in the modern day peoplesometimes want it to look a bit uncomfortable. They want it tobe slim and curl on the sleeve and a lot of tailors refuse to dothat".

Heywood at Anderson & Sheppard when asked about modernfashion trends said he had noticed a "slight lean towardsnarrower trousers".

"We're not fashion-led. Fashions change very quickly andwhat we like to do is create a suit that's a timeless classicthat you can wear in any decade".