The Kingdom Bites Back!

Savile Row BBC Documentary

Posted in Made In England by martinbatt on April 27, 2010

Research notes from BBC three part documentary series about Savile Row

Savile Row is and iconic address and is over 200 years old. The street itself is the tailors identity, Mayfair the trivial home of the gentleman. A bespoke suit transcends time as it’s not fashionable, but something you can look back at and say it’s a beautiful thing. Traditional Savile Row companies don’t advertise, they gain business just be word of mouth. The clothing label is hidden inside the jacket pocket on most suits. Service is personal, profits are miniscule and advertising is vulgar. Menaced by global retailers, these are dark times for the gentlemen of the Row as they prepare to go head to head with global retailing.The tailors might look like sitting ducks but they have survived attacks by the Luftwaffe and Giorgio Armani. Global is looking manacing and local is looking chique. Savile Row ticks all the right boxes, old fashioned is suddenly looking very modern. Labels say you’re one of the boys, but a bespoke suit says you are the man, its a product made for the market of just one.

The Savile Row suit is created on the premises without fanfare or damage to the planet. The T-shirt is a throw away item, but the Savile Row garment is a family awe. These clothes will never be landfill, today’s notions of sustainability and provinence have always been taken for granted here. The tailors have been eco concious since the eighteen hundreds. To be a member of the Savile Row bespoke organization you have to make the garment on and around the street itself. It takes 15 weeks to make a suit, the time it takes the customer to realise they probably need another suit, thats how it works.


There are easy ways of buying cloth but, but there are not easy ways of buying beautiful unique cloth. Genuine Harris Tweed must be woven by an an Islander, preferably in a tin hut. The supply is per definition limited, to small for a high street retailer to consider. Donald John Mccay rarely recives buyers up from Marks & Spencer. Do people once again value craft and quality Mr Mccay asks and points out that the tweed is environmentally friendly too.

Tailor Richard Anderson

For tailor Richard Anderson, creating a bespoke garmentrequires intimate contact with the customer and when the customer can’t come to the Row, The Row goes to them. A unique service probably not on the offer down at the local jeans outlet. For his foreign customers Anderson is prepared to bend the Savile Row rules regarding advertising he’s promoting his own product. Richards Anderson’s business partner is Brian Lishak a Savile Row Godfather who’s been crossing the Atlantic to keep his customers satisfied for 51 years. Savvy Manhattenites would rather make time to come to a hotel and spend loads of money on bespoke garments. American cash makes up 70% of the income on the Row.

Abercrombie & Fitch

Three months after Abercrombie & Fitch opened they seem to be breathing new life into the Row. For now the teens aren’t thinking bespoke, but the gentlemen of the Row take the long view, in twenty years time some of them might be customers. If the tailors are still here then it will be because they are providing a remarkable product from natural material and because in a world of marketing pufferey Savile Row is quite simply the real thing. Tailor Patrick Grant doesn’t think that Abercrombie & Fitch cheapens what they do on the Row. In a way its great for the Row that we now have something that drags a whole different audience of people. If you asked your average teenage girl where Savile Row was six months ago I think you would have gotten a lot of confused faces. Now everyone knows where it is because its the place where you can come and look at boys and if that brings people here it’s great for me.

Holy Ground and Foreign Affairs

Savile Row is an iconic address, holy ground in the world of men’s clothing. The tailoring businesses on the street are individuals, neighbours who like to keep themselves to themselves, but now they want to get noticed in the international menswear market. They are going to have to work together to get their show on the road, shed their traditional discreation and seek publicity. There’s a new big name retailer on the street (Abercrombie & Fitch) who are teaching them about marketing. But can the tailors get brand savvy without selling their souls? Saville Row is the perfect brand, its very name speaks of quality, the service is unparralel and personal. Garments are made largely by hand and the result looks discretly distinctive. Global retailing and mass production this isn’t. The Savile Row suit is very green, a once in a lifetime purchase that lasts forever, a classic above the whims of fashion.

Mark Henderson Gieves & Hawkes

Mark Henderson managing director of Gieves & Hawkes believes that this little community leads the world. He just wishes the press wanted to write about that. Henderson wants the tailors to tell the world about their product, but they are a conservative bunch. The makers of Rolls Royce cars don’t go knocking on doors so why should they?

Tailor Ozwald Boateng

Ozwald Boateng has never been backward about coming forward. He believes their famous retiansance could kill the tailors off. Boateng says; You can’t keep a tradition running in a way it always did two hundred years ago, because it’s gotta evelove with time, if it doesn’t it dies.

Time For Action

The modernisers believes it’s time for action. Tailor Mike Henderson wants his neighbours to take control of their image and promote themselves. Savile Row has got an established reputation, but the reputation has been in some danger.

Henry Poole & Co

Henry Poole & Co is as old as they come but Director Alex Cundy is right on message, he means they should make more use of their brand name. Cundy’s way is rules that defy members of Savile Row bespoke, regulations about handwork and craftspeople, premises and training help determine what the tailors are and what their immitators are not. It’s manufacturing on the spot and you have to have a cutter and one or two work people as a minimum actually on the premises and that the majority of your garments are made on Savile Row or within 50 yards or so of the Row he says. The Savile Row brand is about authenticity, unless the tailor is here or just around the corner his clothes can’t now be called Savile Row, it’s location location location. Henry Poole & Co are the founders of Savile Row and opened is doors in 1806.

Edward Sexton (Outlaw Territory)

In Knightsbridge “the hideout of bespoke bandit” Edward Sexton. Sexton left Savile Row because of financial reasons, the rent being too expensive. Sexton is a Savile Row GOD, a key player in it’s history. He lives and breathes bespoke and embodies everything the brand stands for. His website states “you can take the boy out of the Row, but you can’t take the Row out of the boy” Forty years ago Sexton was the genious behind Tommy Nutter, his customers were popstars and pot smokers and while they outraged the neighbours his bespoke creations put Savile Row in the spotlight and made it look modern and relevant. He says we were the first company to have an actual window display, dressing the Beatles, Mick Jagger and making Mick and Biancas wedding clothes. Tommy Nutter is a story for any fashion writer, Sexton is an authority on the history and politics of british tailoring, he’s an old Savile Row fixture, whatever the new rules say. He says the 70’s was the decade of the French, the 80’s the Italians and the 90’s should have been the decade of the brits, but economy and world wide recession has set us back. We are now just catching up, so I think it’s time now.

Henry Poole & Co Of Hanloon?

Henry Poole & Co tailors have licensed their name to a company called Hanloon tailors who make clothes that are Henry Poole of Savile Row but not on Savile Row. Tailor Dave Ward is going over to China to see that the brand is in safe hands. For two centuries Poole & Co has tried to get their name known amongst foreign gentlemen, opening branches in capital cities on the way up. Last century it was Tokyo, this century its Beijing. China is the place to be, the market everyone wants into, but is the Savile Row brand safe in this burgeoning economy? The Bejing store is a franchise. In all China Mr Loo, owner of Hanloon tailors is Henry Poole & Co. Has he correctly interpreted the sacred brand? Would a London customer feel at easy here? It seems he would… The Store is suitably Mayfair, the very essence of Savile Row. Ward entrusts the manager with something even more precious, the DNA of superbrand Britain Limited, Big Ben, Policeman, The Proms, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, the latter being in German hands now. Mr Loo’s staff tailors will be creating bespoke suiting using cloth sent from London, the garment and the experience must be worthy of the name Henry Poole & Co. Ward has come here to instill in these master tailors a whole new astethic, he is Savile Row, can they be? Differing tastes are a special concern to Henry Poole & Co, they understand customers who like steak and a well tailored trouser. But can they come to understand men who like rice and a mandarin collar or might something vital be lost in translation?

Tailor Ravvi Taylor and Evisu Jeans

At Savile Row nr.9 Ravvi Taylor is learning the hard way about the need to be brand savvy. Two years ago Ravvi wanted help with the rent and leased out the front of his shop to a top end Japanese jeans company. He moved into the back thinking it would be business as usual, but his Savile Row alure was swamped by the powerful denim brand. He’d hoped the young coming in for leisure wear would fancy lounge suits but they didn’t, Ravvi says I have lost a lot, I have lost a lot of American clients. Unfortunately with the Japanese connection they wouldn’t go anywhere near the place. The writing is on the wall, Ravvi might even have to leave the Row to get his Savile Row quality back. Ravvi Taylors experimental liason with his denim clad shopmates has failed after two years. Ravvi’s hoping to become more Savile Row again by moving out. He’s moving in with an ancient tailoring firm just around the corner. The question is, how far away is the corner? Wil Ravvi still qualify for Savile Row bespoke?

James Sherwood Style Journalist

Style journalist and bespoke servant James Sherwood wants to blow the tailors trumpet for them. He believes their history is their greatest marketing tool. He’s talked the tailors into putting it on display. He’s after the ancient ordering books gathering dust up and down the street. He’s been asked to curate an exhibition of Savile Row bespoke at the Palazzio Pizzi in Florence. The Tailors keep record of every garment ordered, every bill paid and otherwise from Churchill to Sinatra. Norton & Sons have a lsit of what was bought by Sir Winston Churchill. Poole & Co are so old they are a bit passe about their history, in the basement boiler room Kings and Commodors share a shelf space with mousetraps and cleaning products. Two nineteenth century clients are causing problems Napoleon the third and Princess Eugene probably aren’t missing they’ve just been mislayed temporarily for the last fifty years or so.

The Savile Row Roadshow

The Savile Row roadshow has arrived in Florence ready to take part in the worlds biggest menswear trade show. I think it’s about time we’ve come over a lot of people have wondered why we haven’t done it before. You see Italian names all over the world, whereas you tend not to see English name’s. Not that we are here to say we’re better than the Italians, we’re here to say this is what Savile Row can do. The tailors are in for a rough ride. This is the frey they must endure if they want to dip their toe in the international menswear scene. They’ll need to shed their traditional reserve fast. British bespoke tailoring may be a world beating product, but none makes it in this business scrum without a struggle. Mark Henderson says this is an opportunity to really show what Savile Row has done but also to show what Savile Row does do and its the biggest menswear show in the world so to be at centre stage here is a fantastic honour for Savile Row. James Sherwoods vision of Savile Row is in a palace across the river of the menswear show. He’s showing the tailors their own history and they will be jusdging if he got their history right. This is a historic moment, their best work is being exhibited together. Who made what doesn’t matter, its the group message that counts. Upon arriving at James Sherherwoods exhibition Ozwald Boateng says; here now for the first time to see all the tailors together is phenonemal , can you umagine this happened here i Italy first. It’s interesting we haven’t been able to come together in London. These men are the Savile Row brand and the media are on hand to capture he moment. It may be hard to measure how successfull a trade festival like this is but at least the tailors themselves have seen how impressive Saville Row can look.


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