London’s famous, and notoriously stuffy street of tailors, Savile Row, is today flourishing with trailblazing upstarts and start-ups, says Alex Doak
When Abercrombie & Fitch opened a flagship store on Savile Row in 2012, its buffed male models stripped to their waist loitering opposite the greatest name in British tailoring, Gieves & Hawkes, the resulting (awfully polite, mind) controversy was probably the best bit of PR that London’s heartland of bespoke tailoring could have hoped for. Bolstered by the burgeoning resurgence in men’s style (that’s “style”, not “fashion”) focus once again shifted to this remarkable enclave of craft and tradition.
Since Henry Poole moved to no.15 from Brunswick Square in 1846, the greatest names in formalwear have situated their showrooms (always on the ground floor) and workshops (usually in the basement) here – names like Anderson & Sheppard, Huntsman and the aforementioned Gieves, which still holds the Royal Warrant for ceremonial military uniform. The greatest names have always shopped here, from Hollywood royalty to actual royalty. Anderson & Sheppard once kept a section of carpet loose, to be peeled back during Fred Astaire’s fitting so he could ensure his new tailcoat flowed around his body correctly by dancing a few steps.
A relatively recent influx of international designer labels and less historic tailors such as Richard James or Cad & The Dandy has thrown the street’s offering wide open, to also include ready-to-wear and made-to-measure. While purists will eye these newcomers with caution, it does get youngsters into suiting sooner, and ultimately acts as a gateway drug to a fully-blown, beautifully crafted, British bespoke suit. Which, as anyone in the know will tell you, is the most economical bit of clothes shopping you’ll ever do – as long as you keep the weight off, it’ll literally last a lifetime.
The revived great
Chester Barrie prides itself on being a quintessentially British brand, but it was originally founded in London in 1935 by Simon Ackerman, an Englishman who had emigrated to the States. He came back to create an English look for the American market – Cary Grant and Franks Sinatra were regular customers – and in the process built a brand that is highly regarded the world over. Indeed, Ackerman was a pioneer on Savile Row, creating ready-to-wear tailoring with the look and feel of the best of bespoke.
The name itself came from Ackerman’s desire to have an English sounding moniker; “Barrie” came from J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, whose name, Ackerman thought, sounded particularly English; “Chester” was derived from the Roman city of the same name, near where he had established his factory. This factory, Cheshire Bespoke went into receivership in 2006 when the brand faltered (subsequently rescued by Lutwyche tailors), but thankfully, Chester Barrie has never been in ruder health, since being taken over by the Prominent Europe group.
No. 19, chesterbarrie.co.uk
The fashion darling
Opened in 2013, Alexander McQueen’s outpost is the label’s only location dedicated solely to menswear – and the second big fashion brand to open such a shop on the Row, following Lanvin at no.32. The brand’s famously gothic-baroque flourishes are present and correct in the stunning interiors, designed by David Collins’ studio, but before you balk at McQueen’s actual suiting credentials, you just need to delve a little further into the origins of the brand via its late, great founder, Lee McQueen, who died tragically in 2010.
McQueen himself was a product of Savile Row, working on the street first at Anderson & Sheppard as an apprentice tailor, and then as a pattern cutter at Gieves & Hawkes. It was this training that built his reputation in the fashion industry as an expert cutter and tailor, in combination with his fierce creative genius. All qualities that are born out by the experienced team in the lower ground floor of no.9 Savile Row, where every bespoke suit is crafted from scratch.
No.9 Savile Row, alexandermcqueen.com
This will have had a fair few stuffed shirts spluttering into their tea back in April: Savile Row’s first female master tailor opening a shop on the male-dominated street. The 41-year-old Kathryn Sargent is originally from Leeds, spending 15 years at Gieves & Hawkes, rising through the ranks to head cutter before opening her first store in Brook Street around the corner in 2012. Catering for both sexes, she even has the respect of Scotland’s jealously guarded Harris Tweed weavers, who make a unisex patterned cloth especially for her.
No.37 Savile Row, kathrynsargent.com
The next big thing
Following in Kathryn Sargent’s feminist footsteps is the even-more youthful Alexandra Wood, formerly creative director at Shanghai Tang. She holds bespoke and made-to-measure fittings above McQueen’s boutique on the top floor of no.9, and is opening a flagship boutique in Hertfordshire’s historic market town of Bishop’s Stortford, where a comprehensive range of finely crafted hirewear caters for an affluent area flush with proms, weddings and society events, yet was always poorly served in the sartorial sense (clever move, Alex!). Her signature style is crisp, flattering, and contemporary, with a touch of flair in the stitching or lining.
Whether it’s soft shoulders or rope shoulders, a gift for instantly recognising what will complement and enhance your look is one of Alexandra’s keenest talents. And it’s an approach that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Alexandra has dressed the likes of Chuka Umunna MP, landing him the status of one of GQ’s Best-Dressed Men on more than one occasion, and she recently won You & Your Wedding’s Best Groomswear Retailer award.
No.9 Savile Row (top floor), alexandrawoodbespoke.co.uk
The shoes to go with it
So you’ve got the suit you’ve always deserved. Now, surely, you should pair it with the shoes its quality and fit demands? Founded in 2006 by Tony Gaziano & Dean Girling, this refreshingly non-suit-related business is now one of the most innovative and versatile shoemakers in England.
Both makers in their own right, Tony and Dean worked for a variety of bespoke makers, designers and Northampton manufacturers before coming together to launch Gaziano & Girling. Their aim was to bring a new look and quality standard to an industry stuck in the past, with with touches of continental flair and fresh designs in bespoke and unprecedented handwork in their benchmade shoes.
G&G now boasts a team of multi-faceted craftsmen at their factory in Kettering, just outside Northampton – the first shoe factory to be set up for over 100 years. Here’s hoping they’ve started something…
No.39 Savile Row, gazianogirling.com