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The Savile Row Experience

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Saturday Night Live: How it Shapes Our Politics & Culture, September/October 2011

One of dressing’s supreme joys is owning a Savile Row suit. In the early nineteenth century, tailors began setting up shop on this short street in London’s Mayfair, and it has been the home of bespoke British tailoring ever since. Its meticulous craftsmen set the standards, as well as the form, for the finest of men’s suits worldwide.

For those not born to it (traditionally fathers introduced sons to their chosen tailoring houses) attaining the Savile Row experience used to be foreboding. But, on the modern Savile Row, curtains blocking the interiors have been thrown open, and gentlemen of less than peerage (who can afford the hefty tariffs) are more welcome. (Some tailors will even come to you, see Web sites). Still, this curious little lane takes some navigation to determine which purveyor will best give you the attention and many fittings that go into creating your perfectly suited garment.

One strategy is to tap smaller houses that haven’t yet established heritage, but are more eager to prove themselves. Low overhead can also spell a price advantage. Martin Nicholls (nichollslondon.com) has dressed a galaxy of film stars, but is keener to stress his dashing details and exacting service for modern executives who have active lifestyles. Ray Stowers (stowersbespoke.co.uk), former head of bespoke at Gieves & Hawkes, shows a flair for outfitting pop stars, while always maintaining the Row’s high standards and cleaving to customers’ needs and desires.

When heritage is important, certain makers stand out. Henry Poole (henrypoole.com) was the street’s first great tailor and has a history in suiting war heroes and world-beaters. The house style is traditional, with full chests and big shoulders. Gieves & Hawkes (gievesandhawkes.com) likewise has an esteemed military background, but has renewed its image, especially with its ready-to-wear. The silhouette is classically English, very structured and cut. The name H. Huntsman (h-huntsman.com) is emblematic of its expertise in tweedy fabrics and plaids as well the rakish cut of its longish one-button coats, a house style reminiscent of hacking jackets. Stodgy Anderson & Sheppard (anderson-sheppard.co.uk), on the other hand, is the source of soft shoulders and gentle definitions, the boxier American cut for which Brooks Bros. is known.

Of the hipsters on the Row, Richard James (richardjames.co.uk) has what it calls a “slimming cut” in its ready-to-wear, but aims to cater to the needs of its many fashion-setting customers in its separate bespoke shop. And that, after all, is what Savile Row custom service is all about.

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