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The New Face of Savile Row

London's famed street of tailors is shedding a bit of its haughtiness in an effort to expand its customer base
Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Kurt Russell, May/June 2006

(continued from page 4)

Across the street, the smaller shop of Davies & Sons has effected a different kind of merger. The owner, Alan Bennett, has made a practice of buying up smaller businesses from proprietors. Some of those names (many of them listed above his door) are Phillip Alexandre, Welles, Adeney & Boutroy, Guthrie & Valentine, Stovel & Mason, James & James and Johns & Pegg. His friends kid him that if he buys any more firms, they'll hit their heads on the sign when entering.

The purpose of all this acquisition, however, is to secure the valuable warrants held by each firm. Johns & Pegg brought Bennett the warrant of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip. Another warrant charges him to make the diplomatic uniforms for the governor of the Falkland Islands. He deals not only in clothing, but regimental swords and special gold and brass buttons that might be needed for ceremony as well. Some of those items also draw souvenir hunters to the store. It was the acquisition of James & James, once warranted by the Duke of Windsor, that brought a sharpened form of dress to Davies & Sons, as well as its signature silhouette, which is very slim-wasted with a high armhole and soft, straight shoulders and a slight drape.

Other results of all this acquisition have included a willingness to do almost anything as far as bespoke is concerned and a quite esoteric collection of merchandise, such as cashmere dressing gowns and cloth that is made by Scabal from corduroy with 5 percent cashmere. Despite the quirkiness, Bennett insists there is a demand for all of this. "We wouldn't stock anything we couldn't sell."

While most of the contemporary-looking shops on Savile Row have sleek steel-and-glass motifs, William Hunt distinguishes itself with its rococo feeling. There's a piano, murals on the ceiling, candelabras and chandeliers. The back walls are decorated with carved wood with a gilded finish.

The spirit of ornamentation spills into the clothing. While Hunt shows the same one-button hacking jacket with peak lapel that has taken over British fashion, his suits have a longer coat and are fraught with features: cloth-covered buttons, flared cuffs on three-button suits with a split on the bottom, and horizontal pant pockets. Silk shirts can be bought with ties of matching cloth. French cuffs fold back over the cuff links in the James Bond style. Sport jackets come in black leather.

Hunt revels in what he calls his store's "camp renaissance style" and thinks that others on the Row have come to accept it after his seven years there. "It's just sort of second nature now. At first when we came, everyone was a bit sort of snooty."

He says highly stylized clothes are highly recognizable and get the shop a lot of attention. "If you see it on TV, you know it's us."

Hunt has been 20 years in bespoke, which he calls "a very pleasant side of the business." He also specializes in outfitting such golfers as Ian Poulter, Paul McKinley and David Howell in very plaid outfits and did Ray Liotta's golf clothes for personal use. "It's the only sport where you can dress like a pimp," he comments.

His take on bespoke is actually pretty simple: "It should just be beautiful. It's measuring and cutting where the skill is. The rest is a matter of taste. Mercedes or BMW, which do you like?"

Clearly he likes clothes that say sex. "The suit is the beautiful cocktail dress for men. It should make you feel sexy. It's the peacock aspect. But it also should make you look taller, your tummy slimmer, like you have half a chance of getting laid."

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