Savile Row is justly famous as the home of men’s tailoring. It is the only road in the world that is synonymous with a form of clothing and – delightfully – is so well-known that in Japan the word for a suit is ‘sebiru’, a corruption of ‘Savile Row’.
The Row’s fame derives from a period of roughly 300 years – from the Restoration to World War II – when British style dominated men’s clothing. The British Empire put bespoke-clad men in charge of a quarter of the world’s population, and its aristocracy toured countries clad in its off-duty tailoring.
While areas like Naples in Italy also have rich traditions of tailoring, they all spring from watching, copying and then adapting British style. Local tailors in Naples, for example, saw the Row-clad men on their Grand Tour and copied the cuts while removing much of the structure, to make it more suitable to the heat of southern Italy.
What Is Savile Row?
Savile Row is a short street in London’s West End, just behind the busy shopping parade of Regent Street. It was built as part of the Burlington Estate – the palace of which is the Royal Academy of Arts today.
Although it has been a home for the city’s finest tailors since the 19th century, Savile Row has always had other businesses on the street, such as The Royal Geographical Society at number one, and the offices of The Beatles’ record label, Apple Corps, at number three. Beatles fans are often found today on one side of the street, staring up at number three in the company of a tour guide.
And while many of the great tailoring houses remain on the Row, there has always been other tailors in the surrounding streets and districts. Today, greats such Henry Poole, Huntsman, Dege & Skinner and Gieves & Hawkes have shops and workshops on the Row, but Anderson & Sheppard has moved to Old Burlington Street, and there are other clusters on Sackville Street and on St George’s Street.
The trend in recent years has also been for fashion brands to move into the Row and make use of the famous name – Abercrombie & Fitch being the most high-profile example. Thankfully that trend is slowly starting to reverse.
How Do You Define A Savile Row Suit?
Gieves & Hawkes
It’s probably useful, first, to define a bespoke suit. For those that know and understand the tradition of bespoke, this has to be a suit that is cut and then made by hand.
The hand cutting means that an individual paper pattern is made for the customer and refined over several fittings, enabling a superiority of fit that cannot be achieved by anything ready-to-wear or made-to-measure. Put simply, it is the best suit money can buy.
The hand making has both functional and aesthetic benefits. Functionally, it enables the tailor to shape the jacket and its structure around the customer, creating a three-dimensional shape; aesthetically, it creates a fineness and delicacy of stitching that subtly elevates it above anything made by a machine.
These factors of cut and make are common to any truly bespoke suit around the world. What defines a Savile Row suit is either a question of location (the Savile Row Bespoke Association requires that a suit be made within 100 yards of the Row) or one of style.
Gieves & Hawkes
In terms of style, Savile Row suits tend to be harder and sharper than tailoring made elsewhere. They use more shoulder padding and canvas, and prioritise straight, angular lines. Although there are variations in style (which we will go into later) all Savile Row suits have this smart, structured look – perfect for a wedding, an office or a board meeting, but in some people’s eyes not so suited to dressing down.
The other notable style traditions come from Paris, from Naples, from Milan and to a lesser extent from Florence. They all tend to be softer and lighter, with Neapolitan tailors using the most relaxed, lightweight materials for the best summer suits.
The traditional styles of Savile Row come largely from military uniforms – in an age where even battle dress prioritised display over functionality. This is why Row suits largely still seem so formal, with padded shoulders, stiff canvas, nipped waists and long jackets. Man’s first trip to Savile Row may well have been for a uniform, and this is the role many of the tailors (particularly Gieves & Hawkes and Dege & Skinner) still play today.
Anderson & Sheppard was always known as the civilian tailor, famous for dressing Hollywood stars such as Fred Astaire. But even their traditional cut – known as the ‘drape’ – had military origins, with cutter Frederick Scholte inspired by the excess cloth in the chest and back of some uniforms, belted tightly at the waist, which made the upper body appear bigger and stronger.
In recent years several Savile Row tailors have begun offering ready-to-wear and made-to-measure tailoring alongside bespoke, such as Huntsman and (ex-Huntsman head cutter) Richard Anderson. Although usually not made in the UK, these do offer the same house style as bespoke, and can be finished and altered by the in-house tailors. So there’s better guidance on fit than in most high-street stores, and it’s a nice way to sample the style of a particular tailor. A gateway drug, perhaps – and a potentially expensive habit.
The prestige of this particular post code and the quality of work produced on the Row means that buying a suit on Savile Row does not come cheap. Ready-to-wear suits start around £700 and you should at least double your budget for made-to-measure. For the full bespoke experience, you’ll need a minimum of £4,000 but £10,000 is not uncommon, depending on factors like your preferred material and the amount of hand work required.
Three Different Cuts
Before running through the different tailoring houses, it’s helpful to say that their styles – subsets of that structured English look – can be roughly placed into three groups.
The Traditional Cut
The first is the oldest, the most traditional and the closest to most military tailoring. It is characterised by a strong shoulder, a chest that fits close to the body, a nipped waist and a relatively long jacket that flares slightly at the bottom. It is very flattering, and will make you stand up like a soldier. It is seen on the likes of Huntsman, Richard James and Dege & Skinner.
“That cut can be very flattering on slight men,” says Ben Clarke, head cutter at Richard James. “We particularly like a longer jacket, which is rather unfashionable now but adds height to a man where the shoulders add width.”
The Drape Cut
Anderson & Sheppard
The second is the ‘drape’ cut mentioned above. This has a softer shoulder, but creates the impression of strength by cutting the shoulder a little wider, and using a little excess fabric in the chest and back. It also tends to have a larger sleeve, and this makes it the most comfortable of the cuts, albeit not the sharpest.
“We use a very lightweight canvas within our coats, cut on the bias to allow softness and natural movement,” adds LinkTextAnderson & Sheppard managing director Colin Heywood. “We incorporate minimum padding to the shoulders, creating a very natural silhouette.”
The Exaggerated Cut
Chittleborough & Morgan
The third is far more modern, and has its origins with Tommy Nutter in the 1960s and 1970s. Nutter changed the way men looked at Savile Row, dressing The Beatles (including on the Abbey Road cover) and Mick Jagger (including Mick and Bianca for their wedding day), while retaining the craft of Savile Row. Followers of his tend to cut jackets with larger, even upturned shoulders, lots of structure and exaggerated lapels.
“The shoulder is the emphasis,” says Edward Sexton creative director Dominic Sebag-Montefiore. “Then strong architectural lines, and a lengthy lapel – as Edward [Sexton, the founder] likes to say, ‘long, low and leafy’.”
Savile Row Houses To Consider
Gieves & Hawkes
Gieves & Hawkes
Sitting at No.1 Savile Row, Gieves & Hawkes has always had a wonderful location, but had lost a little of its bespoke reputation until Davide Taub took over as head cutter a few years ago. The bespoke department is now blossoming, and is one of the few houses to do all of its work on site.
Historically the house was a naval and military tailor, and has made for many British royals, including the now Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex (William and Harry). The style is of the first group listed above, traditional and military, with occasional flair from Davide thrown in.
Huntsman’s heritage is as an equestrian tailor, making hunting and riding clothes for European aristocracy. Today of course it makes everything from three-piece suits to tweed jackets, but there is still a leather saddle mounted in one changing room, where a customer would have sat to have his riding breeches fitted.
Huntsman also does a particularly strong line in tweed, making up exclusive versions every year or two, and today often running an online competition for the best design. It is the Row tailor that travels furthest, around the United States and the whole of Asia. The house style is distinctive – of the military type, but with a particular emphasis on a padded shoulder and a one-button jacket.
Anderson & Sheppard
Anderson & Sheppard
The glamorous civilian tailor. Laurence Olivier, Duke Ellington and Rudolf Valentino were its customers, all brought in by their friends and then staying for the soft, flowing cut created by Frederick Scholte and passed to Per Anderson. A&S also uses a few tailoring quirks, such as making its own shoulder pads and cutting its chest canvas at an angle, creating more stretch and comfort.
Although now behind the Row on Old Burlington Street, A&S has one of the most attractive shops for its combination of traditional and modern style. It also has a beautiful ready-to-wear shop, the ‘Haberdashery’ around the corner on Clifford Street that does not sell tailoring – just everything else one could wear with it.
Henry Poole & Co
Henry Poole & Co
Known as the founder of Savile Row, being the first to move into the street, Henry Poole is a full hundred years older than Anderson & Sheppard and is steeped in tradition. The walls are covered in warrants from royalty all over the world, and its workshops downstairs extends beneath two different buildings. Poole’s style is of the traditional, military variety but without the more extreme lines of Huntsman. There also tends to be less padding in the shoulder.
The house is known for creating the dinner jacket – a style requested by the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) of his friend Henry Poole, intended for informal dinners at home. It was christened the tuxedo in the US, according to one story, when James Potter met the Prince, copied the style, and brought it back to his friends at the Tuxedo Club in New York.
Chittleborough & Morgan
Chittleborough & Morgan
The leading proponent of the Tommy Nutter style on Savile Row is Joe Morgan. He and Roy Chittleborough worked with Nutter as cutters, under the leadership of head cutter Edward Sexton. Sexton deserves a recommendation himself, though he is currently located in Kensington, west London, not on the Row. And while we’re on the subject, Michael Browne, who left Chittleborough & Morgan recently to set up on Berkeley Square.
The style is a strong and distinctive one, with a heavy pad in the shoulder that often lifts up at the end, creating an almost super-heroic effect. The lapels are wide and curved, and the jacket is long. The quality of tailoring and finishing is also some of the finest anywhere on the Row, with long, fine buttonholes and incredibly detailed work.
Richard trained at Huntsman, rising to be head cutter before leaving to set up his own establishment. That story is entertainingly told in Richard’s book ‘Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed’. Today Richard is known as an excellent cutter in the military Huntsman style, but also with an awareness of contemporary fashion that leads to him offering customers a line of house denim, and raincoats especially made to fit over his bespoke suits.
Dege & Skinner
Dege & Skinner
Dating back to 1865, Dege & Skinner is notable for being one of the few houses left on Savile Row to be family owned. As other bespoke houses have gone through ups and downs over the years, Dege has often picked up customers looking for stability and tradition.
Dege is equally known for civilian clothing as it is for its military uniforms (a piece for the Royal Lancers Regiment recently appeared in the V&A’s ‘What is Luxury’ exhibition) with a style that is a solid, British military cut. It is also the only house on the Row to have its own shirt cutting facility on site.
Richard James was one of a group of brands – including Timothy Everest and Ozwald Boateng – that were seen as ‘saving’ Savile Row in the 1990s, making it cool again for a new generation. Of those, Richard James is only one that remains offering bespoke tailoring on the Row, with a dedicated store opposite its ready-to-wear outlet.
Although the style of head cutter Ben Clarke is a fairly standard military one, he is also more accommodating than most on the Row, offering softer shoulder jackets alongside the structured ones. That attitude goes for the rest of Richard James as well, which tends to have a more modern, forward-looking style than other tailors. Clients include Mark Ronson, David Beckham and Elton John.
What To Expect
Visiting a bespoke tailor can be intimidating for anyone, and particularly one on Savile Row with royal warrants covering the walls. It’s useful to know what to expect and what will happen at each appointment.
Usually a bespoke suit will take three or four appointments, with each separated by a few weeks. At the first appointment the style of the suit will be discussed, and the cloth selected. These are not easy decisions to make, and it’s worth giving considerable thought to them beforehand – even bringing in images of suits you like. A picture can tell a thousand words.
“I find the best prepared customers are often those that have thought clearly about how and where the suit will be worn – the occasion, for work or leisure, for a particular event. That immediately narrows down the cloth choice,” says Ben Clarke at Richard James.
Colin Heywood at Anderson & Sheppard adds that a subtle cloth can be a good place to start. “The best advice we can offer to a new customer is to choose a fabric that will allow the silhouette, fit and craftsmanship of the garment to shine through. Often a plain dark blue or grey cloth will provide the most use for a suit as it can be worn every day and work for almost all occasions,” he says.
After these decisions have been made, measurements are taken and some tailors will ask to take photos to help them remember your posture and stance. Once they start pointing things out, it’s amazing how quickly you notice that everyone has one shoulder lower than the other, one further forward than the other, and so on.
At the second appointment there will be a fitting in something that doesn’t look much like a suit. It will have been ‘basted’ together with loose stitches, to make it easier for the tailor to take it apart again afterwards. This fitting is mostly so the tailor can get the right balance (front to back and left to right). You won’t be asked to contribute much, but do voice any thoughts, particularly on the length of the jacket.
Fitting number two is sometimes called the ‘forward’ fitting. Here the suit will look much more like a finished piece, and you will need to give your views on every aspect of the style – the lapel width, where it is buttoning, the width of the trouser legs and so on. Again, referring to pictures might be helpful, or at least considering what you were aiming for at the very beginning.
One further fitting will usually be required for a first-time customer, but not always. And some tailors might even take another one or two after that. It is driven by your figuration and by the way the tailor works. For a second or third suit, however, you should be able to skip one of these fittings as the pattern the tailor has made for you will already be pretty accurate.
And that’s it. Except to remember that you can bring the suit back any time. Most tailors won’t charge anything for small changes after a couple of wears, once you’re more certain on the fit and feel. And in the long term they’ll be the best people to alter it for you, or press it when it gets a little wrinkled.