By Sanza Bulaya - As seen at The Ginkgo Project
What is it that Napoleon III, the Russian tsars, English kings, the last four princes of Wales (George IV, Edward VII, the Duke of Windsor, Prince Charles and other crowned figures) have in common with such notorious personalities as Valentino, Fairbanks, Gable, Astaire, Cooper, Olivier, Coward, Dietrich – not to mention Paul Bettany, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, and David Beckham ? What unites these icons in a common tradition, and to what ends ?
The answer to the question, “Sir, could I ask the name of your tailor?” should always be the following : “This suit is simply my own, and has been conceived as such…”
It is common knowledge that there is no admittance more vulgar and shameful than that of the name of one’s tailor. After all, the certain secrets that we do not share exist for the reason that excellence frequently cannot be shared. This motto is the heritage of Savile Row and those who recognize it as a keystone of excellence in the birth and evolution of men’s fashion.
“Nowadays used more popularly than ever, the term “bespoke” refers to a suit designed exclusively for an individual. It consists of a process by which a client’s measurements are taken manually, a fitted pattern is cut out of fabric by hand, whose pieces are then sewn together by several assistants – a feat necessitating on average three separate fittings. The complete operation requires around fifty-two hours of labor, with three months of time between the moment of order and delivery, and has barely changed since its description in 1838.”
The core of this timeless tradition rings in the above words of James Sherwood, who describes the quintessence of savoir-faire, the art of the Savile Row tailors, and the universe of masculine elegance…
Born in the heart of London’s Mayfair district in the eighteenth century, Savile Row has become a temple for fashion and dandies. It’s character has survived through the ages and today, “Row” continues to be the only place on Earth to embody this unique idea of elegance. It has always allowed and continues to allow individuals to rise through the ranks of society by mastering the art of image and self-perception. This particular landmark owes its namesake to the Count of Burlington, who built himself a palace in Piccadilly, and gave the name of his wife, Lady Dorothy Savile, to a street situated behind his residence.
Savile Row’s true heritage lies in the military tailors of the British Empire of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. At the time, the sun of the Empire shone brightly, having widespread global power through the strength of its military. In 1898, the British Army consisted of 99,000 professional soldiers based in the islands of the United Kingdom, 75,000 in British India and 41,000 in the rest of the Empire. The British monarch functioned as head of state and as figurehead of the Empire, also acted as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Soldiers of the Empire had always had the habit of dressing differently from civilians. This was in order not to be publicly confused with them, as well as to distinguish themselves visibly as men of war. Their titles and statuses were reflected in dazzling outfits reminiscent of military uniforms worn during parades, which demonstrated the grand power and tradition of the army. This was the inspiration of the first tailors of Row, who designed the ceremonial costumes of officers appointed by the British monarch. This “savoir-faire,” which has been of service during the greatest military ceremonies in the presence of the royal family, has sanctified official military attire and of course, even the outfits worn by the royals themselves in certain cases.
In the early nineteenth century, after the French Revolution had swept the courts, civilians were finally able to access the heritage of Savile Row. This caused such a marked change that another set of trends, based on rural and equestrian outfits, defined the opening collections of the first “Bespoke” fashion houses. They quickly adapted the tailor’s art of customization to the emergence of such new trends. However, it was Henry Poole in the 1850s who truly rendered this once ordinary street in Mayfair the paradise of men: connoisseurs of “custom” and “handmade” suits.
The story of the infamous suit of Savile Row was to began at the end of the eighteenth century. At the time, menswear was poised to undergo a small revolution at the hands of George Bryan, nicknamed “Beau” Brummell (1778-1840). This prince of fashion and dandy supreme popularized darker, unadorned outfits, as well as the replacement of high-breeches with trousers. Beyond fashion, Dandyism also embodied a certain social and societal attitude in England at the time. It was a movement which redefined the relationship between the individual and his appearance with a dose of feel-good impertinence. Beyond English aristocratic circles, this new attitude won a following throughout Europe and the United States within the realms of fashion and high society. Under the influence of such masters of the cut as Henry Poole, the reputation of London’s tailors subsequently grew. The demand generated by the social elite – members of the aristocracy, rich bankers, political circles – became so strong that London soon became the fashion capital of world in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
In the early twentieth century, the attire of the modern gentleman as we recognize it began to take shape. While in ancient times men wore a frock coat, a waistcoat, or jacket with a vest and trousers, each cut in a different fabric, the “full” suit now consisted of trousers, a jacket and a vest made of the same fabric (preferably wool). This trend definitively established itself in the 1930s. The sleek English silhouette, symbol of the masculine elegance of the twentieth century, was born of the aura and refinement of Savile Row. But just as Dandyism was an aesthetic destined to transcend the weight of tradition, Savile Row tailors knew the importance of reinventing style according to the changes in men’s fashion. For example, even before the world wars, several developments were to take place, triggered by celebrity clients. The Prince of Wales for one, later King Edward VIII (who took the title of Duke of Windsor after his abdication) greatly influenced the fashion of his day. Known for his bold choices in color and combinations of material and patterns, he advocated the use of the belt in place of suspenders, and even caused the vest to fall out of favor. In the 1960s and 1970s, the designer Tommy Nutter created “signature” outfits for the celebrities of “Swinging London,” such as Terence Stamp, Michael Caine, Mick and Bianca Jagger.
Today, a new generation of tailors have taken over, with Ozwald Boateng at its head. However, “Row’s” enduring legacy shows how one can maintain the virtues of the traditional cut while remaining at the forefront of fashion. The creative process of Savile Row’s tailors has become a sort of incubator of trends, on one hand developed by the expertise of artists, on the other, guided by the style of aesthetes. The smoking suit, for example, is an accidental creation of “Row,” proof of the mutual inspiration which takes place between designers and their clients.
Translation – Ritz Wu
ANDERSON & SHEPPARD (1906) : www.anderson-sheppard.co.uk
Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., the Maharajah of Alwar, Fred Astaire, Diaghilev, Leonide Massine, Alec & Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham, Ralph Richardson, Sir Sacheverall Sitwell, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Sir Noel Coward, Sir Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas, Georges Segal, Samuel Goldwyn, Hon. Averill Harriman, Buster Keaton, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Sir John Betjeman, Otto Preminger, Rudolph Nureyev, Sir Alec Guinnesss, H.R.H. Prince Charles, Manolo Blahnik, Ralph Fiennes, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tom Ford.
DAVIES & SON (1804) : www.daviesandsonsavilerow.com
Admiral Lord Nelson, Sir Robert Peel, Georges V, the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, the Duke of Windsor, the Duke of Edimbourg, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy (father of JFK), Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Sir Oswald Mosely, Colonel Edward Boxshall, Lord Alexander de Tunis, Field Marshall Douglas Haig, President Harry Truman, Benny Goodman, Irving Berlin, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, Bing Crosby, Calvin Klein, Mickael Jackson, John Frieda.
DEGE & SKINNER (1865) : www.dege-skinner.co.uk
Georges Bush Sr., Prins Bertil of Sweden, Captain Mark Philips, Joanna Lumley, Clin Montgomerie, Mickael Jackson, David Bowie, Egon Ronay, Gianni Versace, Lord Rothschild, Lord Hanson.
EDE & RAVENSCROFT (1689) : www.edeandravenscroft.co.uk
Emperors Napoléon III of France, Alexander III of Russia et Frederick of Prussia, formers Kings of Denmark, the Hellenes, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Netherlands; Hon. Bernard Weatherill, Baroness Margareth Thatcher, the Marquees of Cholmondeley, the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Litchfield.
GIEVES & HAWKES (1785 & 1771) : www.gievesandhawkes.com
King George III, Prince Regent (later Roi George IV), Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Captain Bligh, M. Stanley & Dr. Livingstone, George V, Kaiser Wilhem, Prince Abhakara of Siam, King Paul of the Hellenes, King Paul of Yugoslavia, King Michel of Romania, King Feisal of Iraq, Prince Juan d’Espagne, Emperor Haile Selassie, King Tupou of Tonga, Kings of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, King Hussein and King Abdallah of Jordan, former King Constantine of Greece, Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Sultan of Brunei, Roger Moore (as James Bond), Sir Bob Geldof, Edward Van Cutsem, Lord Freddie Windsor, the Princes William & Harry.
HENRY POOLE & CO (1806) : www.henrypoole.com
H.I.M. the Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, H.M. King Umberto I of Italiy, H.G. the Duke of Aosta, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales (later King Edouard VII), Lord Dupplin, Prime Minister Benjamin Disreali, Lord Cardigan, J. P. Morgan, William Randolph Hearst, the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, the Shah of Persia, King Georges V, King Georges VI, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II.
HUNTSMAN (1919) : www.h-huntsman.com
H.M. Queen Victoria & Prince Albert, King Edward VII, the Prince of Wales (the Duke of Windsor), Gregory Peck, Lord Louis Mountbatten, King Umberto of Italy, King Alphonso of Spain, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, Rex Harrison, Bing Crosby, Gregory Peck, Richard Mellon, Gianni Agnelli, Hubert de Givenchy, Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Dirk Bogarde, Peter Ustino, James Goldsmith, Ronnie Woods and his son Tyrone, Stephen Fry.
WELSH & JEFFERIES (1917) :
Rudolph Valentino, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, Sir Winston Churchill.
OZWALD BOATENG (1993) : www.ozwaldboateng.co.uk
Daniel Day Lewis, Will Smith, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Usher, Delroy Lindo, Jason Statham, Jamie Foxx, Welsey Snipes, Nick Moran, Lennox Lewis, Weslife, Audley Harrison, Billy Zane, Lenny Kravitz, Paul Bettany, Mick Jagger, Lawrence Fishburne, Jude Law, Pierce Brosnan, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Branson (son of Richard Branson), Joel Silver, Patrick Viera.
RICHARD ANDERSON (2001) : www.richardandersonltd.com
Sir Ian McKellen, Andre Leon Talley, Sebadstian Horsley, Bryan Ferry, Westlife.
RICHARD JAMES (1992) : www.richardjames.co.uk
Paul Bettany, Daniel Craig, David Beckham, Jude Law, Pete Doherty, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Williams, Richard E. Grant, Tom Cruise, Bryan Ferry, Rio Ferdinand, Christian Lacroix, Craig McDean, Benicio Del Toro, David Linley, Elton John, David Furnish, Gianni Versace, Guy Ritchie, Jarvis Cocker, Manolo Bllahnik, Mick Jagger, Michael Douglas, Nicole Kidman, H.R.H. the Duke of York, Nick Knight, Patrick Cox, Sir Paul McCartney, Hugh Grant, the Callagher brothers, Madonna, Mario Testino.
SPENCER HART (2002) : www.spencerhart.com
David Bowie, Robbie Williams, Duran Duran’s John Taylor, Tommy Hilfiger, Matthew Williamson, John Demsey (Estée Lauder), Lawrence Dallagio, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Jamie Foxx, Michael Roberts, Keane, Placebo.
TIMOTHY EVEREST (1996) : www.timothyeverest.co.uk
Tom Cruise, David Beckham, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, Mick Jagger.
TONY LUTWYCHE (2000) : www.lutwyche.co.uk
Hugh Dancy, Michael Sheen Jamie Cullum, Gordon Ramsey, Tom Voyce, England’s polo team, Paul Bettany.
ANTHONY J. HEWITT (1966) : www.aj-hewitt.co.uk
CHITTLEBOROUGH & MORGAN (1969) :
Brian Epstein, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.
HARDY AMIES (1945) : www.hardyamies.com
H.M. the Queen, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, Raine, Countess Spencer, Jenson Button, the Osbourne Family, Freddie Ljunberg, Jacobi Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe.
KILGOUR (1882) : www.kilgour.com
Fred Astaire, Louis B. Meyer, Sir Francis Chichester, Joseph Kennedy, Edward G. Robinson, Cary Grant, Ava Gardner, Jackie Kennedy, Charles Laughton, Rex Harrison, Robert Mitchum, Adnan Khashoggi, King Faisal of Egypt, Crown Prince Akihito of Japon, the Duke of Bedford, H.M. Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Sir Harold Pinter, Frankie Vaughan, Lord Forte, George Best, Jude Law, Hugh Grant, Noel Callagher, Bryan Ferry, Peter Saville, Thomas Lenthal, DJ Pete Tong, Pet Shop Boy Chris Lowe, Eric Clapton, David Gray, David Lean, Mantovani, Tim Roth, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, Rankin, Sean Ellis, Roland Mouret, Michael Owen, Jamie Redknapp, David Williams, David LaChapelle, Daniel Craig, Nick Knight, David Chipperfield.
MAURICE SEDWELL (1938) : www.savilerowtailor.com
NORTON & SONS (1821) : www.nortonandsons.co.uk
H.I.H. Kaiser Wilhem of Prussia, Henry Stanley, Wilfred Thesiger, the Marquis de Vogue, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Sir Hardy Amies, Alfred Hitchcock, David Niven.
DOUGLAS HAYWARD (1960’s):
Sir Michael Caine, Rex Harrison, David Niven, Sam Spiegel, Sammy Cahn, Bryan Forbes, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Terence Stamp, Sir Roger Moore, Oliver Reed, Michael Winner, Jackie Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Joan Collins, Lord Lichfield, Lord Hanson, Lord Hambleden, Lord Olivier, Richard Burton, Lord « Gordy » White, the Duke of Abercorn, Sir Johm Mills, David Bailey, Lord Snowdon, Vidal Sassoon, Kirk Douglas, Tony Bennett, Charlton Heston, James Coburn, Michael Parkinson, Nigel Havers, Hugh Grant, A. A. Gill, Ben Goldsmith, James Ruben.
EDWARD SEXTON (1981) :
John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Sir Paul & Linda McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Brian Epstein, Cilla Black, Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger, Eric Clapton, the Duke of Bedford, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, Lady Bamford, Joan Collins, Twiggy, Stella McCartney, Lord Lichfield, Maggie Smith, Bill Blass, Sir Hardy Amies, Manolo Blahnik, Jack Nicholson, Jerry Zipkin.
HENRY ROSE (2003) : www.henryrose.co.uk
Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Mike Tyson, Stella McCartney, Sir Paul McCartney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Neil Tennant, Padma Rushdie, Chrissie Hynde, Olivia Harrison, Barbara Bach, Grace Jones, Kelis, Kirsten Dunst, Pamela Anderson, Alasdhair Willis, Jake Chapman, Graham Rust, Nadja Swarovski, Jason Flemyng, Peter Jones, Jonathan Meades, Patsy Kensit, Sir Roger Moore, Alec Guinness, Sir John Mills, Michael Parkinson, Sir Sean Connery, Francois-Henri Pinault, David Frost, Sir Michael Caine, Joe Cole, Trevor Sinclair, Paul Getty, Victor Rouge.
MARK POWELL (1985) : www.markpowellbespoke.co.uk
Morrisey, Harrison Ford, Georges Clooney, Naomi Campbell, Alan Rickman, Dan MacMillan, Usher, Goldie, George Michael, Bianca Jagger, Daniel Radcliffe, Ian Wright, Franck Lampard, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry.