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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Feature: The Routes of Savile Row

The Routes of Savile Row

"The Routes of Savile Row" has been a labor of love over a number of months and remains an ongoing endeavor. This original "condensed" version was recently published in Life With Style magazine. Although not a short piece, this fascinating subject could cover much more and inevitably will in the future. The "Routes of Savile Row" could easily have delved deeper in the various subjects; whether in (many) multiple articles or together in (gasp!) book form. I hope you'll find it entertaining and perhaps come across a few new gems.

The article is most interactive as has been laid out for print with the maps and images (kudos to my editor Birri O'Dea and the wonderful team at LWS for their great work!). By clicking on each page, then clicking again to magnify- hopefully it will be readable without too much strain. Alternatively, the full text is below the pages. Look forward to hearing your thoughts and hope you enjoy!

The Routes of Savile Row

For over 200 years, London’s Savile Row has set the standard for men’s fashion and quality. The Golden Mile of Tailoring is the birthplace of innumerable innovations and styles we still enjoy today; modern suits, morning suits, dinner jackets (tuxedos) and trousers - to name a few. Rich in history, the tailors of Savile Row have colourful heritages and iconic customers. To merely focus on ‘the Row’ as the Mecca of men’s fashion would be a mistake, because within this small area, where style and innovation are concentrated like no other area, there also lays a richness of history.

The bespoke nature of Savile Row is synonymous with custom-made tailoring and is also the reason for widespread advancement in men’s fashion over the past two centuries. Notable customers in both world and sartorial history are too numerous to count; from Napoleon III to Churchill, Mick Jagger to The Beatles, and Beau Brummel to Tom Ford; they have enhanced not only the legacy of the Row, but are indicative of its importance.

As influential as it has been on the West, its significance goes further for Japan, with the rough translation of the Japanese word for suit being ‘Savile Row’. After visiting Savile Row in 1921and having bespoke suits made, Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito returned home in great English sartorial style and a fashion unfamiliar to those he ruled, but even today, the emulation is evident on the throngs of Japanese businessmen bustling down the sidewalks in Tokyo. 

To narrowly view Savile Row as one road would be a mistake. Originally, the cobweb of streets surrounding it - Cork, Swallow, Clifford, Conduit, Sackville and Honover - were known for being areas in which the well heeled were outfitted. Long before the days of ready-to-wear clothing, gentlemen had their garments personally made, so a large number of tailors migrated to the area. But today, the once tailor-rich Cork Street that parallels the Row is lined with art galleries and there is not a tailor in sight. 

The link between Savile Row and the military is entrenched in history as most tailors of that period received the majority of their business from military tailoring. Established in 1806, Henry Pool & Company is the oldest surviving tailor on the Row and is remembered for furnishing a great many officers during the Battle of Waterloo. Military influences on clothing designs are evident even to this day, from double-breasted blazers (the naval reefer jacket) to the use of the khaki colour that originated when the British military served in India. Design influences were not solely for the benefit of civilian-wear; in 1914 James Gieve patented the ‘life saving waist coat’, incorporating an inflatable device and a pocket for brandy, to provide additional support. 

While successful tailors had chiefly relied on military orders for business, a groundswell of new custom-made clothes began to take hold in the early 1800’s. The timing wasn’t random; the French Revolution from 1789 to 1799 had the effect of flushing out the aristocratic court dress that permeated throughout not only France, but also Western Europe. Once dead, the decadent dress of the French was slowly replaced by a new influence from English country riding attire that was adapted over time for high society and royalty. 

Enter the greatest dandy of them all: Beau Brummell. To many, ‘dandy’ has a connotation of frivolous excessiveness in dress. Contrarily, judging by many of Brummell’s sartorial inventions, facilitated by Savile Row area tailors, he could also be described as a minimalist. His greatest influence was in transitioning from the French excesses to the more conservative aesthetic that lives on today. While gaudy silk court costumes, buckled satin shoes and lace neckwear were the previous norm, Brummell bridged the two periods by introducing the trouser (a variation on riding pants), wool tailcoats, fine linen cravats and riding boots. His friendship and influence with The Prince Regent at the time - who later became King George IV - gave the right man, at the right time, the ability to almost single-handedly usher in a new sartorial era. As a result, Brummell is known today as the ‘Grandfather of Savile Row’ and his name lives on as one of the great standard bearers of excellence in men’s fashion. 

The majority of tailors on Savile Row are dripping with history. Henry Poole created a short evening (smoking jacket) for the Prince of Wales in 1860 to wear at informal parties. In 1886 James Potter, an American from Tuxedo Park, New York, was invited by the Prince to spend a weekend at his country retreat and told he could have a smoking jacket made by Poole & Company.  Upon his return to the United States, Mr. Potter proudly wore his new jacket to the Tuxedo Park Club. Impressed, fellow members copied the jacket and it became the informal uniform for the club. What had been known as the dinner jacket has since became universally known as the tuxedo.

Walking up and down the Row you’ll find understated shop-fronts. It wasn’t until 1969 when one of the newest tailoring companies on the scene, Nutters, broke with tradition by having open windows. Since then, tailors have slowly introduced conservative frontage to display their designs. If one did not know what street they were on, it would be easy to walk through the Golden Mile of Tailoring with no realisation that it was, and still is, the greatest concentration of tailors in the world.

Savile Row runs north south and is located between Old Bond Street to the west and Regency Street to the north - one block north of Piccadilly Street, not far from Piccadilly Circus. Typically, the first encounter with Savile Row is Gieves & Hawkes at the southernmost end of the Row, at the intersection of Burlington Gardens.

#1 Gieves & Hawkes
The stately building that houses Gieves & Hawkes at #1 Savile Row is the most picturesque and well known of all the buildings on the Row. Originally the residence of Lord George Cavendish, the building was sold to the Royal Geographic Society in 1871. However, in 1912 Hawkes & Company purchased it and has remained in residence ever since; now operating as Gieves & Hawkes, following the merger of the two historic tailoring firms in 1974.

As two of the oldest tailors still in existence, Hawkes began business in 1771, while Gieves was founded in 1785. James Gieve developed a large business supplying uniforms for the Navy and invented what was to later become the nautical ‘life preserver’. Not to be outdone, Thomas Hawkes discovered the technique of jacking leather, which created a hard finish that could deflect a sword blade. The great military supplier became the official producer of headdress for the British regiments (think hard safari helmet-like headgear), as well as a traditional military outfitter.

With the onset of World War II, Gieves was approached in 1940 to make special apparatus for British espionage agents. Like Q in the James Bond movies, Gieves made compass buttons; cavity buttons for holding explosives; poison pellets; maps that were printed on silk; and Gili saws - serrated wire on ring pulls that were hidden in cap badges.  Agents wore the Gieves suits behind the lines in Germany and in enemy territory, although there is no word on how many suits were responsible for enemy deaths.

Notable customers, past and present, are too numerous to list in full but include Winston Churchill, Admiral Nelson, Charlie Chaplin, Mikhail Gorbechev, U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, as well as the late Princess Diana and her sons William and Harry.

#3 Former Office of The Beatles
Moving up the Row, if you take a look at the doorway of #3 Savile Row, you’re likely to see random, spontaneous scribbling from passers-by paying homage to the legendary Beatles who maintained their office and recording studio in the basement. Their last live performance was held on the roof in 1969 and concludes the documentary film Let It Be.

#8 Kilgour
Kilgour dates back to 1882 but was previously known as Kilgour, French & Stanbury. During the Jazz Age in 1925, the Stanbury brothers created Fred Astaire’s iconic white tie and tails worn in the movie Top Hat. The favourite firm of Hollywood at the time, they became MGM boss Louis B. Meyer’s tailor of choice in 1939. Against the backdrop of films like The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind’s success, Meyer was followed by other Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Edward G. Robinson, Rex Harrison, David Niven and even Ava Gardner for couturier designs.

In 1959, Cary Grant’s gray suit in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest was made by Kilgour and holds an iconic status to this day as the epitome of sartorial excellence in bespoke tailoring. That timeless suit would still be relevant 52-years later, illustrating how great style and tailoring are ageless.

#11 Huntsman
Huntsman has remained in this location since the firm was established in 1849. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were early customers and other European Royal families followed. Known for having the most expensive suits on the Row, the entry price is well over £3,000 (roughly AUD$5,000). The Huntsman reputation for over 50-years has been a silhouette of firm shoulders and a nipped waist.

#12 Chittleborough & Morgan at Nutters
Nutters of Savile Row was established in swinging 1969 and, as previously mentioned, they were the first to use open windows, much to the dismay of other old guard Savile Row tailors. This firm only makes bespoke suits with no made-to-measure or ready-to-wear offered.

Notable customers cross the social spectrum and have included Dukes, Lords, The Beatles (three of the suits on the Abbey Road album), San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, as well as Mick Jagger. Interestingly, they made Bianca Jagger’s wedding suit and the costumes for the 1989 Batman movie, including those worn by Jack Nicholson.

#14 Hardy Amies
Hardy Amies was opened in this location in 1945, after repairing the building that had taken a direct hit during the Blitz of World War II.  Hardy Amies has designed costumes for a number of films, including 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Britan, he is best known for his couturier work with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, including the gown designed for her in 1977 for Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee portrait.  While the couturier business is well known, it is not as profitable as the men’s tailoring.

#15 Henry Poole & Company
The ‘Founder of Savile Row’ and the creator of the dinner suit (tuxedo) is still a family-owned business. Henry Poole with Baron de Rothschild advanced £10,000 to stage a coup in France to establish the second empire; as a result, his customer was Napoleon III. To memorialise the accession of Emperor Napoleon, Poole erected a gas illuminated eagle and coronet light above the fa├žade of #36 (where he was then located).

When Henry Poole died in 1876, he left the company to his sister and first cousin, Samuel Cundey. They found the firm to be on the brink of insolvency, mainly as a result of extending unlimited credit to its regal customers. Fortunately, the company was brought back from the brink of extinction. They made suits for Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan, which created a new fashion in the Far East. A loyal customer, Winston Churchill, made his first order from Poole’s in 1905 and other customers have included Charles Dickens (1865) and Charles de Gaul (1940).

#19 Chester Barrie
The origins of Chester Barrie greatly differ from the other tailors of Savile Row. An Englishman, Simon Ackerman, left England for New York City in the early 1900’s and built a lucrative tailoring business there. In 1935, Ackerman decided he wanted to import high quality, Savile Row suits to America so he dispatched his son Myron to begin manufacturing in England and ultimately open a shop on the Row in 1937. Feeling his name was not ‘English’ enough he named the store Chester Barrie. Colourfully, in choosing a name he opted for Chester, short for Chestnut Grove where his factory was; as a surname, Barrie was chosen with Peter Pan author, J.M. Barrie in mind.

With the help of his time and influence in the United States, Ackerman and Chester Barrie gained a contract from the U.S. military to produce uniforms in England for servicemen fighting during World War II.  Following the war, Ackerman showed deftness in promotion and marketing by gaining clients (and notoriety) such as Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Sir Winston Churchill. In film, Chester Barrie clothed the iconic Steve McQueen in the sartorially notable The Thomas Crown Affair as well as Sean Connery in the James Bond films Dr. No and Thunderball. In 1998, Chester Barrie began making the suits for the high-end Ralph Lauren Purple Label line.

#29 Richard James
Crossing the street and reversing direction back toward Burlington Garden and #1 Savile Row, the street numbers continue to climb. Richard James is opposite Chester Barrie at the corner of Clifford Street, which dead-ends at the Row. The first of the ‘new generation’ of Row tailors was established in 1992. Richard James was the first to introduce Saturday openings.

#30 Ozwald Boateng
Established on Savile Row in 1996, Ozwald Boateng is the most well known of the ‘new generation’ Row tailors. The new generation of customers is an impressive, if not unusual list for a tailor on the Row; contemporary names such as Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Russell Crowe, Keanu Reeves, Chris Rock, Lawrence Fishburn, Jude Law and Hugh Jackman are some of the notables Boateng designs for.

#38 Davies & Son
Originally opening on Hanover Street in 1804, Davies & Son is one of the longest established tailors currently residing on Savile Row, where they moved in 1986 and are the only remaining ‘old school’ bespoke tailoring firm on the west side of the Row.

Steeped in naval tradition, Davies has attracted notable and stylish civilian customers over the years such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Clarke Gable as well as the Prince of Wales (and as King George VIII).

Moving outside the bounds of Savile Row, neighbouring streets were a convenient locale for makers of other men’s furnishings such as shoe and boot-makers, millinery, accessories and other fineries. Jermyn Street has become synonymous with made-to-measure men’s shirts. The convenience for customers to quickly move from their suit-makers on Savile Row to nearby Jermyn Street for shirts was not lost on anyone. 

Passing through Burlington Arcade, crossing Piccadilly Street and walking through the Piccadilly Arcade, makes for a short walk from Savile Row to Jermyn Street. Burlington and Piccadilly Arcades are sartorially rich with unique boutiques that sell a wide variety of luxury items for the wellgroomed. Burlington Arcade is the longest covered shopping street in London, roughly 200 yards in length with just over 40 upscale shops. The feel is discreet luxury in a heralded architectural masterpiece.

Burlington Arcade is filled with a rich, fascinating history. Built by Lord George Cavendish, the enclosed arched two-story pedestrian walk was constructed in 1819 with glass ceilings to allow natural light through. There are different stories as to why Lord Cavendish had the arcade built; the most entertaining was he wanted a structure to prevent commoners from throwing oyster shells (a popular cheap eat during the period) and other rubbish over the wall that bordered his home. Cavendish, former leader of the 10th Hussars, hired Hussar military men to police the arcade. These small police forces, known as Beadles, still roam the arcade to this day.

Currently numbering five, the traditionally Edwardian uniformed Beadles don frockcoats and gold braided top hats. They also hold the distinction of being the oldest police force in London, as well as the smallest. To this day, the Beadles maintain police jurisdiction over the arcade, as recognised by the London Metropolitan Police. Historically, a requirement to become a Beadle was a military background but in the 1950s this requirement was broadened to those with a police background; most recently, a Beadle was hired who had neither.

The Beadles enforce special rules for visitors, including no running, whistling, humming, singing, playing musical instruments, open umbrellas or baby prams. Also, historically, anyone carrying large parcels was not allowed entry. Legend has it that the large parcel rule was directed toward women, as the feeling was that any women who did not have the means to have someone carry the large parcels for them were not considered ‘ladies’, thus had no place in the arcade. Upon asking the Beadles about these rules, the large parcels rule is no longer enforced but, they do in fact have to ask the merry and musically inclined to stop humming, whistling and singing occasionally - always to the guilty party’s dismay and amusement.

Upon exiting Burlington Arcade coming from Savile Row, you cross the busy Piccadilly Street; directly adjacent is Piccadilly Arcade - a smaller younger version of Burlington Arcade, with 16 luxury shops.

After enjoying the unique boutiques of Piccadilly Arcade, you exit on famous Jermyn Street to the splendor of stores known around the world. To emphasise the sartorial standards of Jermyn Street, you’re welcomed with a statue of Beau Brummell - standing with significant notice that you have found yourself in the confines of sartorial richness and to take heed accordingly. In a relatively small stretch, you’ll find shirt-makers Turnbull & Asser, Charles Tyrwhitt, Thomas Pink, T.M Lewin, Duchamp and Hawes & Curtis. Offerings for shirts can range from bespoke, made-to-measure or ready-to-wear, depending on your taste and time.

Aside from the homes of famous shirt-makers, there are a variety of other stores for gentleman, including: cigar shops such as Dunhill and Davidoff; boot-makers and shoe shops John Lobb and Foster & Son; barbers and skin-care by Geo. F. Trumper; Taylors of Old Bond Street; and outfitters Harvie & Hudson and Hackett. Adjacent to Jermyn Street, at the corner of St. James, is the infamous gun-maker Beretta.  Dating back to 1526, Beretta make competition and hunting guns, and also offer upscale clothing and accessories.

Making it to Jermyn Street and St. James, if you like hats, a brief walk down to 6 St. James will bring you to the oldest and arguably best hatter in the world. For centuries, Lock & Company has been where royalty, aristocrats, politicians, businessmen, entertainers and anyone who takes their hats seriously have gone. After 90-years in existence, Lock & Co. moved to their present location - over a decade before the creation of the United States. Lock’s history could fill volumes; a highlight includes the creation of the Bowler hat, commissioned by customer William Coke. Who can think of Charlie Chaplin without his hat? Chaplin had all his hats made by Lock & Co. and in a frame tucked away in the shop is an original hand-written letter thanking Lock & Co. for sending Chaplin his latest acquisitions to Paris.

On the wall is a frame with a number of index-sized cards. Upon closer inspection are silhouettes of different head-shapes made with pinholes and the names of the customers for whom these measurements were taken. Included in that frame are Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier, the Duke of Windsor, Charles de Gaul and Field Marshal Montgomery to name a few. 

The device used to make these custom measurements was a French invention called a conformateur, developed in the mid-1800’s. As expected, Lock & Co still has one of their original devices - perhaps the same one that took many of the custom measurements of those previously mentioned. While being shown the device I had read of but never seen, my faithful Lock & Co. guide asked if I would like to try it. Dutifully clamping an index-sized card in, it was explained, ‘this is going to feel a little strange’. Once realised that this heavy metal contraption with hundreds of metal bars vertically fixed was intended to go down into the crown and surround the head, thoughts of medieval torture devices came to mind. It felt a little strange but not uncomfortable. The card was removed with my head measurement ready for the bespoke hatters to custom make the perfect hat. If you’re serious about hats, or even just interested in touching history, Lock & Co. is an experience like no other. 

For the dandy in you or the men in your life, the routes stemming from Savile Row are the Disneyland of upscale men’s products; many of the finest tailors and shops in the world. Next time in London, step off the beaten path, explore the sartorial splendor and take in the rich history this small area has to offer.

-Michael Cress ~ New York Sartorialist

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