As promised, here is the second part of our series on the bespoke salons of London, launched yesterday with an article on Thom Sweeney.
Our second stop brings a radical change in ambiance and décor. Indeed, we are stepping in an institution on the Row: Anderson & Sheppard, where we are welcomed with quintessentially British elegance and care by Anda Rowland, the charming and lively lady in charge.
Let us clarify that Anderson & Sheppard has not, in the face of the passing years, lost any of its resonance nor deep appeal for bespoke fiends the world over. To me, it remains a true temple of discrete and immaculate masculine elegance and style.
After taking a brief moment to absorb all the undeniable charm of my surroundings and having the pleasure to leaf through one of the very first copies of “A Style is Born” , we immediately start debating on the current issue stirring the small Row community: the gradual invasion of the Golden Mile by the stretching tentacles of monster Abercrombie and Fitch. In this matter, news are grim, to say the least.
Judge for yourself. Two years ago, the mega American sportswear retailer had already purchased the fabulous building at the entrance of the Row (the former bank of tailors), as its flagship, and set up a bare-chested body builder (I swear) in the lobby where overexcited schoolgirls can take photos in a visual and auditory atmosphere reeking of bad taste and downright vulgarity.
But the latest news on that morning, confirmed by Anda Rowland, was source for even greater concern. Abercrombie and Fitch, not satisfied with its first steps in colonizing the threshold of the Row, had just acquired the building sitting at 3, Savile Row for its Kids division. In other words, the venerable Gieves and Hawkes (1, Savile Row) is about to be surrounded by two A&F spots… which opens wide the door to pathetically vulgar mass manufacturers to come and take hold of the Row with rowdy marketing.
Does this gloomily announce the end of the Row? Not so sure…
Indeed, under the impetus of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, along with founding members Anderson & Sheppard and Huntsman, the tailors of the Row are becoming increasingly organized to defend their turf, and most importantly, to stand together to promote their legacy, craft and more generally their livelihood. The battle ahead seems ominously rough and rather uneven in terms of firepower, but, as I have already stated, it is far from lost. Hasn’t David always had more style, class and persistence than Goliath?
Then came the time to enter the heart of the legendary house where I was finally given the honour to greet one of the most famous head cutters in the world: John Hitchcock. As I was preparing my trip, many had warned that Mister Hitchcock was not a very accessible gent and that he was rather unwilling to use his –precious- time to chat with the many visitors to this establishment, considered by many as mythical.
Nevertheless, after discreetly watching Mister Hitchcock at work with his apprentices, in a very quiet and applied setting, I had the wonderful surprise of becoming acquainted with a most gracious and pleasant gent as committed to his craft as ever. He personally showed me a few pieces being created, let me touch two patterns bearing the name of Sir Winston Churchill, and even insisted that I put on a very rare sartorial piece: a black cape (18oz Loro Piana cashmere), that immediately brought me to a night at the opera in 19th Century London. It was a moment of sheer bliss, spent in good spirits, and out of time, like those only the British capital can offer…
As for the Anderson & Shepphard style, it retains its strong character and remains in line with the fundamentals of the house: very soft shoulder work with little padding, a fairly marked chest and, of course, the famous drape cut, found on many Anderson & Shepphard suits.
For profanes, this cut can be boiled down to a slight excess of fabric on the shoulders of the jacket, creating fairly noticeable vertical draping in the front and the back, for the purpose of giving the illusion of broader shoulders (and consequently of a narrower waist), and increasing ease in movement. Although not my favourite cut (I tend to prefer smaller chests, as you can see on the photo where I appear with Mr Hitchcock), but the result remains undeniably discreet and elegant. As for everything else: quality finish, assembly, buttonholes, it is obviously top notch.
Then, I had the privilege of being guided through the atelier, where I was again surprised by the number of young people I saw working.
This clear rejuvenation of labour was explained by Anda Rowland and proves that the great houses of Savile Row are truly working hard to ensure that their precious craft is perpetuated and transmitted to the younger generation.
Under the helm of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, a very fruitful partnership was established with Newham College in East London, where a bespoke tailoring class was launched in 2007. Throughout their curriculum, aspiring tailors and apprentices spend one day every week for six weeks in the greatest houses (Henry Poole, Dege and Skinner, Huntsman, Gieves and Hawkes and Anderson & Sheppard) to validate their motivation to engage on the long and difficult path to learning the art of tailoring. Of course, the program alone does not make a tailor, but rather prepares those who follow it to enter the Row for a 4 or 5 years of apprenticeship.
To this day, 200 students followed the course, and the house directed by Anda Rowland has already hired three graduates of the College. This wonderful initiative should maybe inspire us in France, where we seem to believe we can train tailors in schools only, but I am disgressing…
All photos (except n° 2, 3, 4, 13 and 14) © Andy Barnham for Parisian Gentleman
To conclude, Anderson & Sheppard remains a world reference for bespoke tailoring, with its 1,500 bespoke suits made each year, making it the most important in Savile Row, and one of the top players in the world.
At 32, Old Burlington Street, there is no ready to wear or MTM. Everything is true bespoke, and the prices start (depending on the fabrics) from £3,900 for a two piece suit.
A true institution that every true bespoke lover should visit one day.