What Remains of Savile Row ?

Hugo JACOMET

What Remains of Savile Row ?

Certain truths are not easy to accept, and a portion of these same truths are even more difficult to express.

Such is the case when the topic turns to Mayfair’s Savile Row, the revered “Golden Mile of Tailoring” from which a steady line of master tailors have hailed since the early  1800s and where a few of such tailors still persevere to this day.

These craftsmen of the Row have dressed many of the most notable figures in history and the fruits of their labour are canonized in the minds of those of us who have not failed to understand how the steady hand of these tailors have created not only suits, but also forged the visual personas of some of the greatest men and women in history.

Last Friday, we had the honor with Sonya, to visit Tony Gaziano and Dean Girling, who have created the eponymous shoe house Gaziano & Girling, and have established their first shop in London at 39 Savile Row : a charming first installation, soberly renovated in the spirit of the Row and showcasing  their distinctive shoes now crafted in their new factory, situated in Kettering Northamptonshire, the cradle of traditional quality shoemaking in the United Kingdom.  Soon, we will have the opportunity to report on our very interesting visit to G&G and share our global feeling on the recent and spectacular development of the house, who is, in our opinion, one of the next very big names in the sector of men’s high end shoes, together with Corthay and a (very) few others.

The installation of a shoemaker flagship store on Savile Row is a first.

As reported by the Evening Standard in November last year, the opening was a sort of breach to the « rules » of the street, as the principal landlord (the Pollen Estate) made it a religion to rent only to tailoring houses, in order to protect  the exclusivity of the street, as well as to preserve the precious know-how of British tailoring.

In the same feature, the director of Gieves & Hawkes, a company now owned by a Chinese group (that also owns Hardy Amies and Kilgour) explains that the arrival of Gaziano & Girling on Savile Row is perfectly legitimate (of which we can only concur) while explaining that the real problem of Savile Row has been the recent opening of the offensive Abercrombie and Fitch store in the former building of the tailors bank located at the intersection of Savile Row and Burlingtons Gardens, and the even more recent debut of Abercrombie Kids at No. 5 Savile Row.

While the Gieves and Hawkes assessment of the repugnant installment of Abercrombie & Fitch and Abercrombie Kids on the Row certainly rings true, we can’t help but also think that the real problem of Savile Row may not just be the « Abercrombie and Fitch Affair » (with all the noise made around the issue by our gently-crazed friends of the Chap and their now infamous « Give Three Piece a Chance » campaign).

In reality, the Abercrombie and Fitch affair is merely a tree, even if a big and smelly one, that hides the forest…

Friday night, after a wonderful event at 39 Savile Row, we had the pleasure to share dinner with our dear friend (and occasional contributor) James Sherwood, with whom we had the opportunity to exchange our feelings about the recent evolution of the Row, the current marketing orgy there, and the misuse of the name Savile Row.

For those who are not regular readers of PG, let us remind you that James is the author of the bestseller « Savile Row, The Master Tailors of British Bespoke », published in 2010 at Thames & Hudson, as well as a worldwide acclaimed and recognized figure known as “The Guardian of Savile Row” (see the cover of The Rake magazine hereafter). James worked for many years in the caves and dusty cupboards of Savile Row in order to reconstitute, protect and save the precious archives of iconic houses like Henry Poole & Co and Gieves & Hawkes (during the era of Robert Gieves).

main_843_James-Sherwood

Saville-Row T&H

He was also the curator of « The London Cut », the first retrospective Savile Row exhibition ever organized for Pitti Uomo (2007). This one-of-a-kind exhibition gathered together for the first time, a display of iconic houses of the Row –a move certainly not typical in the 21st century in the highly competitive arena of current fashion and style. This London Cut exhibition of seminal Savile Row houses has also been also shown in Paris and Tokyo.

In short, if there’s one man on earth who has been working tirelessly for the worldwide recognition of Savile Row, it’s Mr. Sherwood. And it’s about time, at a point where the legacy of Savile Row is on the verge of being pushed aside with a shrug of the shoulders, to pay tribute to James and credit him for his unique input that has helped to catapult  Savile Row’s power of attraction, specifically in a time when classical menswear is witnessing a global renaissance with billions of British pounds being invested in the sector.

London Cut 2

The problem today is that the Guardian of Savile Row probably does not know precisely what it is that he should be looking after (except perhaps Poole’s archives), because in less than five years since the completion of Mr. Sherwood’s exhaustive labour, the golden mile is more and more resembling a scene reminiscent of any other high street gathering of luxury shops found in most every major city in the western and oriental world.

To put it more succinctly, the long-guarded spirit of Savile Row that so many of us love and revere, is evaporating in front of our eyes. And the gesture of placing a few historical uniforms in display windows as trophies of the past in houses whose DNA is no more British, will certainly not suffice to retain the spirit of a craftsmanship that is unique in the world.

The new “masters” of Savile Row have not exactly been subtle in the way that they have been disregarding tradition : Gieves & Hawkes decided, for example, to shut down its archive room in which James invested so much effort, expertise and research –a work apparently deemed as useless and not modern enough to remain on the Row. Even the Gieves and Hawke’s Wall of Fame has been quickly removed by the new house designer/art director for whom these historical figures seemed too passé and out of line with hype marketing and current merchandising paradigms.

And what about Kilgour’s new boutique–of which fashion magazine editors swoon to the point of orgasm in describing the new design as being the epitome of what a contemporary boutique should be (with the overuse of the word ‘contemporary’ yielding a total loss of meaning), while in reality, it is a store with endless white walls not unlike hundreds of other designer shops in the luxury world.

The recent rise of London’s Fashion Week — ” London Collections : Men” has likely played a part in the leveraging of the Row, since this fashion week is basically a clone of the Paris, New York and Milan Fashion Week, complete with typical catwalks, contrary designers and conceptual installations….

That being said, don’t misunderstand what is written here. Our purpose is not to advocate for the blind protection of an old craftsmanship that remains difficult to be profitable because only a limited number of gentlemen in the world understand, appreciate and are able to afford bespoke.

We totally agree that it is time to promote the indisputable British know-how in this field, as well as to soften the legendary staunchness of the Savile Row tailors who struggle with the idea of mass communication and promotion.

What we really disagree with, is the way that the Savile Row name has been diluted and thrown into brand-communication-sauces as a way to fool the public with products that are in fact less and less British and artisanal.

While not going as far as to claim that certain garments are still made in the UK (when in fact the vast majority of them are not), the current marketing gimmick used by deceitful marketers is to place a label onto garments that states that they have been conceived and designed by authentic and legendary British master tailors. This is an ultimate lie that anyone even slightly interested in our field can detect. Many of the new masters of Savile Row are no more British…but Italian designers. And their collections, as everyone knows, are designed where they are crafted, i.e. in mostly very professional and high quality Italian factories. So the infamous « Designed by the master tailors of Savile Row » that one can find on the labels (and the website) of The Kooples, probably the most industrial and least British brand you can dream of, is nothing short of a marketing abuse…

Among this permanent marketing noise within Savile Row, in the midst of a massive usurpation of a name which has become the Eldorado of the speculators of many countries, we should for once give credit to Abercrombie & Fitch : at least they don’t pretend that their gross tee-shirts are made, much less designed by Savile Row; and, they do not pretend that the ridiculous body-builders who guard the entrance of their shops have been trained by British master tailors !

Thankfully, in this Roman invasion, a few incorruptible British villages still resist and relentlessly try, with talent and courage, to keep the spirit and the artisan know-how of Savile Row alive : Joe Morgan (Chittleborough&Morgan), Henry Poole and Co., Dege & Skinner, Richard Anderson and Steven Hitchcock (St. George Street, Mayfair) are among the last bastions of the dream of an elegant British gentleman.

In this context, the opening of Gaziano and Girling on 39 Savile Row is fantastic news : Tony and Dean are indeed two authentic British craftsmen and the Savile Row name fits them like a bespoke pair of Oxfords. They bring a definitive breath of fresh air to a Golden Mile that recently turned into a « Gold Mine » for realtors and wind sellers….

We, who have had the vulnerability to believe that in this 21st century, there are still things that money cannot buy, have to admit that maybe we were wrong. Savile Row will likely never be the same and the heritage that is heavily advertised by people who have no idea what they’re talking about, is about to die.

We live in a strange world don’t we James ?