Nothing says bespoke menswear like Savile Row. Located between Conduit and Vigo streets in London, it has the greatest concentration of tailors, perhaps anywhere in the world. Those aspiring to be part of this elite group undergo years of training, and count decades before they earn the right to be called master tailors.
The gentility of Savile Row dates back to the 1730s. It was part of the Burlington Estate and named after Lady Dorothy Savile, the wife of the earl who built it. Tailors began to set up shop at the turn of the eighteenth century. By 1846, Henry Poole would seal the deal on Savile Row’s reputation as the bespoke tailor to aristocracy of all stripes. Henry Poole & Co.’s clients included Napoleon III and Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, Prince Charles, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan. But it also made suits for Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger.
You may also like:
- Power dressing: heads of state that moved nations—and fashion
- A tour of Milan’s House of Rubinacci—where they make bespoke suits you can sleep in
- A step-by-step guide to having a custom suit made
- This Savile Row stalwart makes some of Prince Charles’ double-breasted suits
The fact that there are more royal warrants awarded to the tailors of Savile Row underscores its importance as regular purveyors of goods and services to the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, or The Prince of Wales.
It seemed inevitable, then, for Savile Row to be the center of a kerfuffle involving Abercrombie & Fitch. In 2013, the American retail chain announced it would open a children’s store on this bastion of tradition. A group of renowned tailors argued—to no avail—that the presence of a company known for mass production would destroy the bespoke tradition Savile Row had assiduously cultivated over the past 200 years. Today, number 3 Savile Row, which was once the site of the Beatles’ Apple Studio, is stuffed full of Abercrombie & Fitch’s cheerful, ready-made clothing for children. However, the retail giant did grant a few concessions to appease its hoary neighbors: it would not play loud music or stage promotional events outside its Savile Row store.
The debacle with Abercrombie & Fitch shows how Savile Row has twisted with the times. In 1961, Poole & Co, lost its lease on Savile Row and moved to Cork Street. (It only returned to its original home after 20 years.) It faced growing competition from ready-to-wear brands. Bespoke also became more accessible; the Italian luxury brand Ermenegildo Zegna, for example, offers bespoke tailoring in more than 500 locations worldwide. Rent was another issue; with spaces going for as much as USD 150 per square foot, a few tailors opted to move to nearby locations like Knightsbridge, where the rent is more affordable. Today, it is estimated that almost half of the tailors of Savile Row have relocated or closed shop. Dege & Skinner, the first to offer bespoke shirts, advertised for the first time in 148 years. It now also emails its clients and joined Facebook and Twitter.
But, while traditional clients have declined, Savile Row has gained fans elsewhere. Business has boomed, thanks to clients from the Middle East, Ukraine, and Russia. Rich, young Chinese, some studying in the UK, are likewise drawn to bespoke traditions that represent the finer things in life. Which only goes to show that Savile Row will remain in business for as long as the well-heeled or stylish traditionalist exists, no matter where they’re from.
Gieves & Hawkes1 Savile Row London W1S 3JR, United Kingdom Tel. +44 20 7434 2001 gievesandhawkes.com
Established in 1771, Gieves & Hawkes is the first of many shops on Savile Row. Its signature style is a single-breasted suit with three buttons. The waist sits a notch higher than the usual to create a long silhouette. Their more famous clients include Prince William, Robbie Williams, and Michael Jackson.
Dege & Skinner10 Savile Row London W1S 3PF, United Kingdom Tel. +44 20 7287 2941 dege-skinner.co.uk
Dege & Skinner is one of the last two remaining family-run tailoring houses on Savile Row. Known for its bespoke ceremonial uniforms, it holds royal warrants and is the preferred tailor of the Sultan of Oman. Its suits are unequalled when it comes to fit, coming from precision-cut patterns.
Huntsman11 Savile Row London W1S 3PS, United Kingdom Tel. +44 20 7734 7441 huntsmansavilerow.com
Huntsman first opened on Albermarle Street in 1849. Founded by Henry Huntsman, the shop later moved to Bond Street before making 11 Savile Row its permanent address. The shop is known for its signature tweeds manufactured by one of the oldest mills in Britain. Huntsman suits are also known for their structured shoulders, defined waistline, and a silhouette reminiscent of riding coats.
Henry Poole & Co.15 Savile Row London W1S 3PJ, United Kingdom Tel. 44 20 7734 5985 henrypoole.com
Established in 1806, Henry Poole & Co. is notable not only for being one of the founding institutions on Savile Row. It is also known for its many contributions to the style industry. In 1865, Henry Poole created the tuxedo after the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII, asked the tailor to create a jacket made specifically for informal dinners. It was also the first Savile Row tailor to cater to Japan, its influence so pronounced that the Japanese word for suit is “sabiro.” Today, Henry Poole & Co. goes beyond bespoke suits and offers accessories like cufflinks and even umbrellas.
Norton & Sons16 Savile Row London W1S 3PL, United Kingdom Tel. +44 20 7437 0829 nortonandsons.co.uk
Norton & Sons, established in 1821, has dressed the most powerful men in history, including German Emperor William I, King George V, the young Winston Churchill, and three US presidents. It only has one shop and makes less than 400 suits a year on premises. For clients outside of London, private appointments may be arranged, and the company goes on regular overseas trips for fittings.
This story originally appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 12 No 4 2013.