Savile Row – Glass looks at the citadel of style and epitome of correctness

In the realm of rarefied style, Savile Row enjoys a global eminence to rival Via Monte Napoleone, Place Vendôme or Fifth Avenue. Over its near three hundred years of existence, the British citadel of tailoring has operated like a multi-departmental research institute, using live bodies and genuine luxury commissions as its explorations. Its evolution of form never ceases, ensuring its continued relevance.

Savile Street was commissioned by the Earl of Burlington in 1733, and named after his Countess wife, Dorothy Savile. These smart new buildings were first populated by aristocrats, politicians and society types drawn to the burgeoning area of Mayfair, who in those days had all of their clothing and gentlemanly accessories made to order. Thus a myriad of trades existed to cater for the wealthy. However, tastes, as well as neighbourhoods, were in flux.

With the French Revolution, and the death of the French aristocracy, so ended the European penchant for overtly frilly, ornate dressing. At the turn of the 19th century, a new mood was afoot. The prophet of this modernity was Beau Brummel, a devout minimalist, working with a simple colour palette of black, white, navy and buff. Brummel’s severe aesthetic discipline was attractive and modern. High society embraced the chic new roster of appearance and began ordering bespoke clothes to suit its new pared down disposition. (Bespoke refers to the ‘be-spoken’ word of the customer).

The code of military was also a defining factor in men’s dressing. Thomas Hawkes, Henry Huntsman, Norton & Sons, Henry Poole and James Gieve all made service uniforms. Strict stylistic correctness and military tradition set down many fundamentals of Savile Row. Uniforms were designed to make men look tall, lean and noble; attributes absorbed into Row DNA. Houses interpreted the rubric in different ways, but a clean, uncluttered look developed, implemented with rigorously structured lines and cuts. Items such as long length trousers as opposed to breeches, and short dinner jackets cut without tails emerged. The esteemed houses held royal warrants from around the world, and sartorial prestige was conferred by who one shared ones outfitter with. This domain was still the preserve of the anointed classes however, and although talked and written about, it was regarded only by a few.

At the beginning of the 20th century Anderson & Sheppard made a number of suits for Hollywood star Rudolph Valentino. This led to commissions from icons such as Douglas Fairbanks Senior, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper, and as cinema entered the equation, Savile Row’s glamour quotient rocketed. Kilgour, French and Stanbury (now known simply as Kilgour) made a white tie outfit for Fred Astaire and later suits for Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, propelling Savile Row’s regard and exposure into popular culture. Meanwhile, (in 1945) Hardy Amies had opened at No.14 and become England’s first post war haute couturier, designing clothes for Queen Elizabeth II, as well as its signature modern suave for men. Elements of Savile Row evolved with the changing stylish society that patronised it. Tommy Nutter and Edward Sexton opened the rebellious Nutters on Valentine’s Day 1969. They created extravagantly cut work for London’s swinging party set; Mick and Bianca Jagger, Twiggy, Robert Mapplethorpe and The Beatles.

Over the following decades other tailors developed almost European aspects of cut and fabrication such as Richard James, while 
Ozwald Boateng worked a blend of exotic and glamorous style shown on the Paris runway. In the new millennium, Kilgour’s creative director (Carlo Brandelli) devised a slick design and retail experience that paralleled the reinvention of Gucci by Tom Ford, and was dominating the Row vista. More distinctive styling is currently seen at Spencer Hart, who’ve been simmering away at No.36 for eight years. Their razor sharp cut and silhouette has 
proved so desirable, Hart is rumoured to expand further into Mayfair, no small feat given the artisanal nature of the Row.

While a perpetual development of diversity is evident, strident upholding of tradition is what has kept the Row’s marque so potent. An antique brand, E. Tautz, has recently been resurrected by (Patrick Grant), the owner of Norton & Sons. The house that once looked after Winston Churchill’s family is now a vehicle for a modern pertinent take on “correct” dressing.

Working a palatable line of traditional structure, it’s been bought into by numerous high fashion shops as far afield as Saks Fifth Avenue and Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Beijing. Original Row coloniser, Gieves & Hawkes, still look after Naval officers while simultaneously trading a strong ready to wear collection showing at London Fashion week. Fastidious respect for traditional build and cut, pitted against the continually changing demands of style and customers has led Savile Row to its elevated domain. Placing a commission there today links an unassailable provenance and unique lineage directly to your personal requests; a legacy that the vaunted luxury heritage houses on nearby Bond Street and its counterparts abroad must surely envy.

by Tom Stubbs

Taken from the Glass Archive – Issue Three – Promise