Savile Row, a slender thoroughfare nestled in London's Mayfair district, has long been the epicentre of bespoke tailoring, weaving a narrative that intertwines craftsmanship, elegance, and a rich tapestry of history. From its modest beginnings to a global symbol of sartorial excellence, Savile Row's journey mirrors the evolution of fashion, society, and the intricate art of tailoring.
The origins of Savile Row as a tailoring mecca can be traced back to the late 18th century when bespoke tailoring emerged as a distinct craft. The iconic street takes its name from Lady Dorothy Savile, wife of the 3rd Earl of Burlington, who owned the land. However, it was during the 19th century that Savile Row solidified its reputation as the epicentre of bespoke tailoring. The original tailors on Savile Row, such as Henry Poole & Co. and Gieves & Hawkes, laid the foundation for the street's prestigious reputation. Henry Poole, credited with creating the dinner jacket, and Gieves & Hawkes, the royal tailors, established the standards of craftsmanship and attention to detail that continue to define Savile Row tailoring.
This period in history saw the rise of legendary tailors who would shape Savile Row's identity. Notable figures include George Brummell, also known as Beau Brummell, who revolutionised men's fashion and influenced the tailoring culture on Savile Row. The turn of the century brought forth iconic tailoring houses such as Anderson & Sheppard, Gieves & Hawkes, and Huntsman, each contributing a unique touch to the art of bespoke tailoring. These establishments laid the foundation for the meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail that would become synonymous with Savile Row.
As the 20th century unfolded, Savile Row underwent transformations reflective of broader societal shifts. The post-war era witnessed a resurgence in the demand for bespoke tailoring, with Savile Row becoming the preferred choice for statesmen, celebrities, and the elite. Tailors like Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell, who served the British royal family, further elevated the Row's prestige.
The swinging sixties marked a departure from tradition, with the arrival of Tommy Nutter, a tailor known for his avant-garde designs. Nutter's bold approach injected a sense of modernity into Savile Row, attracting a younger clientele and expanding the Row's influence beyond traditional circles. The landscape of Savile Row has been shaped by a succession of master tailors. In the 1960s, Nutter disrupted the traditional Savile Row aesthetic with bold designs, daring cuts, and a clientele that included musical icons like The Beatles. His collaboration with master cutter Edward Sexton marked a turning point, infusing a youthful spirit into the Row's classic repertoire. Sexton, known for his innovative approach to tailoring, played a pivotal role in reshaping Savile Row's identity. His partnership with Nutter not only attracted a new generation of clients but also challenged the establishment, leading to a renaissance in bespoke tailoring.
Edward Sexton (Right), wife Joan (Left) & Tommy Nutter (Middle)
The roster of tailors on Savile Row continues to read like a venerable who's who of bespoke tailoring. Notable names include Maurice Sedwell, Richard Anderson, and Edward Sexton, have carried the torch of craftsmanship into the 21st century. Each tailor brings a distinctive style to the Row, contributing to its reputation as a melting pot of sartorial artistry.
Savile Row's fitting rooms have hosted a pantheon of influential figures. Sir Winston Churchill, renowned for his impeccable style, sought the expertise of Savile Row tailors during crucial moments in history. The Beatles, looking to break away from their mop-top image, turned to Tommy Nutter, marking a pivotal moment where the worlds of music and tailoring converged on the Row. International patrons, including Hollywood luminaries like Cary Grant and Fred Astaire, contributed to the global allure of Savile Row. The Row's clientele expanded to include leaders and dignitaries from around the world, solidifying its status as a symbol of British craftsmanship.
Beneath the polished exterior of Savile Row lies a tapestry of scandals and notorious tales. In the mid-20th century, a rivalry between tailors Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell grabbed headlines, offering a glimpse into the fiercely competitive world of Savile Row. Savile Row's client roster reads like a historical ledger of the world's elite. Sir Winston Churchill, a stalwart in the face of World War II, adorned suits crafted on Savile Row. However, scandals also marked the Row's history, including tales of espionage during the Cold War. Allegedly, Soviet spies used tailor shops as meeting points, highlighting the Row's unwitting role in geopolitical intrigue. The 'Sack Suit Riot' of 1966, sparked by the refusal of some Savile Row tailors to adopt more casual styles, highlighted the tensions between tradition and innovation on the Row. This incident underscored the challenges faced by tailors navigating the evolving landscape of men's fashion.
While tradition forms the backbone of Savile Row, a cadre of visionary tailors has continuously sought to inject freshness into its classic repertoire. Alexander McQueen, though known for his avant-garde designs, began his career on Savile Row, demonstrating the street's ability to nurture diverse talents. Beyond McQueen, a lineage of pathbreaking tailors includes Richard James, who introduced a contemporary flair to the Row, and Ozwald Boateng, celebrated for his modern take on tailoring with vibrant colours and unconventional patterns.
Savile Row's influence transcends borders, attracting patrons from across the globe. International figures like Gianni Agnelli, the Italian industrialist, and Aga Khan, a prominent racehorse owner, have sought the expertise of Savile Row tailors. The Row's global appeal has turned it into a destination for those in search of the epitome of bespoke luxury.
As Savile Row navigates the 21st century, it remains a bastion of tradition and craftsmanship. The street's ability to adapt to changing tastes while preserving its core values has ensured its continued relevance. From its humble beginnings to its current status as a global symbol of bespoke tailoring, Savile Row stands as a testament to the enduring marriage of art and attire, weaving threads of elegance that transcend time. The legacy of Savile Row continues to be written in every impeccably tailored garment, a testament to the artisans who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of sartorial perfection.
These artists of cloth have altered the landscape and continue to do so in new ways, bringing the Row’s bespoke tailoring to new customers, like Ralph Fitzgerald, former head cutter at Huntsman, earlier at Kilgour who now has his own shop in the Chrysler building and recently dressed Tremaine Emory for the GQ party.