LONDON, United Kingdom — In a fast-growing menswear market, several of Savile Row’s most esteemed bespoke tailoring houses — many under new ownership and armed with significant investment — are capitalising on their unique heritage by expanding their ready-to-wear lines with new energy. Indeed, Gieves & Hawkes, Anderson & Sheppard, Kilgour and Hardy Amies, along with smaller houses such as Richard Anderson and E. Tautz, now offer expanded ready-to-wear lines.
But what do the purists think? And what does it mean for the long-term value of the Savile Row brand?
William Skinner, managing director of Dege & Skinner, a family business since 1865, which continues to offer only bespoke suit and shirt making, told BoF: “Ready-to-wear has been available on the Row for some time, but recession and a tough economic climate have led some retailers further down the road of ready-to-wear and the growing strength of London Collections: Men no doubt has had an impact. Our view is that any focus on tailoring for gentlemen on the Row is welcome. There are enough customers for us all, here and in the international territories we operate in.”
“Investment means there are greater budgets spent on promoting the name Savile Row itself, ideal at a time when global, mass produced brands wish to capitalise on the address. As others dilute their offering, we're experiencing increased business amongst bespoke customers. We recently extended our lease at No.10 Savile Row by 15 years, expanding the workshops into the basement as our bespoke business grows,” Skinner continued.
But he did have one concern. "Lack of transparency could be an issue were specific tailoring terms to be applied to pieces to confuse the buyer as to what they're actually paying for," he said, referring to the distinctions between "Bespoke Savile Row Suit," an appellation that requires a suit to have been made by hand on the street of Savile Row itself, and the made-to-measure and ready-to-wear products being offered by several Savile Row brands.
Patrick Grant, designer and owner of bespoke tailor Norton & Sons and its sister ready-to-wear line E. Tautz, shares Skinner's concern. “Personally as someone who has a business on both sides, I would like to see anything with a Savile Row name on it actually made on Savile Row," he said. "In the same way that Champagne has to be made in Champagne, you can't open a store in Scotland and call it Scotch whiskey if it's made in a chemical plant god knows where. If you have got ten thousand suits being made by hand on Savile Row, but you have got a million suits somewhere in a factory in Asia also called Savile Row, I don’t think it can do anything other than hurt the business here.”
Lobbying for a protected designation of origin classification from the European Union was mooted by members of the Savile Row Bespoke Association eight years ago, said Grant, "but the problem is it is very, very expensive and we are very, very small. I think, at the time, it was considered prohibitively expensive."
The rise of ready-to-wear lines also has implications for the classic operational setup of Savile Row's traditional bespoke tailors, who not only sell, but also produce their suits on the street. “The retail side is increasing its square footage," said Simon Cundey, co-owner of Henry Poole & Company, widely credited as being the founders of Savile Row and having invented both the smoking jacket and the dinner suit. "For us, sales and retailing [space] doesn’t need to be vast. Our ratio is 25 percent selling [space] to 75 percent manufacturing [space], but for others that is obviously the reverse. The cornerstone of [local manufacturers] needs to be protected from the landlords and increasing rents due to increasing retail space [on Savile Row]."
“Westminster Council or the government needs to protect the ability of houses to make on the Row in order to ensure that increased retail doesn’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg, as it were,” Cundey continued.
“What they don’t seem to understand is that [the bespoke] tailors gives the area its legitimacy," echoed Anda Rowland, vice chairman of Anderson & Sheppard. "They are the reason Dior Homme is round the corner and Alexander McQueen is here. If they are forced out, [Savile Row] is just a backwater behind Regent Street.”
Gieves & Hawkes, which was founded in 1771 at No.1 Savile Row and acquired in 2012 by Trinity Limited (part of Li & Fung, the world’s largest supplier to consumer brands) is already a global proposition with 138 stores, 117 of which are located in Asia. “I am not competing with Savile Row," said Ray Clacher, chief executive of Gieves & Hawkes. "I am competing with global brands to be on the front page of the national press along with Berluti, Tom Ford, Zegna, Canali — that is where we want to play. I am very confident that we — in the same way that Burberry play, particularly in the ladies market, as a super brand — can stand toe-to-toe with the best of men’s tailoring and luxury dressing in all the best department stores in the world,” Clacher continued.
But the new spate of Savile Row luxury ready-to-wear lines face stiff competition from the likes of Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury brand, which, through the appointment of London designer Kim Jones and significant investment from parent company LVMH, has become a luxury menswear leader. Berluti, another LVMH brand, has recently received significant investment that has transformed what was once a luxury shoemaker into a full-scale luxury lifestyle proposition with over 40 points of sale globally.
Then there is Brioni, which, with over 50 points of sale, sits alongside Bottega Veneta in the portfolio of luxury conglomerate Kering. And that's not to mention Italian menswear megabrand Zegna, as well as behemoths Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren. These brands already possess huge market share, global brand recognition and some of the biggest marketing budgets in the fashion business.
“I remember we went to see Didier Grumbach, [president] of the Chambre Syndicale in Paris, about an exhibition that we wanted to put on during couture week,” said Rowland. “And he said, Dege & Skinner, Chittleborough & Morgan, Henry Poole, Anderson & Sheppard — no one knows these names outside a very small circle. But everybody knows Savile Row. We have to be very realistic about that.”
But not all of the Savile Row houses that have entered the ready-to-wear market have similar aims. Indeed, broadly speaking, they fall into two different camps: the well-capitalised brands with global ambitions, like Gieves & Hawkes, and those for whom new ready-to-wear lines are simply a way to better cater to the changed lifestyles of their clients, like Anderson & Sheppard.
“It is an evolution, certainly not a revolution,” said Cundey. “There has always been ready-to-wear, perhaps on Bond Street, but Chester Barrie, Crombie, it is not something that is totally new to us. We have seen many changes. I remember when Tommy Nutter arrived in the 60s. Ozwald Boateng, Richard James, they all brought a new look, a new consumer to the Row. The main factor is that it is a menswear street, which attracts different age groups, demographics and different price points.”