Savile Row: Dressing the Elite, Preserving a Craft
Savile Row, a narrow street in central London, has been the heart of bespoke tailoring for hundreds of years, and it is here that the craftsmanship of creating a custom suit is nurtured and celebrated despite the overwhelming economic pressures to mass produce. Requiring about 70 hours of labor, suits from Savile Row cost upwards of £2000 and are entirely customized for each customer. The term bespoke itself originated on Savile Row, because when customers chose their cloth it was said to be “spoken for.” In Japanese, the word for suit is simply “sabiro,” a transliteration of Savile Row. The “golden mile of tailoring” is packed with the most prestigious tailoring houses in the world, and suits from Savile Row have adorned politicians, royals and celebrities from Napoleon III to Prince Charles to Mick Jagger for centuries.
Tailors first began doing business in the area around 1790. Founded in 1806, Henry Poole opened an entrance on Savile Row in 1846, earning it the title of “Founder of Savile Row.” The company is also credited with creating the dinner jacket- or tuxedo to Americans. While Savile Row’s reputation for the highest quality and craftsmanship has persisted throughout its rich history, the styles have not been static. In the late 1960’s, Tommy Nutter modernized the style of Savile Row with the opening of his tailoring house, which combined the traditions of Savile Row tailoring with the avant-garde fashion of Swinging London. Pop culture and classic elegance further intertwined in 1968 when the Beatles moved their multimedia corporation, Apple Corps, into 3 Savile Row, where they recorded Let It Be.
In the 1990’s Richard James, Timothy Everest, and Ozwald Boateng began what became known as the “New Bespoke Movement,” to revitalize the trade to match the modern consumer. They brought a designer perspective to tailoring, and expanded bespoke craftsmanship to casual and active wear. Alexander McQueen trained on Savile Row, and in 2012 the flagship men’s store opened on the iconic street.
While certain aspects of the trade have evolved to keep up with the times, Savile Row’s bespoke craftsmanship will never cater to the masses. It is the art and technical mastery of achieving the perfect fit with superior cloth for each individual customer. As each and every suit is handmade and requires at least 50 hours of work from premier tailors, it is not possible to scale up these bespoke businesses, despite loyal customers and worldwide recognition. Due to increasing rents and pressures to modernize, there were only 19 tailors left on Savile Row in 2006, compared to approximately 40 in the 1950’s. To address these issues, the Savile Row Bespoke Association was founded in 2004 to protect and develop the tradition of tailoring in the area. Savile Row stands for quality, craftsmanship, and history. While fashions today may change faster than the seasons, these ideals remain constant.