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There have been a number of discussions in the past about the fate and future of Savile Row. This week, The Independent revisited the question. "Their new neighbours sell jeans, or 'bespoke' suits for £200. Their clientele are tightening their belts – forcing even the most illustrious names to outsource their ancient craft. Are the tailors of Savile Row heading for their final fittings?"



Is The Independent right? Is the Row -- already in long-term decline and now facing the pressures globalisation, commercialisation, competition and modernity -- faced with the brutal reality of having to sell up or sell out?
 

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Interesting article. I think one thing is clear, Savile Row is changing. The past 2/3 years have seen a shift in the Row. However, I do generally believe that while some companies may close, some will grow into larger names than they already are. Personally, I think the big three that will stay around for a "true" bespoke suit made in England will be: Anderson & Sheppard, Huntsman and Henry Poole. The "footballers" will head to Richard James, who I am sure will do well with that market.
 

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The times have changed and some of houses need to change, to adapt to modern times. Gieves were selling RTW suits in the 1920's but it is something that is part of today and so is MTM. G&H, Richard James etc have big RTW and MTM range, while Richard Anderson has a MTM range with a very limited RTW range.

I was in contact with Richard Anderson in the autumn concerning prices the average bespoke suit is £3.2k, with MTM at £1.8k - that is almost double. With the times as they are, I am sure some Huntsman customers that would normally spend at least £3.6k on a suit, going to RA and getting a MTM for half the price.

I would love to everything bespoke, but just considering the basics - 3 bespoke suits from G&H will cost at least £10K. Then there are shirts, ties and shoes to consider as well. Even if I went for the lowest cost true bespoke suits elsewhere, that is at least £6K. In the future, most of wardrobe may be mostly MTM with a few bespoke items for special occasions.


A&S have now lost a warrant because Prince Charles wears MTM from Turnbull & Asser. I am very disappointed in him; I would have thought he at least would continue the bespoke tradition. I have always been a fan of his, even though he was uncool and everyone wanted William to be king; even now at 26 years old, a lot of people my age dislike him.

We have seen A&S and AJ Hewitt move off The Row and I would not be surprised if we saw another. Personally, I feel enough is not done to protect the street and the court ruling does not help either.
Part of it is not celebrating The Row, the same with most British things (e.g. fox hunting on Boxing Day, Northampton based shoemakers), it is seen as being snobby; even if I wear a Hackett sweater - the 1966 England football were wearing suits by Huntsman; 36 years on (2002), they were showing to be liberal and wearing Burtons (which were apparently very good quality, lying bastards); and now they are wearing Armani. The 2006 Italian world cup winning football team were wearing D&G and still do.

I have had this chat with Nathan from Lodgers, (the new shoe shop on Clifford Street, between the Savile Row and the Bond Street’s) about this. The number of shoemakers in Northampton and the Italian equivalent is completely different, in terms of numbers. The latter having so many more makers.


There has been a missed generation or two, in the 70’s and 80’s when the young men decided not to go to Savile Row, the tradition was still kept by the older generation. Now they are not here, that missed generation is making a big affect. When I reach my 30’s I suspect most of my friends will be wearing Italian brands made in China or wherever (as they do now).
 

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Sedwell carries a lot of RTW casual wear (leather jacekts, &c.) that you won't find elswhere on the Row, but I would be very surprised if the tailored clothing were not 100% bespoke.
 

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It was nice to see a lot of "ink time" given to Graham Lawless of Davies and Son (formerly of Dege & Skinner). An interesting point made is that there are only four Savile Row Bespoke members left who are pure bespoke. They list Huntsman, Poole, A&S and Dege - I would be surprised if Maurice Sedwell isn't also all bespoke.
Actually, Maurice Sedwell of Savile Row absolutely still does true (full) bespoke (which I believe accounts for 80% of his sales with made to measure accounting for 15% of his sales and ready to wear accounting for 5% of his sales).

William Westmancott of Savile Row also still does true bespoke clothing (which accounts for 80% of his sales). Semi bespoke is 19 to 19.9% of Westmancott's sales. Ultimate bespoke is .1 to 1% of his sales. Ultimate bespoke (which is extraordinarily limited production, one purchase a month for each of the 12 months of every year, which is 12 purchases a year every year) is even more true (or even more full) bespoke than "regular" full bespoke.

We can't forget Rubinacci London of Savile Row (where a vast majority of all of their sales, like a vast majority or all of Rubinacci Naples's and Rubinacci Milan's sales is true bespoke).

Just like all of the true bespoke tailored clothing from William Fioravanti, Frank Shattuck and Gianni Campagna (yes, all three of these tailors absolutely still do true bespoke), all of the true bespoke tailored clothing (tailored clothing of any kind, for what it's worth, is suits, sportsjackets or odd jackets, odd trousers, odd vests, tuxedos, morning coats, tailcoats, topcoats and overcoats) from the five tailors mentioned above is 95-99% hand sewn and 1-5% machine sewn (all handmade) at the absolute least but is most likely 99% hand sewn and 1% machine sewn (again, all handmade).

I believe (but am only about 60-75 sure) that the five tailors mentioned above (as well as William Fioravanti, Frank Shattuck and Gianni Campagna) are still doing very well in spite of and/or despite the multitude of crises nationwide or worldwide (depending on the crisis), where each of the crises nationwide or worldwide are arguably the worst crises (crises being the plural of crisis) of their kind in the history of the human race by a good margin. If this is the case, then all eight of these tailors will stick around for a while.
 

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I find it amusing that SR has turned to RTW and MTM, but not into proper advertising, saying "We are here, come to us, this why we are better".

RTW and MTM are what they are only because of sdvertising. Start with square 1 before going to square 2. Square 1 is what you already have- bespoke. Square 2 is advertising. Square 3 is a whole new product and 4 is advertising it.
 

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I'll do my part to make sure the tradition continues.
 

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Economic downturns come and go.
It has nothing to the current economic issues, The Row has had problems for years, with less and less people going for a bespoke suit made within the Savile Row bespoke suit. Just look at the number of people employed from the early 1900's to a few years ago.

I think Savile Row should retain its original character rather than adapting to the new trends.
As WA points out

"I find it amusing that SR has turned to RTW and MTM, but not into proper advertising, saying We are here, come to us, this why we are better".

They do not really want to advertise but they need too. G&H does some basic advertising (which is poor anyway) but nothing for its bespoke suits. They are not attracting the young generation, the men who need at least 3 suits for work and a dinner suit. The men that be coming back for blazers and trousers for the normal wardrobe. If these men buy 11 suits (3 suits at a time, 3 times; & 2 dinner suits) in their time, that is at least £22-39k and then passes the tradition to his son, that is at least £44k-£78k. This is excluding money made from getting their normal wear from The Row or even more suits. Maybe that person wants to wear a different suit everyday of the week and maybe get his wedding suit made on The Row too. If Armani can hook people and they only wear Armani suits, then The Row should too.

Tom Ford and Calvin Klein have got suits made on Savile Row for a reason; however, they along with celebs are not the people who will coming back for 40 years and passing the tradition.

I used to shop at a G&H concession at busy department store (Bentalls, in Kingston-upon-Thames) as it was easier for me then going to The Row, I was the only returning customer that was under mid-30; on The Row they tried the awful Gieves line. They need to focus on their main line, advertise it and says this is why all these people have shopped on The Row - why spend £500 on something that is poorly made with a label on it when it will only last 18-36 months, when you can get a quality suit that should at least 10 years. For the really young generation, they know you cannot go bespoke because of cost but have this good quality MTM range, which should a long time. Then hook these people for bespoke when they need new suits and have the money.

When I needed suits for work, I just got the blazers for two; I tried to get a matching blazer for a third trouser but they did do blazers for it, so got a RTW instead. The usual brands were advertising and appealing to me. Let's just say if I needed three suits and was not sure where to go, it would be more likely that I walk on Bond Street then Savile Row - Armani, D&G, Prada, RL, etc would be appealing to me.

I am already hooked on the tradition, the only questions are i. money and whether I could go bespoke for all my suits, blazers and trousers or mostly MTM with some bespoke items ii. and from who. However, what about the others. I work as a contractor, so have worked in a number of different offices (7) and add friends from uni, etc and so far I have not met one person under 30 who has gone to Savile Row for a suit (RTW, MTM or bespoke). The closet was some Boateng fans who have never been to any of his shops.

A friends brother spent about £2k on an Armani suit; he knew about The Row and did not find it appealing although it repsected The Row - that is a bespoke suit for Steed or Westmancott. One of my cousins earns £48k annually, he will new suits for work in a year or two, will he go to The Row - I doubt it. If I earned that much, I would have 5 bespoke suits, 1 bespoke dinner suit and varies blazers and trousers. He is more of a casual dresser so will only need 3 suits, that is £10k for G&H that they would miss out on.

Lanvin will arrive soon and suspect more will too.
 

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Great advertisement also comes in the form of shows like this, so they should consider doing more interviews, etc. if they have the time.
 

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Heading for their final fittings? No.

Sell up? What's wrong with having new ownership? What about those firms that are no longer owned (and operated) by a member of the founder families?

Sell out? The expression implies that it is necessarily preferable to remain a purely bespoke business. Why is that?

Audi, FYI, Rubinacci's London base is in the other end of Mayfair.
 

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It was nice to see a lot of "ink time" given to Graham Lawless of Davies and Son (formerly of Dege & Skinner). An interesting point made is that there are only four Savile Row Bespoke members left who are pure bespoke. They list Huntsman, Poole, A&S and Dege - I would be surprised if Maurice Sedwell isn't also all bespoke.
What does this mean? Huntsman sells RTW and MTM and Poole has licenses in Japan...
 

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I agree I don't think the Row's problems stem from the economy.

(You could even argue an economic downturn might have the advantage of lower rents).

The Row, and indeed all bespoke tailoring, suffers from the fact that, to paraphrase the 'Tailor of Panama', most people don't know the difference between 400 years of tradition, and an Italian gents' outfitter.

If the Row could survive the sartorial holocaust of the 1960s, where craftsman-made clothing was replaced almost overnight by mass produced rubbish, it can survive anything; though I agree there is likely to be a contraction.
 

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I think it's pretty clear that the current downturn will affect the bespoke tailoring sector; pretty much every luxury industry (and bespoke tailoring is, despite the frequent protestations of many members of this and other fora, a luxury) has taken a significant hit in the second half of 2008. This is only expected to get worse in 2009. Bespoke clothing is a 'non-sticky' expenditure (in contrast to housing, private school fees, etc), with a poor re-sale value. As such, it will be hit early and it will be hit hard during an economic downturn.

This is not, however, the essential problem of Savile Row. Instead, as the article and many subsequent posters make clear, Savile Row is vulnerable today because of more long-term trends (the decline in suit wearing, the rise of the luxury clothing brands, and so on). The Row has in many cases been its own worst enemy, and it is unlikely to me that bespoke will once again become more than a minority pastime.

In reference to the discussion on advertising, I think that there are fundamentally two marketing objectives that the Row/bespoke industry should have:
1. Build overall awareness and consideration among the vast majority of potential customers (those rich enough, to be vulgar, and in professions requiring the wearing of a suit) who today do not go anywhere near Savile Row when buying suits. Moving into RTW, MTM and entry-level Bespoke, provides a series of stepping-stones to bespoke for new customers. As long as the product at each stage of the journey is of a good quality, and there is a clear reason for trading-up to the next level is a very valid strategy.
2. Build stronger individual relationships with current and potential bespoke customers. A key element in this will be customer service - it is amazing how poor the service of high-end bespoke houses can be, and this is not something that anyone other than the enthusiast will put up with. It will also involve creating a strong bond with the brand and with bespoke through special events and offers (Berluti's Swann Club is a good example of this - and the likes of LVMH are excellent at it). You need to establish

On a final note, I have to take issue with ToryBoy's assertion that on a salary of £48k he would have a full Savile Row bespoke wardrobe. The wardrobe he sets out (five suits, a dinner suit, a few blazers and trousers) would set him back somewhere around £25k at most Savile Row tailors, or roughly a full year's post tax income. Once deductions have been made for mortgage/rent, pensions savings, car/transport, food, one would imagine that the true disposable income available for clothing and all other 'luxuries' is something much closer to £5k. Building up a £25k wardrobe on such an income would be an achievement. Realistically, most regular bespoke customers will be earning (and will need to earn) in excess of £150k, placing them in the top-1% of the UK's tax-paying population.

In other words, it is not likely to become a large business, but the challenge for Savile Row is not losing all of that 1%
 

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Re:

If I can tag on to Mr. Thornhill's point.

Saville Row houses compete against themselves, and they compete against other designers, but the entire industry of "higher-end" clothing ALSO live in a sort of symbiotic relationship with each other.

For example, two years ago, when I started at my job, I dressed like a ragamuffin; baggy cargos and untucked polos. I have since upgraded, and have purchased my first custom shirt recently, and now shop at Tyrwhit and Joseph A Bank instead of Men's Wearhouse and Kohl's (I know, I am not there yet, but I am getting there). My positive experience with my custom shirt has led me into this world, so although my money went to Bond Tailors, custom shirt makers here in America will one day earn increased sales off of me.

Higher end clothing, of which I think the Row and true bespoke in general is the peak, is not a product so much as a way of life, and a reflection of values. The Row will continue to wither as long as the vast majority of people wear baggy clothes, or 6 inch mini-skirts, to work.

I think too many people on this site get caught up in the "how bespoke are you" mentality, and ignore the fact that this entire industry, which has innumerable price-points and businesses, are really all on the same side. The same attitude that led me here will lead me to support the higher-end merchants and tailors.

I don't know how you reverse societal trends, but this grubbying up of our culture has implications far beyond the row.
 

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Heading for their final fittings? No.

Audi, FYI, Rubinacci's London base is in the other end of Mayfair.
I agree. Savile Row is most likely (if not definitely) never heading for their final fittings.

As far as Rubinacci's London base being in the other end of Mayfair, it is like the old saying goes, you learn something new every day.
 
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