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By Stephen Eisenhammer
LONDON Feb 20 With a blazing fire, leather
sofa, and a half-empty bottle of single malt whisky by the door,
London bespoke suit-maker Anderson & Sheppard feels more like a
gentlemen's club frozen in time than a 21st century luxury
At the back of the shop a number of impeccably dressed
tailors cut cloth on wooden work benches much like they have
been doing for the last 100 years. One can almost imagine past
customers like Charlie Chaplin, Pablo Picasso or some faded
Victorian gentleman turning up at any moment.
This Savile Row tailor, where first names are banned and
customers are always "sir", may feel like a museum to Britain's
faded imperial glory but the bespoke menswear business on "the
Row" is enjoying a remarkable resurgence.
Anderson & Sheppard is just one of the names on London's
most renowned street for high-end tailors.
Alongside Gieves & Hawkes, Dege & Skinner, Henry Poole & Co
and others, tailors on "the Row" have been dressing royalty,
aristocrats, statesmen, great warriors and the wealthy since
British dandy Beau Brummel first introduced trousers to
fashionable London society at the start of the 19th century.
Behind the fusty facade "the Row" is attracting a new
generation of less exclusive young clientele despite suit prices
starting at 3,800 pounds ($5,900) with a combination of client
discretion, a subtle online presence and absolute attention to
detail and quality.
Anderson & Sheppard had a 2012 turnover of 4 million pounds
and growth has been over 13 percent every year since 2009.
A number of other houses on Savile Row have also enjoyed
over 10 percent growth in recent years with total revenue for
the informal group of suitmakers now estimated to be 30-35
"We're doing very well actually. We've found that business
has picked up in the last few years, and we couldn't be busier,"
Anderson & Sheppard manager Colin Heywood said as he showed
Reuters around the shop.
The renaissance of classic British menswear is a dramatic
turn-around for an industry that was left on the ropes by the
rise of decent quality ready-to-wear suits and shirts in shops
during the 1970s and 1980s.
Clothes that were then dismissed as old fashioned,
over-priced and going the way of bowler hats, are now the
subject of renewed interest reflected in sartorial blogs and
forums from India to the United States.
"We've noticed that we get a lot more younger customers
coming in. I think that's particularly the result of the
internet. There's so much more written about bespoke tailoring
now in books, magazines and online," Heywood said.
The celebration of Savile Row's handcrafted suits in online
forums, top men's magazines and promoted by its own association
on the Savile Row Bespoke website
has allowed tailors on the Row to make a centuries-old tradition
irresistible to well-off modern men seeking top quality.
"People find it a lot more accessible and I think it takes
away that fear element of people coming in for the first time,"
One customer, 38-year-old James Massey who runs a public
relations firm, said a bespoke suit was impossible to match.
"I could probably go and spend the same amount of money in
Selfridges on a Zegna suit that's made in a factory in Italy
with a bit of handstitching, but this is actually made
specifically for me," he said.
Dylan Jones, editor at GQ UK, puts the renaissance of
British tailoring down to the way men now shop for clothes.
"It's a generational shift. Men today consume far more like
women. They're far more sophisticated consumers than they used
to be and they expect very good produce at every entry level,"
"Menswear is starting to approach 50 percent of a lot of
people's business. It's a real growth industry."
Savile Row is particularly popular in international circles
where the classic British look is increasingly fashionable.
"One thing that plays fantastically well with foreign press
and buyers is the heritage aspect of what we do and there is so
much interest in Savile Row," Jones said, referring to the
events he runs as chair of the menswear committee for the
British Fashion Council.
Within this overall growth market where men are spending
more on clothes and demanding higher quality, Savile Row remains
uniquely placed in a global industry which luxury consultants
Bain & Company estimated was worth more than $34 billion in an
Oct. 2012 note.
"London is the home of menswear. We invented the suit and
Savile Row is the most important men's shopping street in the
world which offers a quality and aspect of heritage that you
simply can't get anywhere else," Jones said.
While big fashion brands such as Tom Ford, Dior, and Paul
Smith, invest heavily in marketing, distribution and staff,
Savile Row tailors remain a cottage industry employing only a
few dozen people who produce suits on site.
With fewer overheads and an international reputation from
generations of suit-making which does not cost a penny in
advertising, Savile Row is a surprisingly competitive and
durable business model.
"Any of these big fashion brands will have a much bigger
mark-up than the Savile Row tailors. No one goes into bespoke
tailoring to get rich," said James Harvey-Kelly the menswear
designer for French brand Vicomte A who also runs his own
"The quality is sensational and that's what Savile Row
trades off. They use sensational cloths and its sewn together by
absolute experts. They last for generations."
On the other side of Piccadilly the manager of traditional
shirtmaker Budd, Andrew Rowland, said his company was reaping
rewards for sticking by its principles through the tough times.
"We've never done anything different, but the others have
weakened," he said in the cosy shop just off Jermyn Street above
which bespoke shirts are still scissored by hand.
Jermyn Street used to be the home of London's bespoke
shirt-making industry, but many of the old stores such as T.M.
Lewin and Hawes & Curtis expanded into mass sales, pushing down
the price by producing shirts in Vietnam and Turkey.
One long-term customer is British actor Edward Fox, who
played the title role in "Day of the Jackal". Before sitting
down to a cup of tea with Rowland, he explained why he has been
coming back for 55 years.
"This is a Budd shirt. It must be at least 10 years old.
Just as good today as it was 10 years ago. You don't actually
have to spend that much on clothes, you have to look after
clothes and you have to buy well originally".
However, traditional tailoring is not always ideal for more
design-conscious people, according to Harvey-Kelly.
"Everything for them (Savile Row) is about it falling
perfectly with no creases. But in the modern day people
sometimes want it to look a bit uncomfortable. They want it to
be slim and curl on the sleeve and a lot of tailors refuse to do
Heywood at Anderson & Sheppard when asked about modern
fashion trends said he had noticed a "slight lean towards
"We're not fashion-led. Fashions change very quickly and
what we like to do is create a suit that's a timeless classic
that you can wear in any decade".
($1 = 0.6460 British pounds)
(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer)