Like so many areas of London, a stroll down Savile Row in the heart of Mayfair is very much a walk through history.
From its famous clients from years past such as Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens and Lord Nelson to modern-day icons such as David Beckham and Tom Cruise, the legendary street has long been synonymous with style.
While stalwarts such as Henry Poole & Co. – the inventor of the tuxedo – and Gieves and Hawkes have been outfitting the royal family, celebrities and businessmen for more than 200 years, there’s increasingly a modern face of men’s tailoring.
“Tailoring has become cool again,” says Ian Meiers, who co-founded Cad and the Dandy in 2008. A former banker, Meiers turned to bespoke tailoring when he and his now business partner James Sleater were made redundant in that year’s financial downturn.
He credits the renewed interest in tailoring to TV shows such as Downton Abbey, movies such as the Kingsman film series, and the continued global success of that other dapper British secret agent, James Bond.
“You’re at a dinner party and you say you’re a tailor and people are like, that’s cool, because everyone’s used to meeting a banker,” he says.
A bespoke two-piece wool suit, so called because when clients chose their cloth it was said to “be spoken for,” starts at about £1,000 ($1,737) at Cad and the Dandy, and takes between eight and 12 weeks to produce. It’s substantially cheaper than the £5,000 starting point at Gieves and Hawkes, for example, and helps the brand appeal to a younger clientele.
Just north of Cad and the Dandy is Richard James, another bespoke tailor putting its own stamp on style. Using brighter colours and slimmer cuts that have traditionally been used, Richard James arrived on the scene in 1992 and has taken its place in the cadre of tailors situated on Savile Row.
“Savile Row really is a centre of excellence,” says Toby Lamb, the design and brand director for Richard James. “The suit as we now know it was invented on Savile Row some 200 years ago and London remains the home of contemporary tailoring and style.”
Lamb points to London’s reputation as one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities as a key source of inspiration for many of the tailor’s seasonal collections, particularly when it comes to menswear.
“It’s certainly a very classically stylish city for men. It’s very masculine,” he says. “Paris is the home of couture and London is the home of bespoke tailoring and shirt making.”
However, despite a long-standing reputation as a male-dominated industry, times are changing. Kathryn Sargent became the first female chief cutter in the history of the street during her 15 years with Gieves and Hawkes, before launching her own bespoke tailoring service in 2012 on nearby Brook Street.
But Savile Row was never far from her heart, and in 2016, she opened up a pop-up atelier on the street for 12 months.
“I think that it is the most important place for tailoring and the history of men’s dress in the world,” she says. “I think it cannot be overlooked or taken for granted just how important that is as a statement because we have influenced tailoring around the world; even the Italians would admit that if you put it to them.”
Sargent also has a flourishing side of her business catering to women, with an estimated 30 per cent of her client base now female, a number she would eventually like to see closer to 50 per cent.
But whether she’s making bespoke clothes for men or women, she adds that it’s important that they complement the individual’s lifestyle, personality and their environment, as well as being something that will be worn years into the future, and not just today.
As she explains, style isn’t about following a trend, it’s about dressing for the individual, and that is something that has been taking place in Savile Row for many a year, setting a standard that filters down to the present day.
“Those crafts that have been practised in this area for over 200 years are still alive and working today,” she says. “Obviously we’ve modernized the styles we work with and our clients’ tastes are different, but that really is what makes it such an inspiring space."