London's Savile Row tailors roll up sleeves for bespoke battle

7th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The street in the upmarket Mayfair district is synonymous with the handcrafted suits worn by royals, presidents, tycoons, stars and other high fliers across the globe.

London -- For the past two centuries the tailors of Savile Row in London have dressed the world's finest in bespoke suits -- but now they face a fight to defend their prestige image.

The street in the upmarket Mayfair district is synonymous with the handcrafted suits worn by royals, presidents, tycoons, stars and other high fliers across the globe.

But now the street's great tailoring houses have a battle on their hands for the "Savile Row bespoke" moniker, a fight against less traditional firms creating made-to-measure suits, with much of the work done abroad.

A bespoke garment is one made specifically to the exact measurements and demands of the client, right down to the buttons, whereas made-to-measure means a garment cut to the measurements then adjusted to fit.

Bespoke "are garments made really from scratch for an individual," said Anda Rowland, vice-president of Anderson and Sheppard and board member of the Savile Row Bespoke Association (SRBA), established in 2004, which represents 10 of the street's tailoring firms.

"A series of over 27 measurements will be taken through the body and an individual pattern will be cut for him by an expert cutter and this will then go to a series of tailors.

"You might have nine individuals, highly trained, working on a suit and it will be around 50 hours of work involved in a suit. The customer will not leave the shop until the suit is to his liking."

The client will go through at least three fittings, she added.

John Hitchcock, managing director of Anderson and Sheppard, said: "If you are physically not perfect, we can make you look good. We are like a plastic surgeon."

The bespoke suits cost at least 3,000 pounds (5,000 dollars, 3,400 euros) each -- several times more than the made-to-measure efforts appearing with the Savile Row tag.

The furore really took off in 2008 when Britain's Advertising Standards Authority allowed a tailor on Savile Row to use the term bespoke for suits sold at 500 pounds each, which were partially stitched by machine.

The SRBA fears this will dilute the Savile Row brand.

"We don't want to be protectionist, but we certainly need to make sure that those individuals who do not produce bespoke garments to Savile Row bespoke standards don't use our name," said Rowland.

The association has registered a trademark in Britain, Europe and the United States and applied for one in Japan.

It will be displayed in the tailors' shops but talks are ongoing about whether to put it inside the suits -- a radical move for tailors who are ultra-discreet.

"The next step is to see how we can gain a European 'appellation controlee' status, which will help us to protect ourselves against the endless people using 'bespoke' and 'Savile Row'," Rowland added, using a French term used for certifying the origin of food products, especially wine.

Founded in 1906, Anderson and Sheppard produces some 1,500 suits per year. Its clients have included Prince Charles, Fred Astaire, Pablo Picasso, Gary Cooper and Kate Moss.

The niche market, immune to the ups and downs of fashion trends, has also resisted the economic crisis: orders were up 20 percent in September 2009 compared to September last year.

"We are not, thank goodness, depending on the City of London for a living," said Rowland.

Claudia Rahola/AFP/Expatica

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