Having a Row
Usually when someone uses the phrase “old school,” they don’t have a specific place in mind, but when it comes to tailoring you can pin it down to a single street. Savile Row in London has been the go-to spot for bespokery since the days of the empire, and anywhere you happen to be fitted—even in Hong Kong or Dubai—it’s likely that most of your suit’s flourishes started out in the West End.
Of course, just like the empire, the Row has had some hard times lately. Facing rising rents, bad exchange rates and the steady encroachment of chains—most notably Abercrombie & Fitch, who recently opened their English flagship store on the Row—more and more tailors are closing up shop.
Those that survive face more obstacles. Kilgour—one of the more successful shops—was recently purchased by JMH, a Dubai-based chemical outfit. (Lauren Crowe’s excellent post at portfolio.com details Kilgour’s history in more detail.) The result will no doubt be a shift in focus away from the individual attentions that the bespoke tradition rests on.
The BBC recently ran a three-part documentary following the Row’s denizens—like Henry Poole’s tailors or Richard Anderson of the recently departed Anderson & Sheppard. (UK readers can see it here) The overall arc is familiar—market forces and community groups squeezing the life out of a subculture they don’t understand—but it is disheartening to see it happening to such a legendary place. Just as the rest of the world is realizing the importance of tailoring, the art’s origin point may be drying up.