How did Savile Row start?

I am fascinated with the history of tailoring and how those traditions that were developed many years ago still permeate throughout the profession. Great Britain is renowned throughout the world for expertise in tailoring so I thought I would share a bit of its history and how tailoring in Savile Row started.

Savile Row is a street in Mayfair, central London, famous for being the home of bespoke tailoring. It is synonymous with quality, style and exceptional high standards in creating traditional men’s custom-made suits.

The Golden Mile of Tailoring

The term ‘bespoke’ describes a suit cut and made by hand to individually fit when associated with fine tailoring, and is understood to have originated in Savile Row.
This short street, termed ‘the golden mile of tailoring’, has many famous customers including royal family members, politicians and heads of state from around the world.

The street dates back to 1731 when it was built by the Earl of Burlington who named it after his wife, Lady Dorothy Savile. Savile Street, as it was originally known, was first occupied by military officers. Since then it has accommodated the Royal Geographical Society from 1870 until 1911. In 1968, the Beatles purchased 3 Savile Row and played their final gig from the roof on 30 January 1969.

The founders of Savile Row

Tailors started their businesses here in the early 1800s. By 1803, some were occupying premises in Savile Row, but none of those original tailors remain today. Henry Poole & Co are recognised as the founders of Savile Row. They opened an entrance in 32 Savile Row from their premises on Old Burlington Street. They are also acknowledged as the creators of the dinner jacket/tuxedo when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, ordered a blue silk smoking jacket with matching trousers to wear at Sandringham. This was a country alternative to formal daywear and the evening tailcoat. Edward VII’s support and association helped to make the street fashionable at that time and enhanced its reputation.

The ‘New Bespoke Movement’

In 1969, the style and approach of traditional tailoring was modernised by Nutters of Savile Row. They we financially backed by Cilla Black and her husband, and their shop was the first to use bold window displays. This ‘New Bespoke Movement’ continued in the 1990s with the arrival of designers such as Ozwald Boateng, Richard James and Timothy Everest.

Although the reputation of tailoring on Savile Row is for made-to-measure suits, ready-to-wear clothes were introduced by Gieves & Hawkes in 1974. They made the morning coats for Princes William and Harry to wear at the wedding of Prince Charles to Camilla Parker-Bowles.

The Tailoring Revival

The number of tailoring businesses had declined by 2006 due to increasing rents. But there has been a huge revival since the mid-noughties to the present day, inspired by the arrival of modern and innovative tailors like Cad and the Dandy in 2008. In 2010, the company began an association with former boxer Chris Eubank who now designs a clothes range for the brand.

The Savile Row Bespoke Association was established in 2004 to develop and protect the craft of tailoring and name of Savile Row. It serves as a guarantee that customers receive a genuine and bespoke piece of clothing made by hand on Savile Row. The member tailors are required work at least 50 hours on each two-piece suit.

Modern and Accessible

Savile Row is now more modern and accessible than ever. It houses a range of tailors providing high-end, impeccable bespoke suits and garments in styles ranging from traditional to modern to cutting edge.

A City of Westminster (Department of Planning and City Development) report issued in March 2006, ‘Bespoke Tailoring in London’s West End’, estimated that between 6,000 to 7,000 suits were made on an annual basis in and around the Savile Row area. This represented a turnover of approximately £21 million. A Reuter’s article in February 2013 suggested that the total revenue for the informal group of suit makers was estimated to be £30-35 million pounds, with several tailoring establishments enjoying over 10% growth in recent years.

Savile Row brought to your door

Having been in the tailoring industry since 1996, I have seen every aspect of tailoring from working on the shop floor, the designing process and creating garments for high-end corporate accounts and celebrities. I set up The Bespoke Tailor with the view to providing world-class tailoring and an exceptional service. The kind of service that you remember and the quality of garments that make you feel special when you wear them. I travel all over the UK providing a bespoke service and a ‘Savile Row’ experience direct to my clients at their office, home or other convenient location. Please contact me on 07968 438717 or email adrian@thebespoketailor.co.uk if you would like to find out more or to arrange a consultation.