Certain memories have contributed to my love of craftsmanship. My grandmother sewed, embroidered and crocheted and would critically examine the work of others. An embroidered piece had to be as neat on the back as the front. In dress-making the fabric pattern had to match at the seams. My adopted aunt could see a design and using her cutting skills produce a garment which had to be indistinguisable from one she might have bought. My uncle had his shoes made from a wooden last fashioned when he became an adult and remaining with the local shoemaker all his life.
Going to the tailors with my father was to watch artistry and skill in action as at each visit the drama unfolded. Any predilection I had for the seeking of perfection in all products was being nurtured. He was a made-to-measure man. The next step in my addiction was predictable, the world of bespoke tailoring.
For ladies’ fashion it is haute-couture and Paris. For the very best in tailoring it is Savile Row where from the beginning of the nineteenth century the rich and famous have been dressed – from Churchill to Clark Gable, Kings and Presidents. The number of tailors who can claim to be housed in Savile Row has declined, long established firms survive, a number holding royal warrants – like Gieves and Hawkes who boast 1 Savile Row as their address.
Gieves and Hawkes
Gieves and Hawkes have their roots in dressing the navy and military.
Hawkes, originally engaged in cap making, gained a royal warrant and became established as a military tailor.
Gieves originally dressed naval officers and became tailor by appointment to the Royal Navy.
The stringent demands of navy and military ensured the maintenance of the highest skills in tailoring and, alongside, the safeguarding of traditional skills were forays into innovation. Hawkes was responsible for the topee and Gieve developed a life-saving waistcoat. Innovation was not eschewed.
Their merger in 1974 united these traditional purveyors of military and naval uniforms, at No1 Savile Row, to move forward, maintaining tradition, but also addressing the contemporary market.
The term arose because you originally reserved the material for your suit, it was “spoken for” and you had to be introduced to gain access the famous names of Savile Row. Now the term is linked to that whole tailoring experience in which the skills of the tailor focus upon the needs and wishes of the individual client.
A bespoke suit is timeless and yet can be adapted.
It has slim, classic lines, a shaped waist which define the silhouette, enhances the body line and by its shape can flatter the less perfect figure.
To own such a suit is a marriage for life and its making an experience to savour.
Experience and enjoy the creating
The process of suit-making is not one to be hurried but to be enjoyed.
At least three fittings are required and then is the process of measuring, pattern-making, cutting, fittings and at each step, decision-making. The whole process will take 8-12 weeks.
It helps if you have given some thought to your preferences before presenting yourself to the tailor. Consider the situations in which the suit will be worn and identify your likes and dislikes in terms of pattern or plain, and the colours you favour.
There can be a vast array of cloths from which to make your selection. It can run into thousands, different colours and shades, composition and mixes, different weaves and added to that diversity is the issue of weight of cloth, from the lightest, about 8 ounces to a heavy eighteen ounce. Mid range is a safe choice for normal wear. There is also the choice of lining, pattern, material, equally diverse.
Appraised of the situations in which you will be wearing the suit the tailor will be able to guide you.
In choice of style, the tailor will be your mentor; size of lapel, line of pocket, single or double vent, single or double breasted. Use his experience to decide which will most flatter your body shape and height.
Choosing is not over. Cut and cloth determined, there are the additional variables – which buttons, the trim, individual requirements which make the suit very much yours.
Measuring and Cutting
A whole series of measurements will be taken and recorded in a set order for the pattern maker to follow and for the cutter to work his magic.
The skilled pattern maker will transcribe the details taken to a strong cartridge paper, and he does it freehand. At the initial measuring, note will have been taken of any problems which could affect the hang of the suit. My father always dress attention to the fact that one shoulder blade was slightly lower – not necessary. The good tailor will spot such idiosyncracies and compensate.
The pattern cut and used is then carefully stored awaiting the client’s return.
The cutter is equally the master of his craft. He will have had an apprenticeship of 3 – 5 years. The pattern in the cloth, if there is one, will be carefully matched at the seam, pocket and shoulder, line. Although laser cutting has been introduced the skilled cutter characterizes the bespoke trade, cutting by hand. At all stages the attention to detail and client needs is consummate.
Specialization is evident at all stages. One person may focus on trousers, another jackets, another waistcoats. Each cutter skilled in his particular area. He wields large scissors with aplomb, with confidence.
At the first fitting there may still be minor adjustments but that is not a problem. Generous seams mean that at any time alterations are possible, not simply at the initial making but later. The suit life can be extended as it is amended in line with changes in fashion – or girth! Lining, interfacing, careful and discrete padding, roped shoulders, all enhance the fall of the suit. It’s the attention to detail that matters. It is the perpetuation of best practice which is important, sleeves set in by hand, and a slightly longer sleeve so that when extending the arm, the neck and shoulder of the suit stay in place.
Just as there are the trouser, jacket and waistcoat specialist, so there are those who specialize in alterations. In effect a bespoke suit may, with a starting price for a 2 piece bespoke suit of about £3,850, seem costly but it can be a suit for a lifetime.
It’s the cuffs
Detail fascinates me in handcrafted products, the minutiae which add character. As a client your suit will carry the thread below the buttonhole on the back of the lapel to secure your boutonniere whether you favour a green carnation like Oscar Wilde, a red one like Sir Malcolm Sargent or as Prince Charles frequently does, a cornflower. That little thread says a suit is from Savile Row.
Your sleeve button will be functional, not mere decoration.
Whilst some Savile Row names now have boutiques elsewhere, the Savile Row address still has the cachet for style and elegance in tailoring recognized worldwide.