Ruffling the old guard’s feathers

Ruffling the old guard’s feathers

Changes are afoot in Savile Row, that most established corner of fashionable London, with the rise of a new wave of menswear mavericks.

Maybe it takes an engineer’s eye to see how even the most traditional of structures - a Savile Row suit, for example - might be moved on.

Indeed, when Patrick Grant grew tired of the industry for which he was trained and spotted a small ad in a paper to buy a respected but tired tailoring company, he underwent an image overhaul as distinct as that to which he gave the company he bought - Norton & Sons and the one it owned, E. Tautz, a 19th century tailoring house that dressed the young Winston Churchill.

But the changes he has since brought in have been no simple re-branding exercise: the revived E.Tautz is now a top-flight ready-to-wear line with a tailoring heart, mixing equal parts 50s elan, British fogeyness and, above all, a look distinctive enough to be recognisable to those outside of naval-gazing tailoring circles.

This alone might not give pause for thought to the great names of the British tailoring establishment, were it not for the fact that E. Tautz is not alone.

Other new tailoring companies, both bespoke and ready-to-wear, have recently launched around the Row, with other dormant names also undergoing re-birth.

If Savile Row’s last great shake up was the so-called first wave of nouveau tailors of the 1990s - the likes of Timothy Everest and Richard James - then here, some suggest, is the second wave.

And with this second wave has come a younger attitude again,” argues Luke Sweeney, ex-head of made-to-measure at Timothy Everest and, with partner Thom Whiddett, ex-head cutter at Everest, behind new Mayfair tailors Thom Sweeney, with a house style blending the English cut with a softer construction.

“The first generation still appealed to an older age group, even if a more diverse one. But what’s really changing now is the nature of the tailoring customer, with the media in part having encouraged a new idea of bespoke tailoring that does not assume it is for older men, while the younger ones all go to Gucci and Prada. The new tailors are also younger themselves,” he adds.

“They are more fashion-forward in their thinking, more trend-aware and, crucially, more open-minded - the old established houses still appear reluctant to accommodate the younger market. It’s their way or the high way.”

Thom Sweeney is joined by the likes of Rake, a tailoring-oriented ready-to-wear line also based in Mayfair, and by the new tailoring brand A.Sauvage.

One-time Soho tailor Tony Lutwyche has re-launched his business with its first ready-to-wear line and combined with the Lodger shoe brand in a bid to create a British luxury group.

Hardy Amies and Douglas Hayward - esteemed bespoke names from the mid 20th century, the former whose couturier-founder was one-time dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II and designed the costumes for ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, the latter who dressed the London scene of the 60s, including the likes of Peter Sellers, Terence Stamp of Michael Caine, in person and on screen - have both now re-launched with a more contemporary touch too.

“The fact is that the consumer now has a stronger expectation of how he wants to dress and is looking for brands, even those in traditional tailoring, to respond to that,” says Hardy Amies’ CEO Tony Yusuf.

“The very traditional tailors aren’t making the necessary changes from ‘country pursuits’ to more ‘modern’ tailoring, a need which has encouraged other brands to re-create themselves.”

Patrick Grant reckons that the gusto to do so has also been born of a cyclical move away from the Italian dominance of menswear, strong for three decades or more, towards a more British look and emphasis on substance over gloss, one underscored by a renewed regard for provenance (tailoring, of course, being especially able to capitalise on the idea of being ‘Made in England’).

“It’s providing the confidence to do something new in tailoring, or for a shake down in some of the older houses,” he says. “And there’s enough of a groundswell of interest that they can have some real weight behind what they do.

“The impact of ‘dress-down’ and the casualisation of the workplace has meant the suit is also no longer associated with stiff jobs, which has actually increased tailoring’s appeal,” argues Lutwyche.

“Men are also realising that they always look elegant in tailoring in a way that is hard to pull off with more casual clothing, however acceptable that may be. Now they wear a suit when they don’t have to.”

Removed from the context of work and its sartorial expectations, that has meant tailoring, ready-to-wear and bespoke alike, has become more a site for both comfort and selfexpression. Rake, for example, has focused on half-lined, super-light, crease-resistant tailoring in stark contrast to the bulletproof, fullychested style of the historic Row offer.

This more Continental sensibility is perhaps a reflection of increased travel, both in terms of the need for practicality as much as a national cross-fertilisation of style ideas.

Rake does not even focus on suits, following a shift in menswear to the womenswear philosophy of wearing ‘separates’.

Arguably the new wave is creating a gentle divide in the Savile Row community, between mavericks and stalwarts, as Grant characterises it; akin even, reckons Ritchie Charlton, ex of Savile Row big gun Kilgour and now at Douglas Hayward, to that prompted by the arrival in Row environs of Michael Fish in 1966 and of Nutter’s in 1969, both ground-breaking takes on what bespoke could be when wrestled away from the strictures of the old guard.

“We’re seeing that mood again,” says Charlton. “Some older tailors are being re-discovered and newer, smaller ones are getting onto the radar. What they have in common is something distinctive to say about tailoring - a take on classic clothes that is more style-aware than radical.”

Indeed, while this latest generation of tailoring brands is upping the ante on fashionability - though ‘fashion’ is over-stating it - might establishment companies re-trench in hardcore traditionalism, some having experimented in more directional styling? Or might they follow the ethos behind the Magrittian tag-line of A. Sauvage’s promotional campaign - ‘this is not a suit’ - in its suggestion that all that it is to wear the grey office uniform has moved on, in style as much as in meaning?

The full scope of change has yet to be measured. But, according to Richard Fuller, Kilgour’s retail manager, “there are two schools of thought now - emphatically classic bespoke and design bespoke.” And that means Savile Row has, at last, become a whole lot more interesting.