A Gentleman dresses and no other two word sum this up as much as Saville Row.
IN the world of men’s attire there is two words which represent the center of men’s sartorial universe: Saville Row.
In London, Westminster to be exact, tucked in a small road east of Hyde Park in London, between Old Burlington Street and the hectic Regent Street, is the Mecca of men’s fashion by way of hand-cut and stitched suits and hand-folded ties.
The uniqueness and fame of Saville Row now is a given, but once this street was the recluse of tailor-craftsmen who perfected their craft through the generations and those who followed them here, scissors in hand, to learn the craft (namely Jewish, Hungarian and German tailors) and the men who flocked to them in order to patronize their art. Namely English Gentleman.
Saville Row’s reputation for fine-cut and expertly executed men’s clothes soon spread and Saville Row became the globally synonymous with all things male and sartorial. From royalty and dignitaries, to Hollywood glitterati (indeed, from Cary Grant to George Clooney) and tycoons of industry, all came to Saville Row to get their hands on a unique, one-off, hand-made and stitched garment that was made exclusively for them. This cloth, this suit was “spoken for…” or “Bespoken…” and hence the origin of term ‘bespoke’.
What makes Saville Row, Saville Row?
In the Row, it’s not about a designer it’s about an experience and a craftsmanship and skill, now almost extinct, that makes a suit, a work of art. The star of the show is the tailor (although he may well tell you it’s the cloth).
“In the Row,” there are several dozen tailors and each august house, usually more than a century old, bears venerable names like ‘Henry Poole’, ‘Gieves and Hawkes’, and ‘Turnbull & Asser’. There is very little actual clothing inside, instead, reams of cloth, from fine wools to Irish tweed line dark-wooden shelves.
Here a gentleman is at home, here he chooses, from cut, to fit, to drape to color and cloth what his new suit will look like and the magic starts:
- Once you and the tailor (or cutter; as he is the person who will “cut” the cloth out of kraft paper cut-outs based on your measurements) decide on the overall look and feel of a suit (soft shoulders, single-breast, two buttons, etc.) he will begin to measure you.
- This is not just a couple of swift and simple measurements; this is everything; from the angle of your back and shoulders to the exact measurements of both arms (as most people have one arm longer than the other). Other physical particularities of the gentleman-in-question are also noted down; usually in code like DLS “dropped left shoulder”; FS “forward stomach”; SLH “slight hunch” etc. These are all important, for the tailor’s job is to craft a suit around these physical particularities so that he may camouflage them on the gentleman. This suit, regardless of your body, will fit PERFECTLLY because it is made for you, and only you.
- After the tailor/cutter takes your measurements, he begins to draw the shape of the various panels which will make-up the suit, usually on brown-paper; this is where the art comes in for he only has hard measurements to guide him when he draws, for example, the arch of the shoulders. This is the architecture of the suit.
- All the panels the cutter drew on the paper are cut out; at this point he may pin this paper-prototype together in order to see the overall shape of the suit. Once satisfied, he will begin to trace the shapes with chalk on the chosen fabric. Craftsmanship here is key; for the tailor needs to make sure that whatever patterns are on the fabric, all match exactly at the seams once the suit is put together.
- Now comes the cutting itself, always with sheers, always by hand.
- After the cutting the various panels are hand-stitched to form the trousers, jacket and wais-coast/vest. Now comes the first fitting.
- A “Bespoke” suit is an exercise in patience; there may be more than four to five fittings, although usually three- this first one, where the suit is dotted throughout with white thread and barely holding together, let’s the tailor know how the shape, size, and style fit you. Here he may make notes for any adjustments needed; at this point, every single thing on the suit can be altered.
The first fitting (courtesy Freeman's Sporting Club - NYC)
- Once the first fitting is finished, the tailor takes the suit apart into its various pieces and begins tweaking the details as per the last fitting. Now it’s time to make the first of the final drafts.
The Final Draft
- The suit-maker then begins to give the suit, particularly the jacket, it’s strength, the “adding meat onto the bones” moment; our craftsman meticulously hand-stitches horse-hair, cotton or canvas onto the layers of cloth that make up the suit in order to give it it’s shape, drape, and feel. This is one of the main differences between hand-made and mass-produced, as the latter (even expensive designer brands) are usually hot-glued in place. With horsehair in particular, each wear will help it mold it to the shape of your body.
The 'bones' of the suit
10. Measurements and cutting down, now comes the labor-intensive process of marking the button-holes by stitching around the cut. The suit is lined, cuffs cut, measured and fitted and buttons sown-on. Finally the suit is ironed (one of the few if not the only time a suit jacket should be ironed).
11. Fitting time. You, the customer, tries on the suit; does it feel good? Is it too long? How is the rise? Are the cuffs adequate etc. More adjustments are made and the suit finalized and given one last quick steam.
The finishing touches (ala iPad no less...)
12. Now, after weeks, if not months, your suit (and your’s only) is finally finished and ready to wear!
Average price of a bespoke-suit: $2,500-$5,000USD
Superfluous? Hardly- A suit is supposed to be a high-quality, high ticket item. It is better to have one GREAT suit than a dozen cheap or mass-produced one.
TGG VIDEO: Saville Row
TGG’S Guide to Saville Row:
- Anderson & Shepperd
- Henry Poole
- Gieves & Hawkes
- Bespoke: The suit, shirt or other item (shoes) are made to fit your body and all the measurements from your body are used in its cutting and production.
- Custom-made or Made-to-measure: An existing pattern or pattern is adjusted and or fitted to better suit you.
- Off-the-peg: Bought; ready to wear a.k.a. a Brooks Brother’s Suit.
IF you, the modern gentleman, works in a law firm, finance sector or any-other industry where your suits speaks for what you do and what you are trying to sell… then to have a Bespoke suit is a no brainer; in the meantime there are a slew of great haberdasheries that offer Made-to-measure options at a fraction of a Saville Row suit.
At the end of the day, like shoes, suits and jackets are high-ticket items, and for excellence you need to pay but, trust us, it gets noticed more than you think. You can cut a suit in Vietnam our of a sueded-nylon to look good, flashy and sporty; but you can’t fake ‘drape.’
Drape is the way a fabric, namely here a jacket, falls on your body- only masterful construction, great fabric and careful tailoring produces that.
Average Price of a Great “off-the-peg” suit: $800-$1,500
The RL Suit
TGG’s Guide to: great (off-the-peg) suit makers:
- Brook’s Brothers. (also has made-to-measure program)
- Ralph Lauren (Black and Purple Label).
- Paul Stuart / Phineas Cole.
- E. Zegna.
- Tom Ford
The Tom Ford
TGG’s Guide to: Saville Row Alternatives for Bespoke Suits:
- Freeman’s Sporting Club
- Tom Brown
- Michael Reslan
- Duncan Quinn