Savile Row's New Look
Published: May 2009
By Lucie Young
A new generation of master craftsmen is shaking up Savile Row—and bringing a modern sensibility to the world of custom clothing and accessories. <b>Lucie Young</b> sizes up the choices.
If you're looking for the ultimate in luxury, it might be time to follow the lead of in-the-know Londoners and go bespoke. Propelled by a group of young designers who crossed from ready-to-wear into the fabled realm of Savile Row in the mid nineties, the capital of custom-tailoring is enjoying a renaissance. The combination of exquisite craftsmanship (a single pocket can be a work of art) and lightweight fabrics has become de rigueur for celebrities like Jude Law and Hugh Grant who eschew the ubiquity of big-label designs. And men aren't the only ones getting in on the fancy fitwork. Stella McCartney and Pamela Blundell have both launched bespoke lines (admittedly, at a safe distance from Savile Row) that feature softer, more curvaceous shapes and have won over the likes of such hard-to-please divas as Madonna and Kylie Minogue. Add to that the slew of designers crafting handmade shoes, and a visit to London can turn you into a bespoke addict. Buyer beware: One-of-a-kind clothes don't come cheap, and they require serious scheduling. It takes several appointments and many months to create clothes that fit you like a second skin. After all, you can't rush perfection.
Dunhill David Gale, an elfin man of 54, is the shirt wizard of London. With 37 years of experience on Jermyn Street, Gale makes sexy, form-hugging designs that are beloved by both Mr. and Mrs. Guy Ritchie. Shirts (from $371) require 19 body measurements, but the magic is in the shaping. Gale is an artist who will play up your assets and minimize unsightly lumps and bumps. And don't get him started on designer clothes: "They don't take any notice of shoulders, and they never get the necks right," he says. His collars stand forward and high, and are smaller than usual to create the most flattering neckline when left unbuttoned. In the basement of the Dunhill shop on Jermyn Street, Gale guides novices through choosing a style, fabric (from 800 options), buttons, cuff length, and collar design. If cuffs or collars begin to fray, they can be changed free of charge—the first time. 48 Jermyn St.; 44-845/458-0779; www.dunhill.com.
Paul Smith In a light-filled atelier at the top of Paul Smith's three-story Victorian town house in hip Westbourne Grove, Christopher Tarling oversees fittings for the likes of chef Jamie Oliver, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, and architect John Pawson. Tarling was trained by Tommy Nutter, the man behind the sexy white pantsuit that Bianca Jagger wore for her 1971 wedding to Mick Jagger. Tarling, who still loves fitting women with classic evening suits ($2,970), now sees his work as the antidote to wardrobe uniformity. "Top labels are so ubiquitous these days that you find you are wearing the same suit as your doorman or waiter," he says. The house style calls for a shockingly bright lining made out of such fabrics as tie-dyed silk or sari material and eccentric bull's-eye buttons that are mini works of art. Hangers in the workroom are draped with peacock-purple corduroy suits (from $2,970), hand-embroidered evening jackets, and colorful tweeds. Westbourne House, 122 Kensington Park Rd.; 44-207/727-3553; www.paulsmith.co.uk.
Stella McCartney Paul McCartney and his first wife, Linda, were both fans of Tommy Nutter's over-the-top clothes, so it's no surprise that when their daughter Stella McCartney opened her first London store, she asked former Nutter tailor Henry Rose to oversee her bespoke salon. Clients (both men and women) have a dedicated drawing room on the second floor of the glamorous Mayfair town house. There they are shown a beautiful, oversized book of more than 50 illustrations for trousers, jackets, suits (from $3,990), skirts, and overcoats. McCartney's salon excels at mixing soft drapery with an edgy rock-and-roll feel by using vintage cloth and her signature motif: a single pink buttonhole placed somewhere on the item. Every stage of the process is photographed and sent to McCartney herself for approval. 30 Bruton St.; 44-207/518-3100; www.stellamccartney.com.
Kilgour Designer Carlo Brandelli, the Tom Ford of Savile Row, is one of the most influential new names in the business. The dapper 37-year-old can be seen riding around London on his silver Vespa, and clotheshorse Bryan Ferry comes to him for his inimitable blend of English sophistication and Italian brio. The house style (once favored by Cary Grant and Fred Astaire) is an elegant, long, lean look. Trousers are narrow and flat-fronted, with a Daks top; jackets have a structured shoulder and are slim through the chest, "so you can look athletic, even if you are not," says Brandelli. In a nod to the company's growing American clientele, Kilgour tailors visit the United States for fittings a half-dozen times a year. Suits start at $2,250 for "entry-level bespoke" (two fittings) and go up to $5,000 for "full bespoke" (as many appointments as needed). 8 Savile Row; 44-207/734-6905; www.8savilerow.com.
Timothy Everest In the mid nineties, Timothy Everest opened up shop in a handsomely dilapidated Georgian row house in Spitalfields. Corporate executives and boldfaced names such as David Beckham drop in for Everest's long one- or two-button jackets with angled pockets, a center or side vent, and subtle stitching detail on the inside (no colorful linings here). K.D. Lang and Ellen Barkin have both been outfitted with his Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking-inspired tuxedo (from $3,570). "Bespoke gets better with age," he says. "It holds to your shape, whereas the glue in off-the-peg suits goes quickly, and they begin to sag." Fittings can be arranged in New York or Los Angeles several times a year. 32 Elder St.; 44-207/377-5770; www.timothyeverest.co.uk.
Pamela Blundell Bespoke "Kylie had pants to go with that jacket, but I guess she didn't wear them!" guffaws top women's tailor Pamela Blundell, eyeing a recent album cover of one of her famous clients. Blundell's tailored suits (from $4,710), in lush fabrics like velvet, silk, and corduroy, are inspired by Helmut Newton's photographs from the 1970's. Jackets have strong shoulders, wide lapels (which make the waist seem smaller), and one button on the front. "Bespoke is all about learning to build a wardrobe," she says. "Get the foundation right, and then you can dress it up with trends." At appointments in a pink and gray salon tucked into an unassuming building in the West End, clients seek Blundell's advice on everything from shoes to lipstick and hairstyles. 35 Sackville St.; 44-778/810-0836.
Richard James There is nothing old-world about Richard James's bright store on Savile Row. From the street, you can see straight through the plate-glass windows to the vivid orange reception desk. The natty Londoner, who opened the store in 1991, is the perfect spokesperson for his modish sixties-inspired clothes, worn by Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. His favorite style of jacket is a single-breasted, two-button job with a nipped-in waist, double vents, and slant pockets. The most common mistake made by new customers, he says, is thinking that they have to get very special fabrics with lots of bells and whistles. "A simple fabric with a beautiful fit is enough. Bespoke is all about the individual." Men's and women's suits start at $3,340. 29 Savile Row; 44-207/434-0605; www.richardjames.co.uk.
Tim Little Sir Elton John, Robbie Williams, Rod Stewart, and Tina Turner are all devotees of Tim Little. In the clubby living room of his Victorian brownstone on the old Kings Road, Little crafts snappy designs like the Spectator, a two-toned version of the 1920's jazz classic, or a chukka boot with a Danite rubber sole. His tour de force is made out of a single piece of leather with only one seam up the back. Clients can choose from some 90 styles (from $1,970 a pair, $1,020 of which goes toward a wooden last to be used for future orders) and must return for three fittings over 10 weeks, although some foreign customers have been talked through their final appointment by phone. 560 Kings Rd.; 44-207/736-1999; www.timlittle.com.
Georgina Goodman This store on a quaint street in Mayfair has brass lasts for doorknobs and glass cabinets in the floor so customers can peer down into the workshops below. Goodman's shoes (starting at $1,130) are hand-painted (often with vivid stripes), hand-sewn (with lemon-colored top-stitching), and hand-carved (heels are fashioned from hardwoods such as olive, elm, walnut, and mahogany). Shoes are padded with hidden cushions, and measurements are taken both sitting and standing to create a custom fit. "We treat your feet as individuals," Goodman says. 12-14 Shepherd St.; 44-207/499-8599; www.georginagoodman.com.
Rickard Shah The glamorous couture lounge in Binith Shah and wife Elizabeth Rickard's Belgravia store has a high-tech scanner that takes 35 measurements of your foot and creates a 3-D image in a mere 12 seconds. The handmade shoes can be delivered to you in 10 weeks. Three years after they started in the business, Hilary Swank, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Kate Winslet are all devoted fans. Fashionable Londoners sip champagne on gray damask couches while picking swatches for their four-inch-heeled footwear (from $650) and matching handbags (from $865). Shah understands that bespoke is all about customization and discretion: "We stamp shoes with the customers' initials, so sizes won't be visible." 20 Motcomb St.; 44-207/259-5500; www.rickardshah.com.
Edward Green "I can blister someone's foot if I am off even one sixteenth of an inch," says Tony Gaziano, head of design at Edward Green, one of Britain's oldest shoemakers. "But if a tailor making a shirt is a quarter-inch off, no one notices." Gaziano trained at George Cleverley's, the Aston Martin of British shoemakers. His creations, hand-sewn with pig's bristle, can last up to 30 years (from $3,340). And his London boutique, with its bowfront window, is straight out of Dickens. 12-13 Burlington Arcade; 44-207/499-6377; www.edwardgreen.com.
Jimmy Choo Couture It may come as a surprise to most style-conscious women to learn that the company's namesake no longer creates their beloved sling-backs. In 2001, Jimmy Choo sold his ready-to-wear line in order to devote himself to his bespoke creations. He now works out of a dainty little boutique near Marble Arch, filled with row upon row of his shimmering stilettos (from $835), elegant boots, and foot-slimming court shoes. His genius lies in making even the widest foot seem dainty and in creating three- and four-inch heels that have an unparalleled feel of comfort. Choo says the secret is in the balance. His sling-backs never slip off because the arch contours closely to the foot. Choo, a second-generation shoemaker from Malaysia, insists, "You must wear a comfortable shoe so that your blood circulates properly and you feel energized and happy, not tired and pinched." 18 Connaught St.; 44-207/262-6888.
LUCIE YOUNG is a frequent contributor to Metropolitan Home, the New York Times Magazine, and British Elle.
• The first tailor shop in London's Savile Row opened in 1785. The row soon evolved into a village that catered to royalty and aristocracy.
• A bespoke suit takes 80 hours of tailoring from start to finish, and requires 20 to 40 measurements.
• Don't confuse bespoke with made-to-measure, which involves adjusting an off-the-shelf paper pattern to your proportions; with bespoke, the pattern is made from scratch.
• Dry-clean bespoke clothes only as a last resort; chemicals wear away the material's "handle," or feel. Consult your tailor for cleaning options.
• Everything (colored linings, buttons, buttonhole colors, pockets) can be customized—come prepared to make some choices.
Some of London's most fashionable restaurants are within walking distance of Savile Row. Here, our top picks:
A new hot spot from the former owners of the Ivy and Le Caprice. 160 Piccadilly; 44-207/499-6996; lunch for two $132.
Don't miss the lunchtime tea, cake, and sandwiches. 9 Conduit St.; 44-870/777-4400; bar lunch for two $66.
This Italian restaurant has just been redesigned by David Collins. 5A Burlington Gardens; 44-207/434-1500; lunch for two $113.
Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's
Lunch cooked by England's enfant terrible chef is a must. Brook and Davies Sts.; 44-207/499-0099; lunch for two $113.
No need to stop customization at suits and shoes. Below, three more ways to get fit:
Rigby & Peller
Eighty-five percent of women wear their bras in the wrong sizes. Visit the custom bra-makers for the Queen of England. Prices start at $400. 2 Hans Rd.; 44-207/589-9293.
Gravity-defying hats (from $556) favored by English royals and rock-and-roll royalty. 69 Elizabeth St.; 44-207/730-3992.
Stephen Jones Millinery
Fantastical toppers (from $556) made from dolls' legs, a champagne cork, an artist's palette, or a vinyl record. 36 Great Queen St.; 44-207/242-0770.