In celebration of LCM David Ward Bespoke Tailor takes us behind the seasons of the most prestigious menswear street in the world…
December 2015, London – Savile Row tailors are a nondescript bunch; yet, from the time their tailoring skills have been recognised as the benchmark for British excellence, most of these tailors have been out of sight and voiceless. Down the ages, in the minds of the masses the typical depiction of a tailor paints a picture of an elderly bespectacled gentleman sitting cross legged and working with a piece of cloth. As a senior cutter on Savile Row for more than 20 years, my privileged access to this exclusive community grants me the right to redefine the misperception of these clothing savants, as the prevailing misconception of these individuals couldn’t be further from the truth. My interest in portrait photography has provided a platform to present these individuals for who they are and allow them to communicate their feelings and attitudes toward the industry that they love.
“As a young man I have always been obsessed with fashion, so to have matured into a world renowned Savile Row tailor is truly a fairy tale come true for me. To know that in spite of my age, the garments I make are recognised as the best in the world is everything to me and I feel proud that I am contributing to this wonderful trade”
Many consider the term “tailor” to denote someone who simply makes clothing. The real story is much more complicated. After many years of repetitive instruction and dedication to steam, shrink, stretch and manipulate a flat piece of cloth of different weights and colours, a yardage of worsted is transformed metaphorically, from caterpillar to a butterfly, opulent and beautiful in its form. To be able to execute this level of work takes a long time, a very long time and the epicentre for this practice is still Savile Row. Having spent the last two decades as a senior cutter on Savile Row and embedded within the company of these incredible artisans, I can truly say that the word “brilliance” is far too reductive to quantify their ability. To be addressed as a Savile Row tailor is the preserve of a very special few and without doubt, these individuals are among the best (if not the best) in the world at their craft. There have been many changes on the row during the last decade and more surprisingly the hands that uphold these traditions that preserve this fine art are getting younger.
“I think having young people in the trade is essential to secure the future of a very old industry. I also think as the clientele is getting younger all the time they like the idea of a young tailor making their clothes”
“Its really important to have younger people in the industry to keep this wonderful craft alive. Too many other professions have been forgotten about and perished because of the emergence of mass-market commerce. If Savile Row has a future it will be down to a younger work force keeping it alive”
The tailor’s environment was historically found out of sight amongst the higher floors of the houses, using natural daylight to illuminate their work. However, over the past decade they have been moved too less salubrious workbenches in the depths of assorted basements that litter Savile Row to accommodate the arrival of retail businesses that have sought to use the fame of the street to sell their wears. However, in spite of the new boundaries that are being drawn up to redefine where Savile Row starts and ends, the clothes are still being made by hand. But what seems to have changed more than anything within the yardage of Savile Row is the average age of the people who are making the clothes. There is a general misconception of what a tailor actually looks like on Savile Row. The media has historically pushed a skewed vision in many an editorial, relating to the individuals working within Savile Rows postcode and this generally referenced an ageing workforce. Additionally, Savile row bore the brunt of a never-ending stream of ridicule. It had been labelled unkindly and branded as being out of date, stuffy and old fashioned. What the outside world didn’t know was that the young, the hip and influential were still getting their clothes made on tailoring’s golden mile. Part of the reason for this was that Savile Row as an industry didn’t know how to sell itself and failed to communicate to the media that it was most certainly still making the best suits on the planet.
“Tailoring means everything to me. To be able to create something from a piece of cloth for the owner to cherish and enjoy for a lifetime, is a truly a unique experience. This is a profession that I want to be involved in”
Since the adoption of a more open door policy and a healthier rapport with public relations, Savile Row’s incredible allure has not only enticed a younger customer base to its doors but also surprisingly it has attracted a younger work force. Having been able to prize itself away from a very Victorian way of dealing with the press, Savile Row has also been able to communicate to its next generation of staff to preserve its future. Underpinning this influx of workforce, a very healthy apprenticeship programme has also evolved that has been industry approved from all the houses and it has a ready supply of candidates scrambling for a place upon it. This wonderful art is now awash with youth, incredibly passionate and still upholding the traditions put down before them. This has reinvigorated a street that not only provides a living for tailors but also for all of the commerce related to it. Cloth merchants and trimming merchants alike have also benefitted for the popularity of this reinvigorated industry. During my time spent working on Savile Row I have witnessed the growth of this supply of tailoring apprentice’s grow, yet only a select few have been good enough to execute the required high standards that are sought. If the industry can maintain these very high requirements and retain its future staff, the hands that have crafted iconic pieces for everyone from Princess Diana to James Bond will still be making the suits for current royalty, Hollywood glitterati and the rock stars of the day, tomorrow.
“I had the great privilege of learning from a true master tailor with over 30 years experience on Savile Row. I feel honoured that he gave me his time and experience to teach me the true traditional craft of Savile Row tailoring. I now feel that I have a duty to pass my knowledge on to the next generation and at the same time I feel this contribution will keep the Row’s future alive”
Words and Images all by David Ward at David Ward Bespoke