Tailor-made townscape

14/08/19

As part of our Social themed programme this year we’ve teamed up with five renowned tailoring houses – Chittleborough and Morgan, Norton and Sons, Huntsman, Cad and The Dandy and Richard Anderson – to refresh your perspective on Savile Row, London’s world leader in luxury tailoring.

Sometimes architects think of themselves as tailors, stitching and weaving their designs – bespoke buildings – into the fabric of the city. And while architects are prone to metaphor – having a bagful when selling your idea is essential – this affectation has the ring of truth. Fashion and architecture are inherently linked: by our bodies. The best fashion, the best architecture, is always a response to us – our size, scale and proportions, how we move, how long we take to do things – and how we inhabit space and time.

Fashion and architecture come together effort- lessly on Savile Row: in the luxury tailoring houses and art galleries that line the world- famous street, in the Georgian terraces on whose rooftops the Beatles gave their last live gig (above their Apple Records office) and in the smart modern additions by the likes of Eric Parry and Piercy & Company that have emerged over the past decade. This is a street with stories to tell, all of them inherently social, all of them essential to London.

Indeed Savile Row is so deeply embedded in our popular culture that it, like Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes, is home to a residence of a world-famous fictional person: Jules Verne has Phileas Fogg living at number 14 while Wodehouse butler Jeeves takes his name from Tailor Gieves and Hawkes at number 1.

Tailors however did not arrive on the street until the early 1800s, when high society alighted upon the district of Mayfair. Until then, from when it was first laid out in the 1690s and built upon the kitchen gardens of Burlington House (now the Royal Academy) it was home to military officers and politicians. And if the street built its reputation on the custom of Beau Brummel and the Prince Regent, and that era famed for excess, it has also proved to be adept at recognising, and inspiring change as time has marched onwards.

Whether dressing Fred Astaire for his 1930s movie Top Hat, which saw Cary Grant, Bing Crosbie and Frank Sinatra, come here for their own makeover, or kitting out John Lennon, Ringo Star and Paul McCartney in Tommy Nutter suits for the Abbey Road photoshoot at the tail end of the 1960s, Savile Row has consistently attuned with popular culture. The Edwardian ‘Teddy Boy’ look emerged here too, in the late 1940s.

Today, the revolution is in diversity and equality, with more female tailors and tailoring for women comfortably at home in a neighbourhood once exclusively male. And while the first female head cutter was appointed as recently as 2011, the street now plays host to Gormley & Gamble, the first tailor on Savile Row to cater exclusively to women.

As for the words tailors use day to day that architects happily steal, Savile Row can also lay claim to originating one of them, bespoke, whose original definition ‘discussed in advance’ was first used to describe tailor-made garments by craftsmen on this very street.