Since the early 19th century, Savile Row in London has been the gold standard for gents’ tailoring, in a similar way to Harley Street being synonymous with medicine. But why is it so special? You can think of it as a self-fulfilling prophecy – Savile Row tailoring gets the reputation as being the best in the world so it naturally attracts more tailoring talent. The more high-quality tailoring that Savile Row attracts, the more the reputation increases.
Similarly, men wanting the very best suits will go to Savile Row, not just in the belief that they will get a good suit but also as a status symbol. Like wearing a Rolex watch or driving a Ferrari, owning a suit made on Savile Row carries with it an unspoken prestige. “I have my suits tailored on Savile Row” is enough to convey all the wearer wants you to know – quality, exclusivity and cost. Not only do I appreciate fine tailoring, which gives me an implied taste or sophistication, but I can also afford to buy expensive clothes and am part of an exclusive club. Since actually telling people how much you spend on your clothes is considered vulgar, Savile Row tailoring allows a man to say his suit costs several thousand pounds, without actually saying it.
The tradition and history of Savile Row is also part of the cachet of the suits produced there. Tailoring is a very traditional industry where nothing is rushed, only the finest materials are used and it takes many years of dedicated training to become a master tailor. A bespoke suit will take over 60 hours to make and will involve over 40,000 stitches and is made to the owner’s exact specifications, including custom features to make the suit truly unique and special for the wearer.
But not all is necessarily as it seems. The cost of a Savile Row suit is truly eye-watering but then so are the costs of running a studio on Savile Row. The property rental costs, business rates, cloth costs and perhaps the biggest cost of all; paying a time-served master tailor to create your suit. So, as with many things these days, the expensive part is outsourced to a cheaper, though no less skilled, alternative. There are tailors, predominantly in Asia, who have generations of pedigree in fine tailoring.
So what you get as the customer is the full Savile Row tailoring experience of walking into a fine establishment and receiving an in-depth design consultation with an experienced tailor, several fittings and even a toile or trial suit in a cheap cloth to check for overall size, style, button positions, pocket style and positioning, trouser style and length before your more expensive cloth is cut into.
The real question is ‘Is it worth paying Savile Row prices for a suit not made on Savile Row?’. The answer is yes – if you value the Savile Row label over value.If value is important then you should look for a tailor who has lower costs and can offer a product of equivalent or better quality. In terms of quality, there are many tailors who use classic Savile Row cloths so the quality of the suit itself will be 100% as good as the cloth will come from one of the classic mills such as Holland & Sherry, Loro Piana, Dugdale Brothers, Bateman Ogden, Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, Dormeuil, Scabal, Abraham Moon & Sons, Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC), Ermenegildo Zegna, Lanificio Luigi Colombo, Reda and Harris Tweed.
If you have a particular budget in mind the chances are that it will go much further away from Savile Row than it would on Savile Row. For example, for the same money as you could get a standard or what might be considered an entry-level cloth on Savile Row, you could be looking in the Premium books of non-Savile Row tailors.
Next time you are contemplating buying a custom made suit – either bespoke or made to measure, just consider the Avis (car rental) ads of the 1960s – ‘Proud to be No 2’, when Hertz was No.1. Why were they proud to be no. 2? No. 2 tries harder, where the market leader (in our case the Savile Row tailor) maybe has a sense of entitlement and is less likely to try as hard for you as a competitor who has something to prove.