Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Old but bold

Fashion: Old but bold
THERE’S a character in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard who says: “If we want things to stay as they are, they will have to change.” Gieves & Hawkes ought to have something like that emblazoned over the front door of its Georgian premises at 1 Savile Row.
Founded in 1771 as a military outfitters, no other firm has had more impact on men’s clothing. After all, it invented the suit. “People used to wear britches and stockings before,” muses managing director Mark Henderson. “The blazer is based on the military uniform. It is the source of pretty much all men’s style.”

The dinner jacket, too, was invented on Savile Row — people used to wear white tie with tails, but the Duke of Windsor came in one day and asked for a black tie, and for the tails to be cut off his jacket. “That’s why there’s no vent on the back of a dinner jacket,” explains Henderson.
He is sitting at a desk in the order room, where thick, dog-eared and faded order books going back to the 18th century line glass cabinets. Old military uniforms hang on rails and a pot of tea sits brewing on the table.
But despite all the trappings of olde worlde-liness, this business isn’t stuck in the past. Henderson is excitedly showing me pictures on his laptop of a Gieves and Hawkes show that recently took place in Shanghai. China accounts for 50 per cent of its business and it has 68 shops in Asia — four in Shanghai, with another four to open later this year. The business has a turnover of £20m in the UK.


If Henderson has his way, Gieves & Hawkes will retain its position at the top table of global fashion brands. To ensure it does so, he helped set up Savile Row Bespoke, a sort of co-operative of a number of tailors on the street, which promotes the Row and all it stands for.
“You have French wine, Swiss watches and Savile Row tailoring,” he says, adding that the group aims to capture and communicate the attractive “quaintness and energy” of the Row. “We’ve been selling Savile Row in Florence, Paris and Tokyo — we took one tonne of tailoring to Tokyo. The challenge is, how do you take the skills and the values that represent SavileRow and reproduce them.”
He says integrity is the key. It really is the craftsmanship that is the heart of Savile Row: the street has 20,000 sq ft of workshops. And a glimpse into Gieves & Hawkes’s shows what he means. There, in an atmosphere of quiet absorption; tailors cut and sew — some on an antique Singer machine. They range from those in the their twenties (Savile Row has a link with Newham College in east London and the London School of Fashion) all the way up to a 67-year-old coat-cutter.

But in this world of sweatshops and the £25 suit, is there are place in the modern world for this sort of workmanship? Henderson insists that the quality of the product will keep it popular. He says that a member of the House of Lords recently came in to get some alterations made to a suit that he had made when he got the advance for his first book — in 1958.
Savile Row suiting seems to be one of those things that everybody wants, once they have the money. Henderson says that Gieves & Hawkes are doing a roaring trade among London’s new international rich, and it has added 36 new outlets in the past two and a half years, taking the total to 91.
“People come to us because they love the experience,” shrugs Henderson. By the looks of things, that is something that isn’t going to change.G&H HISTORY LONDON BOYSGieves was founded in 1785, Hawkes in 1771. Gieves & Hawkes got its first of three royal warrants in 1809. In 1912 it came to 1 Savile Row, which was built by Lord Burlingham in 1732. Among the famous it has dressed are 19th century explorer Dr Livingstone and singer David Bowie.

No comments: