James Sherwood’s new book Savile Row: The Master Tailors Of British Bespoke is a wonderfully definitive and, pretty much in keeping with its subject matter, magnificently presented history of Savile Row.
As the book recounts, the British bespoke tradition really came about in 1789 when excessively bloody revolution in France brought an end to French cultural dominance in Europe and, amongst the people, a general resentment of the excess that went with it. Silk wasn’t exactly swappped for sackcloth, but gentlemen hurriedly dispensed with the more ostentatious style of dress propogated by the ancien regime and in came good, solid, understated British bespoke, with it’s main influence being the honest English country gent’s riding attire.
Much of this tailoring centred in Mayfair and in 1846 the first tailor, Henry Poole, opened on Savile Row. More followed, and Savile Row was soon established as the home of the best British bespoke tailoring. Richard James’s arrival – with the utmost respect for the traditions of Savile Row but a background in fashion and some new ideas – in not so far off 1992 heralded the arrival of what has become known as the ‘New Establishment’ and, as you might expect, was met with some interest and what you could term a little suspicion by certain of the old guard.
Indeed, and as he recalls in Savile Row: The Master Tailors…, Richard remembers clearly the first visit made to the Richard James shop by one of the elder statesman of the Row, the late Sir Hardy Amies. “Sir Hardy Amies was marvellous. I think he liked what we were trying to achieve. I well recall his chauffeur-driven car pulling up outside Richard James and Sir Hardy emerging like Lady Bracknell. He’d cast a lugubrious eye over the the bright pink and acid green jackets in our windows before shaking his head at us in mock disbelief. And then he smiled.’