Last month’s piece arguing that true Savile Row tailors require stronger brand identities, and a more assertive, modern approach to driving their businesses forward if they are to survive, seems to have caused a bit of a stir, and for this reason I would like to use this week’s column to make some further comments which aim to clarify my position.
To simply say that Savile Row caters to a different, more discerning kind of customer is a grave mistake. This hugely minimises Savile Row’s potential customer base and the possibility of building new business. Today’s world is not filled with crusty old gentlemen of aristocratic birth, but of considerably younger, diverse, more modern and less stuffy, moneyed businessmen (and women) and entrepreneurs. These are the market of today, the individuals who quite literally buy into the Savile Row brand of exclusivity and luxury.
Any business has to evolve with the times, and in the same vein as Savile Row’s widespread determination to cater to a dying and minimal class of customer, the Savile Row Bespoke Association’s consensus that to market Savile Row tailoring is to devalue its status is similarly outmoded and defeatist. One need only walk down New Bond Street round the corner from the Row to assess the power of luxury advertising – as I demonstrated last week – it is an attractive and developed brand that creates desirability, not solely the product itself. The realities of modern retail commerce (even in luxury markets such as the Row’s) are driven by competition and marketing; there are not enough customers to go round, and word of mouth is not an appropriate tool to bring in enough custom to support an expensive and labour intensive business such as bespoke tailoring.
Equally, one reader I had a compelling discussion with a few days ago, raised the interesting point that many high street menswear firms masquerade under their own derivative of the ‘Savile Row’ brand, which serves only to weaken the exclusivity of the Row itself. His solution was to Trademark Savile Row. Personally, I think this is problematic, given that the ever passive Savile Row Bespoke Association doesn’t seem clear on what it really wants Savile Row to be, and there can be no denying that it is difficult for the tailors to be expected to always cooperate together, when they are also competing for business.
True Savile Row does not need to trademark its brand, it needs to realise that it has the power to reclaim its brand from the high street. There needs to be more commonly held knowledge about the quality of Savile Row and what it does, and what defines a true Savile Row bespoke suit. This will serve the purpose of preventing any mock ‘Savile Row’ garments from cannibalising the brand in a convincing fashion; if all Savile Row’s customers come know the difference between a hand-roped and machine attached sleevehead, it’ll be a damn sight hard for the high street to pass their mass-produced stock off as ‘Savile Row’. The reality is, that true Savile Row suits are the finest in the world, and their current potential customer base which favour off-the-peg designer tailoring, need to be shown assertively that this is the case.
Designers are convincing their customers into believing that their suits are the height of exclusivity, luxury, and craftsmanship. This is being done through the power of marketing and brand building. Until Savile Row realises that this is the case, it is powerless to help itself or grow into a series of highly successful, growing businesses, who, although competing, can nonetheless support one another’s growth through the promotion of the same standard of product, service and brand values. And permit me to clarify here, when I talk of growth, I do not mean Savile Row needs to be ‘big’ per se, and when the product involves so much handwork their is a limit to the product’s scalability in any case. What Savile Row does need to be however, is grown to a point where successful tailors are generating consistent custom and considerably more healthy profits than most currently are. This can be done and does not require significant or unrealistic levels of scale increases, it requires a more modern and business-like approach.
Similarly, the different tailors ought to do more to capitalise on their differing methods, traditions, house styles and aesthetics to attract customers who will suit their product and build niches for themselves; producing individual identities within the Savile Row brand. This in itself will build interest, drive more competition and add diversity to the Row. It will also build awareness of the identities of the different tailoring houses.
Andrew Ramroop of Maurice Sedwell, famously quoted on the BBC’s ‘Savile Row’ documentary, that “we’re a household name in the households that we wish to be known in”. With all due respect to him, as a craftsman whom I very much admire, this comment typifies the attitude of many businesses on Savile Row, and it is no longer credible. Tom Ford, Brioni, Zegna and Prada are the household names now, and those true Savile Row tailors which have the power to correct this, need to realise that if they are to ever come close to their former glory in the golden age of tailoring again, they need to be more business like, and drive their business development through the creation of a desirable, modern brand which will compliment the quality of their product.