Some Closing Notes on the ‘Savile Row’ Brand

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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.


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Aleksandar Cvetkovic is a full time student at Oxford University. He is also a self confessed dandy, tailoring enthusiast and connoisseur, looking to build a career in the menswear industry upon graduation. He blogs at thestudenttailor.blogspot.co.uk.

Comments

  1. tachyonshuggy says:

    I bet every Saville Row operator has thought: “How, in a time of historic economic times for London, with many young professionals earning good money…how are we struggling?” Because I think that.

    How, exactly? Because “high street?” That’s amazing to me. Probably true but still amazing. Compared to other luxury spends bespoke clothing is a) not that expensive, and b) has a handmade “slow food” concept that should be selling like hotcakes. Shouldn’t it? Is it so stodgy or uncool on Saville Row that none of the young turks want to invest?

  2. I had some interesting chats with Aleksandar over Christmas about his article, much of which I agreed with, some of which I didn’t, but that’s a healthy debate!

    I should state that I have no allegiance to Savile Row, but having owned a tailoring company for the last 10 years I do feel passionately about the role it plays in the broader industry.

    The main point that I took issue with in the article is that the word Savile Row is used in a far too generic way. People need to stop talking about the umbrella ‘Savile Row’ when proposing change and start talking about individual companies.

    If I didn’t walk down Savile Row every week, or read almost every article that mentioned the phrase, I would have a picture in my mind of Savile Row 40 yrs ago. The fact is though, it is changing and in many ways exactly as Aleksandar is suggesting.

    Firstly 4 of the largest companies are now owned by The Fung Group (Gieves & Hawkes, Hardy Amies, Kilgour, Kent & Curwen) who have been, and will continue to, drive change. All you need to do is read the article in the FT two days ago about Kilgour to see that people are and have been challenging the ‘norm’ for years!

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/923dc9b0-633b-11e3-a87d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2pVizdrIXb

    With the exception of G&H which is now more of a mini department store, I would challenge anyone to walk into these brands and say that they are stuffy and traditional.

    Secondly, modern brands such as Richard James and Oswald Boateng, are delivering exactly the kind of modern ‘Tom Ford’ brand strategy proposed by Aleksander. All have been part of Savile Row for years.

    Just take a look at Norton & Sons who via Patrick Grant took a traditional brand E-tautz (established in 1867) and created one of the most modern brands we have this week at London Collection : Men.

    The following article explains how the brand team achieved this and again exemplifies exactly what Aleksandar proposed should happen.

    http://www.movingbrands.com/work/reinventing-savile-row

    Look at Richard Anderson’s collaborations with Katie Eary

    http://metro.co.uk/2014/01/02/designer-katie-eary-kanye-west-believed-in-me-when-others-didnt-and-he-loves-my-prints-4241138/

    If this isn’t a clear statement of intent to change and evolve (Punk prints with arguably the most traditional brand on the row) then I don’t know what is.

    Finally you have ‘new tailors’ arriving on the road similar to my own business. Brands such as Henry Herbert bespoke and Cad & the Dandy. These brands typically but not exclusively utilise global sourcing to add a price competitive edge to bespoke tailoring.

    It isn’t just the modernisation that is lost when referring to Savile Row as an umbrella but it is also the successful traditional retailers. Reading the comment above you would think they were all losing money! Ede & Ravenscroft made £4m profit last year and have posted growth every year that way out performs the market and they are not alone.

    Finally a mention of the point about trade marking or protecting the phrase Savile Row that I made during our discussions. There is an article on our website at the moment that looks at how people use the phrase Savile Row in away that only confuses the consumer. Companies such as King & Allen and asuithatfits have search engine adverts entitled Savile Row Tailor when neither have any affiliation. This isn’t good for the industry but more importantly the consumer. Protecting the term like they have done with Melton Mowbray Park Pies would prevent this from happening. I don’t see any downside to this, certainly not a lack of collaboration between the Savile Row companies? Only positives for the consumer. It may also drive trade to the area.

    Good article Aleksandar…..enjoyed it.

  3. Gaz says:

    Superb piece! Well written and on spot on! Savile Row need to cut out the snobbish attitude and bring in a marketer who can teach them marketing 101 and drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Luxury car companies have long learned the lesson that their market is not restricted to crusty old moneyed gents but young, up and comers on very healthy incomes, and, having learned that lesson, they have made and marketed cars for this expanded market.