What Has Tom Ford Got That Savile Row Hasn’t?

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I took some time to have a wander around Harrods’ tailoring department a few days ago, and two things struck me. One, why are there so few British brands on show, when the room is filled with Italian tailors which all more or less offer the same style and aesthetic? And two, why does Tom Ford get so much hype and exposure when comparable Savile Row brands are nowhere to be seen?

The first part of this answer is simple, it’s an inescapable truth that Tom Ford produces some utterly exquisite tailoring, and his designs have become global icons. I’ve seen his collections displayed in exclusive showrooms in both Harrods and Selfridges, marketed as the pinnacle of designer menswear, and there can be no doubt that this is for good reason. A/W 2013 abounds with a wide selection of statement making three piece suits, in imposing dark cloths set against Ford’s exaggerated, tight-fitting and muscular off-the-peg silhouette. This is complimented by some of the most beautiful jackets in the menswear world; delicate silk velvets and brocades in vibrant colours and patterns occupy a ten foot long rail in Harrods, marketed in pride of place as the ultimate in desirable tailoring. All the company’s garments are finished superbly, with a wealth of delicate hand-finished techniques and hand made construction. Tom Ford’s work is justifiably elevated in the designer menswear realm then, but I’d like to pose the question, does this description of the company’s clothing; individualist, luxurious, state of the art and exclusive as it is, remind you of anything?

It should do: Savile Row. It irks me that a fashion designer with little background in the actual craft of tailoring has become a global tailoring icon, and vastly more successful than the beating bespoke heart and spiritual home of the world’s great tailoring. It’s a recurring theme in menswear writing, that Savile Row all too often somehow misses out on the recognition it deserves – let’s make no bones about it – Savile Row tailoring, in its finest form, is the finest tailoring in the world and a worthy challenger to those fine Parisian and Italian tailoring houses who contest this claim. It is the row that created the suit as we know it, and it is the history of bespoke tailoring in London, that gives designers like Tom Ford a product to work with. What I’d like to ask is this. Why, when both the extraordinary style and prices of Savile Row and Tom Ford are comparable, would anyone want to buy something that’s been produced off-the-peg when they could indulge in the unique and truly special experience of having a British bespoke suit made?

Let’s look at the evidence. Tom Ford, as I mentioned, is famous for its velvets, this turquoise number in particular, given that this same jacket was worn and popularised by Kanye West. The jacket is cut in fine Italian woven velvet, with a shawl collar, single button closure and bound welt pockets.

So is the turquoise velvet smoking jacket that forms a key piece in Gieves & Hawkes’ latest collection. The two pieces are inseparable, except for the fact that one is the natural choice for the designer-driven fashionista, and the other for the modern bespoke gentleman. Why, when two jackets are essentially identical, you would choose the one which has very little by way of tailoring pedigree is a mystery.

With this comparison in mind, a close consideration of Tom Ford’s block is particularly interesting. The brand favours a very shapely silhouette and a close, almost tight fit that works with both the curves and angles of the wearer’s body shape. This produces a fashion-forward image, and although Savile Row is associated predominantly with the less trendy aesthetic of classic old-fashioned tailoring, let me assure you that such a view of the Row is fast becoming outdated. Over the last decade or so, the finest English tailors have been adopting a style driven approach to their work, and the results are supremely sharp – a close parallel with Tom Ford’s collections. Take Tom Ford’s signature peaked lapel three piece and compare this to the work of Gieves & Hawkes and Chittleborough & Morgan shown below:

All three suits share masculine shapes, well cut peaked lapels and jacket proportions. Furthermore, the Savile Row suits, if anything, are better balanced designs which whilst exuding elegant, still contain intriguing elements of experimentation; turn-back cuffs, an exaggerated waist and chunky pocket jets on the Chittleborough & Morgan suit and a sharp, long sweeping line through the body and very striking, strong roped shoulders on the Gieves & Hawkes. Savile Row is simply offering a more individualistic and intricately crafted product, rooted in generations of tailoring expertise and I think this shows in the comparable sophistication of the Savile Row products. Tom Ford suits are ostentatious and brash, they strain against the self-consciously bulging biceps of their owners, whilst Savile Row suits flow around the curves of the body with an elegance that simply speaks of understated luxury and style.

Why then is luxury off-the-peg tailoring overcoming bespoke? Herein lies the rub. For better or worse, the one thing that Tom Ford has in spades, which Savile Row tailors all too often are lacking in, is a crystal clear and almost hypnotically powerful brand image, rooted in the ever more desirable view of the suit as a work of high-fashion, rather than timelessly stylish – this being something which the brand markets intelligently and relentlessly. As I have already said, the Tom Ford brand has become iconic, sexy, feels exclusive and is popularised the world over by modern celebrities and ‘style icons’; it lends itself to a huge fashionable following.

It saddens me that all too often Savile Row misses the opportunity to build upon its own unparalleled reputation to pose more of a sartorial challenge to the designer giants that continually seek to oust the Row from the tailoring top-spot. The reality is that Savile Row needs a more powerful image; it needs now more than ever to intoxicate a new generation of tailoring connoisseurs and customers. When one looks at the success of designer tailoring giants like Tom Ford, and the wealth of luxury Italian brands in the market place, it seems an inconvenient truth that Savile Row needs to embrace a more modern approach to tailoring, whilst staying true to its sartorial style, and it needs to exploit this urgently in order to remain an influential menswear institution, and tailoring destination in the UK.


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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. Gaz says:

    I agree with you. The problem with Savile Row is that they have over the years deliberately avoided marketing their product and building their brand. It’s not a case of having no marketing acumen but a self conscious effort not to do so for fear of losing their allure of exclusivity. They see advertising as beneath them, almost. It’s a snobbish attitude that is undermining their market growth. Ford has built his business in the complete opposite way, focusing on marketing and brand creation. The reason why you pay top dollar for a Ford suit is to help Mr Ford cover his extensive marketing expenditure as well as maintain a very healthy profit margin. But this is no different to what has been done in the past by the likes of Armani and Ralph Lauren. People for better or worse want to be associated with a brand even if it is inferior to a Row suit. A brand gives the wearer a sense of superiority, of status, and nowhere is this more the case than in Asia. It’s no surprise that Ford and his like are focusing most of their attention on the Chinese market.

  2. Juan Manuel says:

    Maybe the Row and Ford are targeting different customers?

    Ford is selling a brand and an image, the venerable Savile Roe tailors are selling a customized experience. Tom Ford´s customers have instantly what they want (maybe spending some time in alterations), bespoke customers will need to visit his tailor at least 2 or 3 times. Both customers are wealthy but the Savile Row’s customer understands that he must spend time to have a bespoke suit. Both customers are buying suits but are paying for different things.

  3. It’s a fascinating subject and I’d agree with most of what’s been said. It’s interesting to note that Tom Ford is the brand which gets the most shout-outs on Jay-Z’s recent album. Something to ponder…

    It’s already been said but the difference for me is that Ford’s brand is a natural animal in the designer habitat for the following reasons:

    A) Because Ford is a designer and therefore, fairly or unfairly, has more credibility than a tailor who just tells you whether something fits or not

    B) Because the Ford machine delivers brand presence: perfumes, accessories, product placement

    C) Because the Ford brand can borrow a hell of a lot more money than anyone on the Row and throw it all at marketing, product placement, expensive store set-ups, celebrity endorsement

    Juan Manuel, I do like the concept of Savile Roe though: a new caviar brand?

    W

  4. Barima says:

    Juan and Winston, in particular, have the right insights here

    As ever, it bears mentioning that Ford has derived quite a bit of aesthetic inspiration from the late Tommy Nutter, who, not so coincidentally, was quite the innovative marketer-promoter where Savile Row is concerned, and his former partner Edward Sexton, who is still seen as daring and non-conformist in a way that their highly skilled old employees, Messrs. Chittleborough & Morgan, are not. Like Ford, they were elevated, for better or worse, to the status of personalities – the faces of their own brands

    Additionally, there’s the lack of fustiness in Ford’s styling that can dog Savile Row. Take the velvet jacket comparison – the Ford piece is simply more detailed and dynamic in its presentation. Setting price aside, any man seeking a little pep in such a statement piece would probably go for the one that appears less perfunctory, unless, of course, he also preferred one colour over the other. Essentially, details can be quite an equaliser – the article itself mentions the myriad of fabrics Tom Ford offers and concludes that they are an attraction. And they’re just that – an attraction that only Tom Ford can offer. *Exact* fit isn’t always first

    Best,

    BON

  5. Patrick says:

    Agree with everyone’s comments. It really parallels the rise of the fashion blogger vs. designer. People want to be told what to wear and how to wear it as much as they want to know it’s being produced.

    As a consumer, the whole made-to-measure path is quite daunting. Every tailor has their own particular style. It seems like it would be a constant battle with the tailor. Even getting off-the-rack items tailored is a challenge with some more conservative tailors, who are used to following hard rules about what the proportions of a suit must be.

  6. reg says:

    Its age. Its old money vs new. The modern consumer wants, rather needs to flaunt their “wealth” and status in a very upfront way, media has created this. faster and faster media jugernaughts and celebs pander to the lowest common denominator. Saville is not and will never go OTR with flash-
    saville is not a single entity and is geographically limited-
    how many real good shops have traveling tailors? Its the epitome of small business.

    Saville cannot compete with a marketing driven tom ford, Hilfiger way of selling. Prada makes a 3rd party company make its bags in china.

    Anything name brand is just crap- but that market for $5000 pound custom hand made suits is limited.