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.