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How Savile Row Makes Suits: A Tale of Two Tailors

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
Nice little piece by Boyer in the NY Times T-Magazine section:

When I was a young man and finally got a teaching job and some money of my own I was determined to have a Savile Row suit. (The Porsche speedster, Purdy shotgun, Renoir etching or a first edition of Pope’s “Homer” were still all beyond my ken.) I had seen all the films of Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, and the print media had been enamored by the Duke of Windsor — the most photographed man of his time — and the other elegant habitués of the Row long enough.

So I took a two-week vacation to London, walked the West End and made the rounds of the tailors there, and finally settled on Anderson & Sheppard. After walking back and forth on the pavement for five minutes, I screwed my courage to the sticking point and pushed through the beveled glass doors of No. 30. An elderly gentleman greeted me on the worn Persian carpet.

“Good morning, sir, may I be of service?” he asked.

“I want to buy a suit,” I stammered. Trust me to always say the right thing.

“Of course, sir. We’d be happy to oblige you.”

To cut to that particular chase, things went swimmingly and for the next several years I spent some money on wine, women and song, and a bit more on clothes at A & S. My first fitter was Colin Harvey, a discreetly flamboyant gentleman with a sly sense of humor and an adroit hand with the shears.

I was Harvey’s customer for quite a few years, and then he was tragically stricken with a serious illness and died, still a young man himself. Eventually I was taken on by John Hitchcock, managing director of the firm, who is a very affable gentleman of consummately proper taste and deportment. One of the great things I’ve always admired about A & S is that its cutters are not only artisans in their own right but can be completely relied upon to give unerring advice. I remember one particular time I had selected a rather bold check for a sports jacket and mused that cuffs on the sleeves might be a nice touch. “Of course, sir,” Hitchcock intoned noncommittally, “but perhaps a bit studied, do you think?” Of course it was a bit studied — he was quite right — and I wisely discarded the thought.

Looking in my closet I find that my last two A & S jackets were made in September 1995. It was around that time that I stopped going to London regularly for business and pleasure, and my relationship with A & S drifted. I must be genetically lucky because the clothes made for me by John Hitchcock still fit. That they still look marvelous is a tribute to him.

Now here’s the interesting part. I had no idea that a young Steven Hitchcock, John’s son, had just about that time (in 1990, he informs me) started to apprentice at A & S, sewing on buttons and stitching hems in the basement at No. 30.

“After I graduated from school, I was a bit at loose ends,” Steven says, “and my father suggested that I might come to work with him one day and take a look around.” Hitchcock the elder put young Steven to work in the basement of the shop bundling cloth. At the bottom rung of the ladder, you understand.

“The first days I worked there, I noticed a number of celebrity customers came into the shop,” Steven says. “Two film stars and several men I’d seen on telly, and I was in awe. It got to me right away. It seemed such a great place to work, meeting all those interesting people. And I found I had an aptitude for the work.”

Time passes quickly, and in fact, when an editor friend of mine, Christian Barker, mentioned to me just a while back that he’d had a suit made by Steven that turned out like a poem, he suggested I give him a try. At the time I didn’t even make the connection that he was John Hitchcock’s son. The fact is I’d never met him at A & S because the tailors never came onto the shop floor, and he was there in the basement sewing away at pocket linings and such.

At any rate, I took up my friend’s advice and e-mailed Steven, suggesting that if he were coming to New York that I’d be interested in meeting him. He wrote back saying that he did in fact come to New York regularly to see customers, and that he remembered my name because he’d actually worked on several jackets of mine back in the 1990s when he was apprenticed to A & S. You could have felled me with a microchip! The West End of London is still a small world of its own, a village.

I expect you’ll want to know how this all turns out. Well, Mr. Hitchcock the Younger is every bit the affable gentleman his father is and, over the ensuing years since working in the basement with the “kippers” (the women who sew the buttonholes and other fine work), he opened his own tailoring firm in 1999, has since moved to No. 13 Savile Row, and has amassed a clientele of both high-wattage customers and those with merely the good taste to seek out a first-rate London tailor.

These days a story like this seems so rare. Steven Hitchcock cuts and styles in much the same manner of A & S: he prefers a soft, easy-fitting suit, but with good shape. At this level of craftsmanship comparisons are really odious. It’s the difference between a Rolls and a Bentley, isn’t it? And as it happens, I was in London just a while back and stopped in for a fitting with Steven and then went around to say hello to his father at A & S. I told him that young Steven had made me some wonderful clothes.

“Yes,” he mused, “he’s a good tailor. He’ll see you right.” Just a bit of simple craftsman’s pride.
post #2 of 8
Great article, thanks for that.
post #3 of 8
post #4 of 8
I don't like the style so much, with the possible exception of A&S, but the tradition of Savile Row has an undeniable allure.

I keep toying with the idea of gettin a suit from a Brisith tailor before I eventually move back to the US.

I didn't realize the starting price was so high though, especially when compared to what you can get down south for a good deal less.
post #5 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cantabrigian View Post

I don't like the style so much, with the possible exception of A&S, but the tradition of Savile Row has an undeniable allure.
I keep toying with the idea of gettin a suit from a Brisith tailor before I eventually move back to the US.
I didn't realize the starting price was so high though, especially when compared to what you can get down south for a good deal less.

The allure is very real indeed. Do you intend to get one though, if you know you can get two from another that, in all likelihood, will fit as well (or better)? I reckon that we're very much buying into its illustrious history (and service). For me, that's the allure -- its history.
post #6 of 8

I recently had the opportunity of visiting London with a friend, although on a short notice, but I will surely remember it as one of the greatest experiences I've had. Ever since I turned 21, I felt the need to have a well-made, top quality, tailored suit, and I guess you wouldn't find a better place then savile row; I searched around for some time, and chose to go with gieves & hawkes, as my grandad used to have this big, worn-out military overcoat that I'd wear secretly when I was younger, so it almost came naturally I guess :) 

Their shop is amazing, a true work of art, so much tailoring legacy and craftsmanship eminating from its halls. As some of you said, its not just about the quallity of the cut, the immaculate design, or the service that they provide; it resonates with history, elegance, one almost feels a natural compassion and a silent bond trough the whole process, and the people there are utmost respectable and willing to share helpful advice. Anyways, I got a wonderful, grey 3-piece, a pair of oxfords, and ofc, couldn't go without a cozy navy overcoat :) It did cost quite a bit, but I must say that I'm overly satisfied and grateful that I even had the chance of acquiring all of it, would certainly do it again if given a chance.

post #7 of 8

Just a note: it's at the least bad form and, under a strict interpretation, illegal to just take the entire post from the original site and copy/paste it. The polite way to do it is to post a short extract and then a link to the full article. The NY Times (like any professional media organization) pays its journalists on the basis that people will then read their copy in the NY Times or on the NY Times website, where they can extract advertising revenue to cover the cost of the journalist. If you just take their copy and print it elsewhere, it breaks that whole loop.

post #8 of 8
Great read, thanks for posting.
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