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.