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Savile Row tailor fears overseas threat to rich tapestry of tradition

Dandy Wonka

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It's funny. I grew up thinking that a Saville Row suit is the epitome of class and style and, whilst I live overseas, I am precisely the market they should attract (middle age, middle class, professional etc.). However, now I am much more drawn to the French names (like Cifo and CDL) - especially since I have been on here. I think that many people who would have been their main customer base now look elsewhere (not necessarily because of price and impatience) and it is this change that is the main reason they are struggling. And me - well though it saddens me a bit to see these old firms wither I am also not doing anything about it.
 
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jedwards

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It's not as though a single tailor makes your entire Savile Row suit either.  

It always seems to be one complaint after another.  First it was the zoning.  Now it's that foreign firms are buying up the old houses.  Ultimately, something has to change.  And it seems like some of the most vocal people are not wanting to make any changes at all, something that is clearly not tenable given that society and technology keep on changing.


Yes, how dare these people and family owned businesses express an opinion concerned about the mass conglomerates buying up retail space to capitalise on the associations with time honoured craftsmanship that these small businesses built.

You've been implying that anyone who doesn't want 'change' is some kind of dinosaur - not all 'change' is good. History will be first to tell you that in any case.
 

jedwards

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It's funny. I grew up thinking that a Saville Row suit is the epitome of class and style and, whilst I live overseas, I am precisely the market they should attract (middle age, middle class, professional etc.). However, now I am much more drawn to the French names (like Cifo and CDL) - especially since I have been on here.  I think that many people who would have been their main customer base now look elsewhere (not necessarily because of price and impatience) and it is this change that is the main reason they are struggling. And me - well though it saddens me a bit to see these old firms wither I am also not doing anything about it.



Then you are not the target market.

The target market are those who want a particular styling and Britishness in their suit. If you are drawn to French tailoring houses then you are not the target market, you are simply someone who likes a good suit. The two are not necessarily related.

A well dressed British gentleman will always aspire to an SR suit, if only for the "fantasy fulfilment" aspect of it, akin to owning a classic car or whatever. And by the way, this applies as much to those with working class origins as much as it does the upper.

We British are still riddled with the class system and its attendant aspirations and crave to be associated with the tailoring house that creates / created for Prince Charles, or King George or Winston Churchill or whatever. I semi-joke.

With all respect to the non-British people commenting in this thread - this is what you probably don't understand about the British mentality. We have a love / hate relationship with our class system. It's the reason British lottery winners will typically buy a country mansion or similar - they don't say "Wow, I'm finally going to be able to buy a luxury new build million ££ apartment on the River Thames" - we want the old and the antiquated and the time honoured traditions.

You're assuming everything should be meritocratic (hence the comment along the lines of "The Chinese can make just as good a suit" - I paraphrase). I have absolutely no doubt that is true. But a British man with aspiration is not going to get that warm and fuzzy glow of accomplishment with a suit that is made in China or the 'New World', however accomplished the person making it may be.
 
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LA Guy

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Yes, how dare these people and family owned businesses express an opinion concerned about the mass conglomerates buying up retail space to capitalise on the associations with time honoured craftsmanship that these small businesses built.

You've been implying that anyone who doesn't want 'change' is some kind of dinosaur - not all 'change' is good. History will be first to tell you that in any case.
I never said that change is good, I said that it is inevitable. One simply cannot continue as if technology and society have not changed drastically, even in the past decade.

You're assuming everything should be meritocratic (hence the comment along the lines of "The Chinese can make just as good a suit" - I paraphrase). I have absolutely no doubt that is true. But a British man with aspiration is not going to get that warm and fuzzy glow of accomplishment with a suit that is made in China or the 'New World', however accomplished the person making it may be.
I actually think that the "made on Savile Row" story is an incredibly valuable one. My comment on the Chinese made suits was in reaction to the idea that a suit made in China is, apart from not having the Savile Row story, is somehow going to be inherentl inferior. The value in Savile Row and "Made in England" is not the actual products, (it can also be, but that is generally besides the point), but in their brand value. I feel that what a lot of Savile Row tailors need is not so much to change their product, but to change the delivery of their marketing and PR, and perhaps their business strategy. Of course the story is worth something. It's probably the most valuable asset that these houses have. But they don't seem to be putting these assets to particularly good use. Note that there can be terrible uses of this type of asset as well (see Pierre Cardin and his disastrous licensing strategy)/
 

Dandy Wonka

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Then you are not the target market.

The target market are those who want a particular styling and Britishness in their suit. If you are drawn to French tailoring houses then you are not the target market, you are simply someone who likes a good suit. The two are not necessarily related.

A well dressed British gentleman will always aspire to an SR suit, if only for the "fantasy fulfilment" aspect of it, akin to owning a classic car or whatever. And by the way, this applies as much to those with working class origins as much as it does the upper.

We British are still riddled with the class system and its attendant aspirations and crave to be associated with the tailoring house that creates / created for Prince Charles, or King George or Winston Churchill or whatever. I semi-joke.

With all respect to the non-British people commenting in this thread - this is what you probably don't understand about the British mentality. We have a love / hate relationship with our class system. It's the reason British lottery winners will typically buy a country mansion or similar - they don't say "Wow, I'm finally going to be able to buy a luxury new build million ££ apartment on the River Thames" - we want the old and the antiquated and the time honoured traditions.

You're assuming everything should be meritocratic (hence the comment along the lines of "The Chinese can make just as good a suit" - I paraphrase). I have absolutely no doubt that is true. But a British man with aspiration is not going to get that warm and fuzzy glow of accomplishment with a suit that is made in China or the 'New World', however accomplished the person making it may be.[/quote


One wonders what the split is between British and Overseas customers.
 

IndianBoyz

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comrade

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In breaking news, old men decry that the world is not as it used to be.


Exactly. And if there were a Forum for Men's Style a couple of generations ago it would not
have had a section entitled "Steetwear and Denim".
 

FlyingMonkey

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If we really believed only in a kind of juggernaut of unalterable technological progress, we should have long ago given up and started wearing mass-customized polyester jumpsuits or some other vision of the 'total future' of clothing back in the 1960s. But we don't because we actually value accumulated skills and knowledge and the places where these have come together and where they still exist. It's been my privilege to spend a lot of time in Japan and they do quite a good job of recognizing both progress and tradition as being equally valuable resources. They have special national programs for supporting and recognising traditional crafts as well as building the most advanced robots... progress can be additive. Oh, and the Japanese word for a tailored suit is 'sebiro' - say it slowly and it helps in understanding just how important globally this little street in London is. If the British government cared half as much about its intangible cultural heritage as the Japanese do, we wouldn't even be having a discussion about 'threats' to British craft tailoring.
 

jedwards

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Probably the saddest thing is that the various families that have operated on those premises over the years did not buy the premises outright.

If it's The Crown Estate that owns that street, I would imagine Prince Charles will step in at some point....
 

Frog in Suit

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The value in Savile Row and "Made in England" is not the actual products, (it can also be, but that is generally besides the point), but in their brand value. I feel that what a lot of Savile Row tailors need is not so much to change their product, but to change the delivery of their marketing and PR, and perhaps their business strategy. Of course the story is worth something. It's probably the most valuable asset that these houses have. But they don't seem to be putting these assets to particularly good use.


“Changing the delivery of their marketing and PR…” These (SR houses) are small, sometimes very small i.e. one person, businesses. They do not have the resources to engage in “marketing and PR” except in a very rudimentary way: a website is the most they can hope to be able to afford and nothing very complex or slick at that. Some appear to give away stuff to bloggers in exchange for a write-up. How effective can that be? The margins are small. Before internet, marketing and PR was limited, mostly, to personal recommendations and school /regiment / family connexions. Now, at least, they can join trade groups such as the SRA and share some of the cost of advertising.

The bottleneck in bespoke (tailoring, shoemaking, etc…) is the paucity of qualified, trained, makers who are passionate (for lack of a less hackneyed word) by what they do. There are no economies of scale: a handmade bespoke suit will always take sixty or seventy (or whatever number) hours to make. In the old days, when labour was cheap and plentiful, a large SR house could employ fifty or a hundred workers or even more and make thousands of suits every year. The very largest houses now, I would guess, have fewer than fifty people on the payroll. Since the available pool of workers is not very easily extended, although there are young people entering the industry, growth can come from going into MTM (at the risk of cheapening the brand and chasing away the old customer base) or branching out into haberdashery (but that takes money, design talent and enough time to monitor the quality and reliability of suppliers). To attract more makers into bespoke work, you have to train them and pay them at least decently, hence the frequent (steep) price increases.

SR proprietors can make a nice living; I do not think they ever become rich. If their “marketing and PR” seems over-reliant on their history and cachet, it is, I fear, because this is pretty much all they can afford.

Frog in Suit
 

Frog in Suit

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Probably the saddest thing is that the various families that have operated on those premises over the years did not buy the premises outright.

If it's The Crown Estate that owns that street, I would imagine Prince Charles will step in at some point....


I seem to remember being told that my tailors had a chance to buy the freehold of their premises, in the 1960's, I think...Sigh! :cry:

Frog in Suit
 

Dandy Wonka

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If we really believed only in a kind of juggernaut of unalterable technological progress, we should have long ago given up and started wearing mass-customized polyester jumpsuits or some other vision of the 'total future' of clothing back in the 1960s. But we don't because we actually value accumulated skills and knowledge and the places where these have come together and where they still exist. It's been my privilege to spend a lot of time in Japan and they do quite a good job of recognizing both progress and tradition as being equally valuable resources. They have special national programs for supporting and recognising traditional crafts as well as building the most advanced robots... progress can be additive. Oh, and the Japanese word for a tailored suit is 'sebiro' - say it slowly and it helps in understanding just how important globally this little street in London is. If the British government cared half as much about its intangible cultural heritage as the Japanese do, we wouldn't even be having a discussion about 'threats' to British craft tailoring.

I want one of those polyester jumpsuits of which you speak.
 

greger

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When looking at old paintings, before rtw, I don't see the poor or middle-class naked with the wealthy wearing clothes, therefore, tailors made for the lower classes, too. Do you think SR tailors would rather be snobby and fail than make for the poorer classes again? Tailors of the past made popular clothes sometimes having several doors to keep the peer groups separate. This can be done again.
 

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