- Mar 14, 2015
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I am not surprised that the current model is struggling and I make no warrants as to its viability long-term. My only point was that, for brands driven by quality and targeted at a niche audience, private equity is capable of strip-mining their hard-earned goodwill and little else. It may be better for the owners than taking their chances in the marketplace or it may not, but it will never do anything for the consumers.Look, the clientele is gone. The original upper crust who bought clothes exclusively from Savile Row and the like are either holding onto their clothes and not buying new ones, or diversifying into other makers and retailers. You'd be surprised at how many designer clothes are in aristocrats' wardrobes these days.
The reason for Savile Row's fame and level of quality has been entirely due to their patrons. Back in the day, everything was handmade. Everything. The quality and design would vary, and it was the picky patrons who innovated and started trends that insisted on the standards for which the Savile Row tailors are known. They wouldn't long be making clothes if they didn't pay attention to their orders.
But tailors are everywhere. In the past, luxury boutiques would have in-house tailors to work on all their custom orders, while making RTW clothes for everyone else. If you take a look at some of the old in-house work at names like Neiman Marcus and others, it rivals anything on the Row today - especially in finishing. Designers of Haute Couture had a time when their names and brands were being off-shored and diluted, but that time is past. Big designer names which make quality clothes are sucking up all the business, and their houses normally include custom services -i.e. bespoke tailoring - in addition to their already First World-sourced materials and workmanship, which is outstanding.
The allure of Savile Row is and has been their legendary status as the place to be for tailoring if you were "somebody." Recently there has been some kind of manufactured mystique around the ability of tailors (not just on Savile Row, but any tailor) to be able to "educate" the customer on what they want. That is entirely backwards, and laughable to anyone who is accustomed to tailoring not merely because they can afford it, but because it is traditional for them.
This model of relying upon billionaire foreigners to prop up a British industry was never going to last, and it hasn't. Right now, all their clients are ordering online, and it isn't easy to take measurements without tape. Furthermore, their image (real or imagined) of insistence upon only reproducing certain classic styles (and not even all of them), which, although top-notch and very respected, are antithetical to their roots as tailoring firms willing and able to supply custom orders of anything, fossilizes what should be a dynamic niche of men's clothing.
Naturally, big companies have also found themselves in financial trouble these days, but they are normally able to find outside financial sourcing which enables them to survive. No one would suggest that the quality of Bergdorf Goodman's offerings went down after their takeover by the Neiman Marcus Group, and the latter's subsequent buyout this year won't affect their quality at all - it may actually improve it.
There is a whole world of tailoring and couture out there that this model of tradesman-business is missing out on, and it is alarmingly leaving behind its own traditional clientele in the name of... what? An unwillingness to change? Thank the gods for Savile Row tailors who aren't so high-strung, and can accommodate a wide range of details as well as forms. Henry Poole and the like may very well do better because of this.
On top of this, the designers who offer custom work are booming, and those that used to produce handmade goods but do so no longer are finding their vintage goods creating more of a demand than their modern work and Savile Row tailors combined. You can sell a vintage Dior dress in a week!
I actually own many Savile Row suits. I do not want to see these tailors disappear. They must adapt if they wish to survive.