Clothes maketh the man, and woman, but finding a quality tailor can be a task. Here a top suitsmith recommends London's finest…
Anderson & Sheppard
My former employer; where I learned the cutter's trade from the great Mr Hallbery.
Superb clothes, great traditions and very well priced. What still makes me smile to this day is their wonderful reluctance to change. They have no website, and they only started taking credit cards in the mid-1990s.
What doesn’t help me when I write a piece like this is Anderson's preferred us never to mix with other cutters on Savile Row. We were a very elusive bunch.
When the trade has its annual FMT dinner (Federation of Merchant Tailors), everyone on Savile Row would attend, apart from you-know-who.
Also, when a popular book was written about Savile Row in the late 80s, the whole trade was clamouring to be involved. But as you’d expect, for all the author's pleading, Anderson’s don’t give interviews, and that was that.
So the only entries in the book about Anderson's are by the author himself. And the only interior picture they could manage was taken through the window, off the street.
And yet they're still the busiest and most respected on the Row. Brilliant!
I believe they're the oldest on Savile Row. Founded in 1806, a hundred years before even Messieurs Anderson and Sheppard got together.
A top quality house with an excellent reputation. Not a particularly "hard" or "soft" coat, but a good mixture. They also specialize in court dress, etc. lots of frilly bits. This requires a lot of specialist skill, and is not my field at all. I think Anderson’s will just beat them at the post for having the largest business on Savile Row, but not by much.
Utterly first-class quality and control in their manufacture, but make sure you’ve got deep pockets. They're everything but inexpensive. A huge list of the great and good for clients.
Quite a firm coat, seriously fitted. Their business had a bit of a stormy year in 2004, and they've made some big changes recently. Regardless, they're a great and long established company; they'll see it through. I wish them all the very best for the future.
Kilgour's (formerly Kilgour French & Stanbury)
I have a very soft spot for this firm, as their old cutter, George Roden offered me a job when I was very young and just starting out in the trade.
An excellent pedigree in classic tailoring (Carey Grant was a favourite customer), but even though they keep one foot firmly in the past, they're not frightened to move forward. This is shown in the new contemporary facelift their shop front just had. They also have an excellent ready-to-wear collection.
Dege & Skinner
A flexible company, who can adopt their house style for each customer. A lot of experience from cutting tweed suits to uniforms. The company chairman, Michael Skinner is also very active in promoting the trade and the future of Savile Row.
Gieves & Hawkes
Big military uniform heritage, especially with the Royal Navy. I don't think the bespoke side of the business is that prominent any longer. They have very department-store feel in their shop; they also have a lot of concession stands around the fancy department stores.
Imposing premises at No 1 Savile Row. Was flattered to be head-hunted by them whilst at Andersons. They wanted me to run their concession in Harrods. It was a good offer, but not really my thing. Nice to be asked, though.
That’s the big guns pretty much covered. There are also a couple of larger "fashion orientated" houses.
Ozwald Boateng and Richard James
Very “In-Crowd” tailors. Big ready-to-wear and concession deals. If you're into bright purple and orange, with narrow lapels and skimpy trousers, this is where you should go. Sorry, that’s all I can say on them.
There are plenty of other smaller businesses and one-man-band outfits, sharing premises. These you’ll find a'plenty on the Row, but also on the neighbouring streets- Old Burlington, Cork, Sackville, etc.
I’m not just saying this because Malcolm and the boys are good pals of mine, but Welsh & Jeffries are a super company, and although relatively small, they have a very high-profile customer base.
As with most of the quality tailors, they're pretty discreet. Their principal, Malcolm Plews is a classic example of a great Savile Row tailor. He’s been around the business for a long time with experience in different companies.
He’s always willing to help out and is very respected by both his customers and colleagues alike. Last week, I met a lady customer of his who was trying on a pair of high back ladies "trews" (seamless trousers). Both she and I were both staggered at the ability of his cutting. He really excels at ladies' wear.
You’ll definitely find him in Mulligans pub on the occasional evening. Apart from the tailoring skills, he’s great company. If you want a friend in the tailoring business, get down to Mulligans and buy him a pint of Guinness.
And there are more, many more. There's Brian Burstow, there's Ravi Tailor over at A.J. Hewitt's, and Roy and Joe at Chittleborough & Morgan. These fellows are all top drawer, but you’ve got to look for them.
Sadly, I really can’t list them all, or I’ll be here all day. But with a bit of homework, you should soon be able to find a company or individual that suits your needs the best.
The one thing I’m not going to do is tell you who are the best tailors on Savile Row. For three main reasons:
1. I honestly don't know. And frankly, neither does anyone else. Even if, like myself, you have worked on Savile Row for many years, we tailors tend to concentrate heavily on our own work. The only time we really get to have a look at other tailors' work is when we get to see a sample in a tailor/alteration tailors' workshop. And this only tells you half the story.
The only true way get a good evaluation of another house’s work is to get a good look at it on the customer wearing the product. This usually only happens because (a) they’ve had a falling out with their previous tailors or (b) they just fancied a change (which is actually quite common).
Customers do sometimes prefer to use one tailor for business suits, another for dress or tweeds. Also, in extreme cases I’ve known people order a suit with the jacket made in one house, and the trousers made in another.
2. This is just too personal a business to remain completely objective. I know many excellent, world-class tailors on Savile Row. And I know with many of them, if they made me a suit, that the materials, the craftsmanship and the fit would all be excellent. Outstanding.
But at the end of the day, I still wouldn’t like the final product. Why? Well, you’ll see I'm very partial to the "soft" Anderson & Sheppard style of clothing. So not all makes would suit me, particularly from houses more famous for their "hard" style. Their cut would seem more like body armour than a proper suit.
And every tailor would tell you the same, so don't be too judgemental right off the bat, just make sure you do your homework beforehand. All the tailors on Savile Row will give you plenty of time and info before you order.
3. You have the aforementioned big flagship stores on Savile Row, however the tailors inside those grand buildings are actually quite nomadic. The cutter from Such-an-such may have been working for three different companies in the last five years. Nearly all the tailors (sewers) are self-employed, so they will often work for two or three houses at the same time.
As I said before, if you find a cutter that you like, hold on to him with dear life, don't come to me. Even if he changes companies a bit, change with him. Don’t worry, we never move very far- Savile Row’s only a few hundred yards long.
Tom Mahon runs the website: englishcut.com