Much excitement on Savile Row today as The Chap editor Gustav Temple mustered an army of tweed-clad ladies and gentlemen dressed in their retro bespoke best to protest about the opening of Abercrombie & Fitch Kids at No 3. With a nod and a wink to the Beatles’ infamous last live performance on top of the then Apple building at No 3 in 1968, placards being held aloft read ‘Give Three-Piece a Chance’. Boom-boom.
Though not a subscriber, I am a great admirer of the wit, elegance and eccentricity the chaps and chapesses bring to London’s street theatre. I recall judging the Best in Show at the annual Tweed Run last year with Johnny Allen when the massed ranks of moustachioed, pipe-smoking tweed types cycled past Huntsman.
The Abercrombie incursion is cause for grave concern on Savile Row as is the imminent arrival of French fashion brand The Kooples at No 5. I’m about to pen my column for The Rake about the crisis talks currently going on behind the closed doors of Savile Row’s bespoke houses. With the honourable exception of Davies & Son, Richard James and Spencer Hart, the West side of Savile Row has already been lost to the bespoke trade. The Row can always survive one or two interlopers on the East side – seeing off Evisu jeans after an unwelcome tenancy – but No 3 and No 5 are two huge dents in our hull that will make it increasingly difficult to keep the ship afloat.
The Chap is to be applauded for affirmative action. At the last count, pictures of protesters made online editions of The Washington Post, The Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and Guardian. These ladies and gentlemen are unashamedly nostalgic and wearing what can only be described as fancy dress. But until the bespoke houses of Savile Row raise an objection in public let alone a placard on the street, I think The Chap deserves the bespoke tailors’ thanks for brewing a media storm and orchestrating an effective photo opportunity.
Cynical types might think The Chap‘s protest belittles a serious threat to British trade, tradition and livelihoods. Are we perhaps playing into Abercrombie’s hands by offering such a stark contrast between quaint British nostalgia and the face of Mayfair’s future? Abercrombie’s pecs and sex marketing blitzkrieg has been the most successful branding ballyhoo exercise in Mayfair since Gordon Selfridge first opened up shop in the Edwardian era. If market forces judge the bespoke trade obsolete then why should landlords with pounds signs for eyes protect them?
Much has been made of market forces. These are, one imagines, the same market forces that allowed Mr Hitler the popular vote in 1930s Germany and we all know the consequences of that unfortunate empire’s rise. It is the duty of Westminster Council, the Row’s various landlords, the Savile Row Bespoke association and each and every Londoner to fight for the preservation of the bespoke tailoring trade with every fibre of their being.
Savile Row is one of the last streets in the world where the same craft has been practised for over two centuries. It is one of the only streets in London where a product is made by hand on the premises. Don’t even get me started on how multi-cultural the workshops are or how non-judgmental the ladies and gentlemen who work both upstairs and downstairs prove to be once you get to join the family. Every age, sex, colour and creed work together on Savile Row and the passion for fine tailoring is the only thing that unites.
When I first got to know the fashion tailors like Ozwald, Richard and Tim in the early 1990s and gradually – thanks to various newspaper features, book projects, exhibitions and archives – met the Row royal family, I developed a respect for the trade that remains unshaken. I was in awe – in awe! – of the maverick creative spirit that was thriving discreetly behind the modest shop fronts on Savile Row. I am still in awe of them and it saddens me profoundly that minnows in the clothing industry now seek to bask in their reflected glory.
Without the tailors, Savile Row would be an unremarkable backstreet in Mayfair with little to recommend it but for two or three buildings of distinction. You know I’m no fan of political correctness and find positive discrimination a total yawn. But you do have to call into question why the people who safeguard London’s future – the Mayors, MPs, councillors, landlords and employers – preach diversity, sustainability and legacy but blithely allow Abercrombie to invade Savile Row. I’m all for pretty young people. But how on earth can the powers that be think a company that only showcases Adonis types on the shop floor and consigns the Ugly Betty’s to the stock room is to be condoned and encouraged to evict British manufacture from our capital city?
So tonight I raise a glass of rather palatable hoc to The Chap. Their demonstration today was a palpable hit in favour of British barminess and the individuality that is the life blood of London. However nostalgic their style, the young generation have led the way for the Savile Row establishment to wake up and take a very public stance. Until every man and woman employed by Savile Row’s bespoke industry organises a Flash Mob show of strength and contemporary bespoke tailoring on our precious street, we’ve got no right to comment on The Chap’s affirmative action. It is our duty to pick up the baton and rise to the challenge. Until Pentonville…