“A Good suit is the most important of accoutrements… But more important than the suit itself, is the man who fits it for you. Once you find a good tailor, you must never give his name away, even under the threat of bodily harm.”
Words of the late Albert Finney in the 2006 film A Good Year.
I was recently invited to tour the shop and cutting rooms of probably the most famous tailors in London; if not the world…
Gieves and Hawkes is aptly located at No 1 Savile Row (one L mind). Aside from tailoring dress uniforms for Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, they produce what is considered to be a modern-day armour for men and women from all over the world.
I’m met at the Door of Number 1 Savile Row and shown through into a large hall like room known as the map room. Where rails upon rails of suits and blazers in fine fabrics and cuts sit, surrounded by historical pieces made by the tailoring house. Who have dressed everyone from Admiral Lord Nelson to Charlie Chaplin. In the corner there is a set of steps which lead up to a mezzanine level overlooking the whole space. From behind the handrail, full dress uniforms gaze over the tailors and customers below.
Probably best known for their Made to Measure and Bespoke services, which just in case you don’t know, made to measure is having your measurements taken and then cut into a shape and style of your choosing be it single or double breasted, peaked or notched lapels, check or flannel etc. Once the basic piece is prepared you are invited for another fitting and then it is adjusted once or twice more for an optimum fit. The process has been reduced to taking six to eight weeks, which when you consider it is sewn and put together by hand on site, mere meters from where you have been fitted, isn’t too bad.
Bespoke is the more traditional and admittedly a little costlier way of doing it, however each piece is hand stitched the whole way through by one of the more senior cutters who fits and measures you. This is also often the basis for the beginning of a relationship which may very well run for generations.
Whilst on the shop floor I had heard the name Davide Taub (Head Cutter at Gieves & Hawkes) used a couple of times by the staff telling their customers about the work he is doing to the esteemed house, bringing it into probably its most profitable time in many years, by breathing life into the brand through contemporary cuts and fabrics. Davide is a formidable creative force within Gieves and Hawkes, as the head cutter he is the Blue eyed boy and main figure at globally travelling trunk shows.
I have to admit I was a little apprehensive as to whether we would cross paths on my visit.
I’m then taken downstairs.
I walk through the door into the cutting rooms. There are several large cutting tables flanked by several tall, slender (as tailors tend to be) and impeccably tailored young men. One of these young men is drawing out the pattern in chalk, of a single breasted suit on to a dark blue check. He tells me a little about the construction and how each piece is put together; all of a sudden, he stops talking. I look up and there stands Davide on the other side of the table, also immaculately tailored in a double breasted blue jacket, maroon tie and grey trousers. He wears a beard which has wisps of grey which seems to guard his emotions somewhat. He stares at me for a moment, then leans over the table and fist bumps me.
If you thought Savile row was dusty, you thought wrong…
As well as fielding a healthy array of classic cut suits and military uniforms Gieves and Hawkes also carry a seasonal collection. But what strikes me is how Gieves do not lose sight of their own story or heritage when taking on the reigns of something as ephemeral as seasonal fashion. A piece in particular which stood out to me, was a printed cotton, camp collar shirt. Which although I hold them in high regard as a summer essential, can be a little ubiquitous. Seemingly not for Gieves however, they have managed to throw a curveball in the way of the print itself. Yes, it’s a cacti and plant print but it looks as if it has fallen out of some Victorian archive form Kew Gardens. It’s small things like this and the strict attention to detail that sets this tailoring house aside from the rest.
The house has also recently changed all of their blocks to accommodate a more contemporary cut and style which brushes off the cobwebs of what was for a time considered an outdated way of buying clothes. As clothes and how we buy them continues to change the thing I am most happy about is this return to quality over quantity. Which although I try and save a buck here and there, I would much prefer to invest in one piece which lasts 10 years than 10 pieces which last one. In a time where everything can be bought by the kilo, it is a wonderful thing to know you have the only one.
Way back when, you needed a good doctor, a good barber, and in some cases a good priest, I have little need for the latter... So a good tailor will have to take the spot of religion. Gieves and Hawkes wouldn’t be a terrible choice of companion in my book, to help guide you through the show.
You can look at Gieves and Hawkes Spring summer collection and made to measure service on their website here.
Words by Tom Heap