Some addresses in the world are so completely associated with the type of work that goes on there, their name has become synonymous with the profession. Mention high finance and we think Wall Street. Medicine and we’re transported to Harley Street.
But of all the trades associated with a specific address, surely few conjure as specific an image as Savile Row. Tucked discretely between the bustling retail meccas of Bond Street and Oxford Street in London’s Mayfair, Savile Row has for generations been synonymous with gentlemen’s tailoring of the highest quality and taste.
The understated elegance, the classic lines, the timelessness of the styles all add up to something unique, exclusive and very, very British. So much so, that in Japan the very name Savile Row has entered the vocabulary to describe a business suit, where it is known as a “sabiro.”
In a street full of internationally renowned companies from the world of tailoring one of the most prestigious is Huntsman. Founded in 1849 it has provided its distinctive bespoke service to generations of the great and the good from all around the world for more than 160 years.
It was a privilege to be shown around by Campbell Carey who currently leads the design team of this veritable institution. When I asked him if his job title was head cutter or creative director he looked thoughtful and said, “I prefer the title creative custodian. It’s what I do. I’m maintaining the tradition.” And you don’t have to speak to Campbell for long to see he means it.
Campbell is 42 and has only been with Huntsman just over a year but has been in the trade for more than 20. Born in Troon on the south west coast of Scotland he studied at Galashiels College of Textiles. He started learning his trade at Holland and Sherry in Peebles and then, unable to resist the allure of Savile Row, became an apprentice and worked as a cutter at Kilgour. But, he readily admits, the idea of working at Huntsman always held an attraction for him.
“There is just something special about Huntsman” he explained. “It’s the tradition, the commitment to quality and the passion about the place that I love.”
Whether he is talking about the meticulous approach to measuring clients (30 separate measurements are taken for a single suit); the care taken to ensure that each garment fits perfectly; or the personal relationship he develops with cloth manufacturers such as Islay Woollen Mill or Johnstons of Elgin to ensure his clients get the very finest of fabric, you can tell how much he loves his work.
Campbell told me he had come across Benromach quite recently and particularly loved the Peat Smoke expression. He said he thought his passion for tradition, using only the highest quality of materials, and his refusal to take short cuts was similar to the way finest malt whisky was made. I think he has a point.
And what better way to enjoy both traditions than to share a few stories about Savile Row over a dram? And what stories he had to tell. He explained Gregory Peck had been one of Huntsman’s most loyal clients who often stipulated when taking on a role in a film that his costumes must be made by them.
He told of another A list Hollywood celebrity, who did not enjoy such a good relationship with one Savile Row tailor. When Fred Astaire turned up looking for a fitting he was turned away as not being the right sort of person for a bespoke suit.
Campbell grins and told me:
“It was not unusual for some of the old guard tailors to meet a potential client and tell them that perhaps they were not yet ready for Savile Row.”
Nowadays there is a much more welcoming feel to this exclusive enclave of gentlemen’s fashion and it is no longer the preserve of Royalty and the Establishment. But at £2,500 for ready to wear and £5,000 for a bespoke suit it is still the preserve of the rich and successful. Campbell showed me a jacket that was being finished for a certain rock ‘n roll drumming legend and told me a week or two earlier both he and an equally legendary rock ‘n roll front man had been in having a good catch up.
Some clients, he told me, demand not only the highest quality of tailoring but have some interesting preferences for materials as well.
“We made one suit that had chips of sapphire woven into it, one with 24 carat gold pin stripes and yet another that was mink lined. These exclusive fabrics come with telephone number price tags,” he added, not surprisingly.
In a world which seems increasingly dominated by a throwaway culture where people buy things with the expectation they will get something new to replace it in a few weeks, I wondered if there was still a demand for bespoke tailoring. Campbell assured me there was.
“We are seeing our market growing in Asia, for example, where we visit to meet clients every six weeks. And in the USA we now have our own showroom in New York where we can meet clients by appointment. It is so much easier than working from hotel suites as we do in other locations.” He explained.
When I entered the genteel surroundings of the Huntsman front shop I felt I was entering the drawing room of a country house. The well upholstered furniture, wood panelling and high ceilings would not be out of place in a period drama like Downton Abbey or Brideshead Revisited. But it is not so much the domestic drama of life in a big house that I should have been imagining but the high-octane drama of an all action thriller with spies, car chases and shoot outs. For unlikely as it may seem Huntsman was a location in the making of the highly successful adventure film Kingsman starring Colin Firth.
I confess I was a little star struck when shown into the mirror lined fitting room where the young hero was introduced to the secretive Kingsman organisation, ready to defend the country from a host of nefarious megalomaniacs plotting to bring an end to civilisation as we know it. In the tradition of Bond these impeccably groomed heroes were able to run through explosions and dodge hails of bullets without a hair being out of place or a stain appearing on their beautifully tailored suits.
Campbell told me filming for the second Kingsman film was just coming to an end, with the Huntsman shop a key location once again. I am sure its success will lead to another generation aspiring to dress in the classic style created by Savile Row.
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