Improvement works to Savile Row aim to ensure the iconic London shopping street is cut out to attract a wave of new visitors to Mayfair when the Elizabeth Line, formally known as Crossrail, opens next year. Drapers looks at how “The Row” is remaining at the heart of tailoring.
Gold lettering spells out the names of renowned tailors in the windows of Savile Row’s handsome buildings. Curious passers-by can peer into the numerous basements on the world’s premier tailoring street and see cutters surrounded by the tools of their trade as they create one-of-a-kind garments.
The tailoring houses clustered around this famous corner of Mayfair are known as the best in the business, but the neighbourhood is not without its challenges. Sky-high business rates, increased competition and the ongoing shift towards a more casual look in men’s fashion all pose a potential threat to this historic area of London.
Just like the rest of retail, Savile Row has to measure up to customers’ changing expectations. A street-enhancement programme, led by Westminster City Council, landlord The Pollen Estate and tailors’ group Savile Row Bespoke, which was completed last month, aims to ensure the street remains a powerful draw for luxury shoppers.
Pavements have been widened, the road surface improved and the street decluttered to tempt the new influx of visitors expected to descend on Mayfair when the Elizabeth Line – formerly known as Crossrail – opens next year.
Any business has to innovate and each individual house on Savile Row has its own USP
Nick Keyte, Gieves & Hawkes
“It occurred to us, and to the Savile Row Bespoke association, that the street was quite unfriendly towards pedestrians: it had old, battered, beaten-up pavements, and there were too many vans and cars parked on both sides of the street all day,” explains Julian Stocks, chief executive of The Pollen Estate.
Su Thomas, manager of Savile Row Bespoke, adds: “We wanted to work with Westminster council and the landlord to preserve the individualism of the area, and ensure it remains attractive to visitors.
“Savile Row is a destination area and, as such, it has to be looked after. We’ve looked at how to make the area pedestrian friendly, a lot of which has been governed by the arrival of the Elizabeth Line and the new slew of people and traffic coming into Mayfair.”
The works have made a notable difference to the overall look and feel of the street, agrees Nick Keyte, managing director of tailor Gieves & Hawkes: “Clearly, any investment is a really positive thing, and it has made a significant difference to the footfall and dwell time in the area.
“There has also been investment on Bond Street to create a more enjoyable shopping experience, and the overall rejuvenation of the West End means the area will continue to have an enormous global draw.”
Tailors on the row are also working hard to ensure Savile Row continues to attract new customers and remains a key player in the competitive world of luxury shopping. Businesses in the area argue that a trend for customisation, combined with a growing interest in provenance, play to the street’s strengths and are helping to bring new customers through their doors. At the same time, apprenticeship schemes have also brought fresh blood and young talent into cutting rooms.
Digital channels are a visual way we can speak to the world and promote our craft
Kathryn Sargent, Savile Row tailor
“There has been much more communication between different [tailoring] businesses to help promote and protect our values, and the heritage of our craft,” explains Kathryn Sargent, who now runs her own eponymous tailoring business and was the first woman to become a head cutter on Savile Row at Gieves & Hawkes in 2009.
“The way we make our clothes might be as traditional as ever, but the way we connect with customers and communicate with them is innovative. Digital channels are a visual way we can speak to the world and promote our craft – there’s a real opportunity there.”
Nicholas Hammond, head cutter at Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons, agrees: “Instagram is a powerful tool – there our customers can see that we make pieces like drop-crotch trousers, unstructured jackets and shirts, as well as classic tailoring. That might spark an idea in a younger customer and we can work with them to make exactly what they want.”
However, he warns that business rates and rents are a challenge: “The price of renting a shop in London is hard for any small business. We also have to overcome the fact that customers often don’t want to wait for suits to be hand made. A lot of customers with money come from China and Japan who might only be here for a week and want a suit to take back with them. We have to be flexible and fit in with what customers are looking for.”
The fact is that suit sales are dropping and are unlikely to return to the level they were before
Simon Kirby, Chester Barrie
Gieves & Hawkes’ Keyte agrees that a desire for more personalised product is a boon for Savile Row: “The customisation trend looks like it is here to stay and that ties perfectly into the very nature of bespoke, which is a completely exclusive product. And Savile Row is no longer just about suits – we offer jackets, trousers and outerwear. Any business has to innovate and each individual house [on Savile Row] has its own USP. What’s most important in a bespoke business is offering customers that uniqueness.”
Pockets of opportunity
Branching out into new product categories is another way the row’s tailors are creating a compelling, relevant offer for their customers.
“We have to remain relevant,” explains Simon Kirby, creative director of tailor Chester Barrie, which has just revamped its shop on the street. “Savile Row has an incredible heritage but we can’t be stuck in the past and there aren’t as many big spenders as there once were. The fact is that suit sales are dropping and are unlikely to return to the level they were before, so we’re adapting with different types of products: tailored jackets, soft trousers and knitwear.”
Improvement works to the street itself should help Savile Row retain its pull over tailoring fans and benefit from the increased footfall flowing into Mayfair when the Elizabeth Line is completed. But it is equally important that tailors continue to innovate with new methods of reaching customers and new products to ensure the future of Savile Row.