TV SPOTLIGHT HITS THE ROW
The reticent creatures of Savile Row’s bespoke houses emerged blinking into the full glare of publicity this Spring, with a TV series devoted to their habitat.
Normally noted for staying in the background and easily spooked by media spotlights, in this three-part series on BBC the top names of the Row positively jostled for attention. Poole’s, Dege & Skinner, Huntsman, Norton, Gieves & Hawkes, Davies, Richard Anderson, Maurice Sedwell, Hewitt … even that most retiring member of the bespoke circle, Anderson and Sheppard, gave access to the cameras on this occasion.
There were highlights: The crusty old explorer off up the Amazon in his bespoke explorer’s suit; the young buck with a wardrobe full of his grandfather’s and great-uncle’s bespoke hand-me-downs; the young lady trainee taking the prize of the year.
There were own-goals: Excluding Edward Sexton, a quintessential Savile Row tailor, from the Savile Row Bespoke organisation is incomprehensible, whatever the geographical stipulations. Similarly, banishing Ravi Tailor of Anthony Hewitt because he moved around the corner is to put yards before tailoring criteria. Anderson and Sheppard is, after all, no longer in the Row itself. We have since learned that Ravi has been asked back (but is probably joining instead the new rival organisation – see preceding page).
Above, John Hitchcock of Anderson & Sheppard, left, Patrick Grant of Norton, both featured.
There were delightful cameos: Brian Lishak of Richard Anderson, right, described as the “godfather of Savile Row”, working his magic on an initially critical new customer in LA; the urbane Mr Hitchcock of Anderson & Sheppard recounting how at one time “we took on a salesman to turn customers away”; and William Skinner, below,of Dege & Skinner defending his flower boxes against the landlord’s agent.
But particularly revealing was an exchange between relative newcomer Ozwald Boateng and Mark Henderson of Gieves and Hawkes, the former wishing for a production line to give him 1,000 'bespoke' suits and the latter quietly wondering if this would not mean losing some of bespoke's inherent luxury. And another off-the-peg firebrand incomer Richard James, who arrived some years back saying he was going to reinvent Savile Row, and who now announced he was opening a shop exclusively for bespoke tailoring. "Bespoke is going to be much more important," he explained.
Savile Row works its own quiet magic and, without proseletizing, manages to converts its critics.
Moves are afoot to have the series shown in Japan and China as well as the US. and in the meantime a DVD may be ordered at £15, plus around £5 international postage, from Bellweather Media, www.bellwethermedia.co.uk
SAVILE ROW'S ELEGANT AMBASSADOR
Savile Row lost one of its defining figures earlier this year on the death of Colin Hammick, former managing director of Huntsman.
He might have opted for a showbiz career instead of tailoring. He was evacuated during WWll to live with a tailor’s family, where his appreciation of fine clothing began, and wore a bespoke suit to his first job interview at the famous Windmill Theatre. His appearance prompted an offer of an acting role instead of the stage lighting position for which he had applied – but he turned this down in favour of behind-the-scenes work, from where he could watch the chorus girls perform each night.
Born in North London in 1928, he joined Huntsman as an apprentice in 1942 after his brief stint at the Windmill, and soon displayed a natural talent for cutting and for style. He was a “brilliant cutter”, states Angus Cundey of Poole. “And anyone in the Row who knew him would acknowledge such.”
During 50 years with the company, he perfected the line that became recognised as the Huntsman style – slim, single breasted, with a slight waist and slight flare, and a slightly low coat opening, and natural shoulder line. He became managing director in the mid-1960s and it was his influence that attracted an international clientele, including such stars as Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, Peter Sellars and Marlene Dietrich as well as royalty, ambassadors, financiers and others seeking a stylish version of classical Savile Row.
A tall, slim, elegant figure, he was a supreme ambassador for the Row in his own appearance, once chosen as the World’s Best Dressed Man by the Tailor & Cutter magazine, then the authority on men’s style. It is an accolade that he accepted with some diffidence. He was an essentially private and reserved man, but warm, kind and great fun with friends.
Upon retirement in 1994, he devoted more time to his interests of collecting silver, art and furniture, and with his long-time partner Dorothy Cumpsty, lived mainly in the small village of Empingham in Rutland – though retaining his London home and link with his native London. For though he came to enjoy country life and made a wide circle of new friends, he epitomised urban sophistication to the end and the refined taste of a true Savile Row gentleman.
The date of a memorial is to be announced.