Made to measure or bespoke - at Gieves & Hawkes, they are in no doubt
It's one of the last bastions of British craftsmanship; long synonymous with insouciant elegance.
But there are rumblings along Savile Row in London.
The tailors who make up the shops in this stretch of Mayfair include Gieves & Hawkes, Dege & Skinner and Anderson & Sheppard. Even their ampersands have the whiff of quality.
In a world of t-shirts and trainers, a man in a Savile Row suit is the epitome of the well-dressed gentleman. The street houses 17 tailors making over 3,000 bespoke suits a year, with an annual £21m turnover. Credit crunch, or no credit crunch, a simple pinstripe can run to as much as £5,000.
The rich and famous are customers. Fred Astaire, Winston Churchill, Napoleon III and Ian Fleming were amongst its exclusive clientele. Today, Prince Charles, Jude Law and Daniel Craig surrender their waist and inside leg measurements to these discreet craftsmen.
1808 Beau Brummell, godfather of Savile row style, introduces the trouser to London's fashionable elite
1846 The first Savile Row tailor, Henry Poole & Company, opens for business
1892 A furore erupts when it is discovered that the Duke of York's trousers were made in a typhoid ridden sweatshop
1918 Savile Row customer and German fighter ace Baron Manfred von Richthoefen is shot down in style
1969 Nutters of Savile Row update the bespoke style for the swinging sixties
Nearly 400 people are employed in the tailoring industry in the West End - over 60% are skilled craftsmen, tailors and cutters. About 100 are employed on or near Savile Row itself. But the row focuses on what is bespoke and what is not. Tailors on Savile Row measure each customer individually and patterns are still kept on racks.
The suit must be cut from cloth to a wearer's personal pattern. A made-to-measure garment is altered from an existing pattern, according to the Savile Row Bespoke Association.
"A bespoke suit is cut by an individual and made by highly skilled individual craftsmen," the organisation chides.
"The pattern is made specifically for the customer and the finished suit will take a minimum of 50 hours of hand work and require a series of fittings."
But when a menswear company called Sartoriani described its suits as "bespoke", the tailors of Savile Row complained to the Advertising Standards Authority on the grounds that suits made after initial measurements and then machine-cut abroad did not merit that description.
The ASA, however, rejected their complaint.
Mark Henderson, the chairman of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, wants to make the distinction clear.
"Earlier this year there was an advert carried in quite a smart paper, named a company called Sartoriani, gave a Savile Row address and claimed to be offering a bespoke suits for £495.
"Our point is it's not a bespoke suit, it's actually a made-to-measure suit."
Drummer: a trouser-maker
Pinked/pink a job: making with extra care
Mungo: cloth cuttings, which by custom the tailor used to retain to sell to a rag merchant for a little extra income
Tab: fussy, difficult customer
Whipping the cat: Travelling round and working in private houses, common practice in old days when a tailor would be given board and lodging while he made clothes for a family and their servants
One of Gieves & Hawkes' master cutters, Patrick Murphy, has worked in Savile Row for nearly 25 years, and says that the difference is all in the detail.
He says: "One of the words that was put into my mind by my first mentor was what bespoke meant. He explained that the reason we are still in existence is the detail we give our individual customers."
A starting price for a Gieves & Hawkes suit is £3,500.
Mark Henderson is clear. "Frankly if people want to save money, they best thing they could do is go to Asda and buy a £90 machine washable suit," he says.
According to tradition, customers would "speak" for a piece of cloth
But Charlotte Brewer, from Sartoriani, which won right to use the word bespoke in advertising, thinks the ASA's decision liberates customers from the peg - and from spending thousands.
"We see this as a victory for individuality and affordable luxury," she says.
But surely the suits they produce are made-to-measure? "It is bespoke. We won the case and they say we can use the term bespoke. Our suits are made to fit their body measurements."
The words made-to-measure and bespoke are, she believes, synonymous.
But the Savile Row tailors and Mark Henderson are going to continue the battle.
He says: "We'd like see whether courts might like to stand behind Savile Row bespoke, in the same way as the French courts have consistently protected the French champagne industry, for instance."
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