It was a very near miss of several cases of whiplash, for the vision of refined, tweed-clad, rabble-rousers last month on a most grey and uninspiring Monday morning on Savile Row, armed with only sharp attire, freshly waxed handlebars, neatly coiffed victory rolls, a ‘vintage’ film crew, satirical placards and a bango guitar– was more to stop even the most hard hearted in their tracks. “This has to be the best dressed protest I’ve ever seen”, smiled a burly police officer, who looked almost tempted to join the ranks before considering his priorities and swiftly moving on. Marshalled by The Chap magazine’s inciter-in-chief, Gustav Temple, these dandy demagogues were not on Savile Row for a fitting, as one might expect, but positioned more specifically outside No. 3 in protest of a planned childrens store for Abercrombie & Fitch. ‘”What is so dreadful about that?” I hear you all clamour. To put it mildly, Savile Row is world-famous as the golden mile of bespoke tailoring, where the cloth is said to “be spoken for” the individual needs of the customer, the quality of craftsmanship involved is of the utmost level and customer confidentiality of paramount importance, it’s morals are poles apart to those of the American chain store Abercrombie & Fitch, peddlers of cheaply made casual wear aimed at teenagers and college students, made in China and India by workers that are paid $1.29/hour (75% below minimum wage), whose advertising campaigns are overtly racy (some might even call it soft porn) and whose stores are filled with semi-clad model-like staff. It markets thongs and padded bras for 10 year olds. It’s flagship London store already proves to be an eyesore on the adjacent Burlington Gardens and what with high street store ’The Kooples’ making an application for No.13, this move may indeed serve as the death knell for Savile Row.
The British high street has been in trouble for a while now. Forced out of shop spaces by the extortionate rates of greedy landlords, a small business no longer has much of a leg to stand on. The big corporations have taken over and every high street now more or less looks the same, serving out the same cheap and mass-produced goods. And we just accept it. We don’t realize that the soul of Britain is fading fast. Abercrombie & Fitch are only interested in Savile Row’s iconic status and the substantial revenue they are hoping to pull. They are not interested in the stories that the Row has spawned over the years – how the likes of Lord Nelson and Napoleon III came for their military fittings, how Edward VII invented the diner jacket, of Hollywood productions that were halted just so that Frank Sinatra and Rudolph Valentino could be flown over for that unparalleled waistcoat, or how Anderson & Sheppard had a corner in their shop where they would lift a section of carpet so that Fred Astaire could test out the movement of his tailcoat, and not to mention the fact that a 3-piece suit requires about 4 fittings and 2-3 months to make at around £2000 a pop with years of training and skill behind it.(it costs A&F on average $8 to make one item) Despite a few flutters, business is still booming on the Row. The Queen’s Jubilee year has meant that livery tailors have even been a tad stretched. Yet rent has come to a head at £100/square foot forcing a lot of businesses to vacate the area. The Savile Row Bespoke Association was set up in 2004 in an effort to stop exactly what is happening now. Those at The Chap thought it time to lend a helping hand. Despite the fact that many of its readers have never worn a Savile Row suit, they do hold fine tailoring and old-fashioned values close to their heart. Their tongue-in-cheek manifesto states – “thou shalt always wear tweed, never not smoke, always be courteous to the ladies, never EVER wear pantaloons de nimes, always doff one’s hat, never fasten the lowest button on thy weskit, always speak proper, never wear plimsolls when not doing sport, always worship at the trouser press and, lastly and of most noteworthiness, to always cultivate interesting facial hair. (And they don’t mean beards either) The banners vociferated “give three-piece a chance”, “tweed not greed”, “it’s not who you are, it’s wear your hat”, “Fitch off Abercrombie (please)”, serving up a wry and sarcastic tone that is, well, very British. But can it help? Small companies are usually the ones that source responsibly and take the time to train staff properly, but without government subsidy, I can’t imagine how Savile Row can ever hope to win against the big guns.
Yet, you can humour yourself in the ultimate irony that Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, Mike Jeffries does not, I repeat, DOES NOT wear A&F clothing. Oh no, – he wears suits made by Savile Row tailors. But if he carries on the way he’s going, he might have to start wearing company clothing.
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Celebrating the genius of HG Wells, we time travelled a couple from the late 1800’s to the present day Bromley, birth place of the author. Here are a few exclusive images that didn’t make the final edit.
“It is possible, but I do believe that the map may have got it wrong!”
“Apparently, they make a good flambée.”
“No it’s far superior to a GPS.”
“I spy…a moving staircase…a vertical transport-type room…but no space ship. Philistines!”
“No I am not a magician. I tell you, this is my everyday attire.”
“This Mickey Mouse character, why don’t you just be done with it and set the cat on him?”