LONDON — The suit has been making headlines this week, falling out of the basket of goods and services that Britain’s Office for National Statistics uses to measure annual inflation rates. The ONS said it noticed “a gradual fall” in spending on suits — but they weren’t the only items to be left out of the 2022 basket. Doughnuts and coal were also tossed onto the scrap heap, and replaced by more popular products such as meat-free sausages and sports bras.
Yet, on Savile Row, tailored clothing is thriving like never before. Suits, jackets and trousers are taking starring roles in Hollywood and in British films, and on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV. The bigger actors are working directly with costume designers, and tailors, to create their on-screen looks and when filming wraps, they’re asking those same tailoring houses to whip up outfits for film tours, red-carpet appearances — or just a night out.
Daniel Craig, Jason Statham, and Robert Pattinson are just a few of the big names who regularly slip into bespoke suits and separates made by houses including Anderson & Sheppard, Huntsman and Cad & The Dandy. They do it alone, or with their personal stylists, and are setting styles for a younger generation of customers.
“There’s a new generation of actors who are handling their image right to the last detail,” said Anda Rowland, the director of Anderson & Sheppard. She said Pattinson is one example of an actor who has a say about every piece of clothing he wears on-screen, and off.
“These actors are wearing bright colors, or unusual things, and they have personal style,” said Rowland, adding their look often sparks conversations, which didn’t happen 10 or 15 years ago when the red carpet was dominated by dark suits and dinner jackets.
Anderson & Sheppard created Craig’s bright pink jacket at the “No Time to Die” premiere in London, and a variety of other colorful looks for the actor. The jacket captured many an imagination, and the orders flowed in — not just at Anderson & Sheppard but across Savile Row, and beyond.
Scabal, the company that made the fabric, was inundated with orders and put a copy of the jacket in its window. Rowland said existing customers think it’s fun to order a similar style, and that Craig’s appearance sparked demand for other pink items of clothing, too.
Since 2015, Mr Porter’s audience has been snapping up tailored clothing similar to what they’ve seen on screen in the “Kingsman” film trilogy, which features suits made by Huntsman. Sam Kershaw, buying director, at Mr Porter, said the Kingsman collection has evolved into “a top 10 brand” at the retailer, and is especially popular in the Asia-Pacific region and in the U.K.
“Tailoring plays a pivotal role in the film, with the Kingsman HQ based on Savile Row, and the way in which the key characters dress. This has led to strong demand from our customers. Each film collection has its own style, and while tailoring is at the heart, the collections have taken a more casual direction, too.”
Kershaw believes that film is “such a powerful tool, and brand associations have been a key way of attracting new customers and retaining loyal customers as well.”
Fashion designers are turning to the Row, too, for cooperation, and inspiration.
Last July, Demna tapped Huntsman to create 10 men’s and women’s looks for Balenciaga’s debut couture show. Most recently, Zac Posen pulled Huntsman into the spotlight once again, asking the tailor to make costumes for “The Outfit,” which premieres on Friday.
The ’50s period film was co-written and directed by Graham Moore (who also penned “The Imitation Game”) and stars Mark Rylance, the Academy Award-winning British actor, playwright, and former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
Rylance plays an unassuming, but shrewd, Chicago tailor who trained on Savile Row and whose clients are gangsters dressed nattily in double-breasted suits, power shoulders, peak lapel coats, and high-waisted trousers.
One of the greatest thespians of his generation, Rylance learned how to cut and sew with Huntsman tailors, under the tutelage of Campbell Carey, Huntsman’s head cutter and creative director. Carey is also an experienced costume consultant, having worked on the “Kingsman” films with Arianne Phillips and Sophie O’Neill.
During lockdown, Rylance joined Carey’s team on Savile Row for a week, taking notes, asking questions, and making tea for the staff as he learned the finer points of making a suit.
“He spent time with the tailors downstairs, working out how to hold a thimble, thread a needle and sew. There are all sorts of little nuances that he worked on and perfected,” said Carey. “He learned to use the shears, which are four or five pounds in weight. They’re heavy things, and to be able to just to pick them up and use them properly — without looking like an amateur — is quite a skill.”
Carey added that Rylance practically lived in his Savile Row suit on set, and fell in love with the high-waisted trousers in particular.
Carey believes these films help to educate younger clients, adding that the “Kingsman” films have been “far-reaching” and attracting a new audience, not just for Huntsman but for other Savile Row tailors.
“Back when I started about 21 years ago, Savile Row was quite a sniffy, uppity place. You had to have an appointment to get into the shops, there were curtains in the windows. It could put younger people off. From the outside, Huntsman looks like an old-school establishment, but when you get inside it’s quite dynamic and progressive, with a young, young team,” he said.
“Movies like ‘Kingsman’ or ‘The Outfit’ teach people the different cuts, silhouettes and cloth. They also prove that clothes don’t need to be skintight to be flattering. There is this perception that everything on the red carpet has to be spray painted on. But tight clothing doesn’t work if you’re 6 foot, 2 inches and thin as a rake — it has the opposite effect.”
Posen said that he contacted his friends at Huntsman after reading early versions of the script. He knew the tailor was right for the job, although it wasn’t going to be a straightforward assignment.
“It was this fictitious creation: a Savile Row tailor working in America in the mid-1950s. So how do you construct the shoulder? Because a mobster suit in the mid-’50s is very different from a Savile Row suit with an inset shoulder from that time. But they gave us great guidance,” said Posen, who worked closely with his co-costume designer Sophie O’Neill.
O’Neill had earlier worked with Huntsman and Carey on the “Kingsman” films, so she was in familiar territory.
Posen and O’Neill also worked on the color palette, conjuring a particular ’50s moment on the edge of modernism.
“There’s a great deal of subtlety and nuance, and it’s actually quite a large color palette, with ’50s, wintery colors. We wanted to stay away from something that felt pop or cartoonish, because the film takes place right before Futurism comes into play. And we really wanted to capture that Old World quality,” Posen said.
He got a real buzz working with the house. “They are 170 years old, and make some of the most beautiful suits in the world — and I have worn many, many suits in my life,” said Posen, a womenswear designer and the former creative director of Brooks Brothers.
“It was such an amazing, incredible opportunity for us, especially given the story. It’s such a small film, with not that many actors. Every detail had to be perfect, and we had to create things that had an age to them, but that didn’t look overdone. This film was a real ode to craft and storytelling. You need to have all those details to create the suspense,” he added.
O’Neill said she has great respect for the work that Huntsman, and Savile Row generally, does. “It’s not something that everybody can afford, but it’s a quest for quality, especially in this world of like disposable fashion,” said the costume designer.
“I think it’s so important to really celebrate these skills, these craftspeople. Otherwise, there may be a time when they no longer exist — although I don’t believe that will ever happen. There is always going to be a call for beautiful, Savile Row suits.”
O’Neill added that she’s only as good as the craftspeople with whom she works.
“As a costume designer, you can have brilliant ideas, but you’re always relying on the talent of the craftspeople. Working with people who are skilled, and at top of their game, allows you the freedom to focus on the detail of your designs, and how you can bring these characters to life,” she said.
One of the biggest suppliers to the film and streaming industries in recent years is Cad & The Dandy, which has three shops on Savile Row and workshops in London, Sweden and India. They’re big enough to produce costume multiples, something that the smaller houses can’t necessarily do.
Cad’s owner, James Sleater, said about 20 percent of the business now comes from film. The company has made thousands of outfits in past years for franchises including Marvel and “Men in Black,” and created the suits for Prince Charles’ character, played by Jack Farthing, in “Spencer.”
Sleater said many of those actors have become personal clients. He added that Cad creates “characters, rather than costumes” and believes that there is a young generation that looks to film screens, rather than the red carpet, for inspiration about what to wear, much like the “Kingsman” fans at Mr Porter.
The film screen, be it large or small, is an ideal showcase for design today because the outfits on show have been tailored specifically to the actor’s figure, he added.
Like many others on Savile Row, Sleater downplayed the demise of the suit, and believes that men are dressing up once again. They just happen to be doing so with jacket and trouser separates. “There is a resurgence in tailoring, formality and power dressing,” Sleater said, adding that Cad had its “best-ever” sales month in February.
The U.K. Office for National Statistics would agree. They may have thrown out the suit earlier this week, but they’ve added “a formal jacket or blazer” to the basket of goods, and kept formal trousers in the mix, too.
Sleater also believes his customers are interested in having a bespoke suit out of a desire for transparency: they want to see the process, and understand the craft, much in the way they’d like to know how their meal got from the farm to the table.
They also want to make a statement, he added: “Young guys are pushing things further — they’re wearing colors, and throwing rules out the window. There used to be a saying ‘No brown in town,’ but fashion is designed to evolve, and we have to take these steps forward.”
He also believes that social media, and Instagram especially, is playing a huge role in nurturing the desire for bespoke. “Social media is the new shop window,” he said.
Rowland of Anderson & Sheppard would agree. She believes that social media has been a boon for Savile Row because it has given the tailors, and their work, great visibility.
“When I joined Savile Row in the mid-2000s it was a bad time. There was a perception of dustiness, but that has changed an awful lot,” said Rowland, adding that there has been a big push to train young tailors, while the sustainability conversation means that people are looking at bespoke with fresh eyes.
She also pointed out that in the mid-2000s, “we didn’t have social media outlets, and the stylists weren’t as powerful as they are today. There were really no channels where we could make noise,” she said.
Despite the recent suit crisis, the noise on Savile Row is getting louder than ever.