The English gentleman: Savile Row and the DNA of menswear
As London Fashion Week Men's celebrates its fifth year, a new website pays tribute to the city's rich menswear heritage
Savile Row is, of course, famous as the birthplace of British menswear. But in recent decades its image had perhaps suffered as a result of the more dramatic and theatrical antics of global fashion brands, who paraded their wares on the catwalks of Milan and Paris, and shouted out from billboards and magazines around the world.
Ever more modest and gentlemanly, the tailors of Savile Row and St James’s have by and large eschewed these tactics, preferring to continue to serve their loyal clientele. And yet, the danger was that people were liable to forget that much of what we wear – even if it was brought to us by an American or Italian label – has its origins in Mayfair.
It was for this reason that The English Gentleman project was conceived in 2012 – to redress this balance, and remind the journalists and store buyers of the fashion world about the DNA of British menswear. The aim was also, of course, to encourage these gatekeepers of fashionability to spread the word – Savile Row was still alive and kicking. If you wanted the real thing, in an age where authenticity was more than ever a selling point, then you needed to look no further than W1.
Cue a series of four events staged and produced by Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard in association with the Woolmark Company and the other world-renowned tailors of Savile Row and St James’s. British menswear was brought to life in a way – and on a scale – unheard of before.
With one staged during each of the first four years of London Fashion Week Men's, The English Gentleman events attracted interest from press and store buyers from around the world. They were conceived by British GQ magazine's former creative fashion director, Jo Levin, who commissioned and styled all the outfits, taking inspiration from the four very different, quintessentially British venues in which the presentations took place – Spencer House, Lord's Cricket Ground, the Churchill War Rooms and Apsley House.
Each presentation was designed to focus on a different aspect of the DNA of British menswear and to show how the artisans of Savile Row and St James's have fashioned the enduring tropes of contemporary menswear. Each bespoke collection of garments displayed not only the fine craftsmanship synonymous with Savile Row and St James's, but also the timeless style that British menswear has given to the world.
Savile Row House Style: The English Gentleman at Spencer House
The inaugural presentation in January 2012 showcased the talents of Savile Row's most esteemed tailors at London's historic Spencer House. The inspiration for this event was the country house weekend, with its focus on entertaining and sporting pursuits. The textures and patterns of country cloths – houndstooth, Tattersall, Birdseye and, of course, tweed – were combined with the more formal attire appropriate for social gatherings.
Savile Row Scores a Century: The English Gentleman at Lord's Cricket Ground
The June 2013 presentation was a celebration of great British style and sportsmanship. English sporting pursuits have always created specialist attire, either to facilitate the playing of a game, or to denote membership of a particular sporting club. Preeminent among the traditional sporting wardrobe are the blazer, the sports jumper and the striped club tie, and it was these items that underpinned the outfits assembled for The English Gentleman project at Lord's Cricket Ground.
Buckle up and Button down: The English Gentleman at The Cabinet War Rooms
In the January 2014 presentation, the Woolmark Company, the tailors of Savile Row and the shirt and shoemakers of St James's paid tribute to Winston Churchill in the former PM's secret underground hideaway. The result was an extremely atmospheric and evocative evening, when the labyrinthine corridors and spaces below the streets of Whitehall came alive once more.
The inspiration for this presentation was the British wartime spirit, which required people to make do and mend. This is, of course, the philosophy that lies at the heart of Savile Row, where garments are made to last a lifetime, and often will be handed down from generation to generation. In this way, styles often remain timeless, or evolve to be tailored and adapted from father to son.
Gentlemen on Parade: The English Gentleman at Apsley House
In 2015, to commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, the fourth presentation took place at the former home of the 1st Duke of Wellington, who led Britain to victory in the famous battle.
The origins of British menswear lie in the tailors, shirtmakers and bootmakers who made the military uniforms for the forces. Hence, the military tradition on Savile Row dates back to its earliest days, and as part of that tradition there is a strong connection with the uniforms of the cavalry and equestrianism in general.