Our Resident Fashion Historian Unpicks The Sartorial History of One Of London's Most Stylish Streets

Written By Daisy Woodward

Parallel to Regent Street – and nestled between Conduit and Vigo – is London’s celebrated hub of bespoke tailoring, Savile Row. Here, for over two hundred years, some of the world’s most skilled creators of gentlemen’s clothing have decked out the affluent and important, from Admiral Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill, to Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger. It is the birthplace of the bowler hat and tuxedo, but above all the Row is synonymous with its impeccable made-to-measure suits. 

Built in the 1730s as part of the Burlington Estate development, and named after the Earl of Burlington’s wife, Lady Dorothy Savile, Savile Row originally housed aristocrats, soldiers and lawyers. By the turn of the century, however, a handful of tailors had set up shop on and around the Row, and caught the eye of one Beau Brummell, the original dandy, whose patronage carried the weight of a royal hallmark. Thus the area’s sartorial preeminence was established. In 1846, Henry Poole – one of the Row’s oldest, most renowned tailors – took his place on the street, garnering a client list that included over 50 European leaders (including Napoleon III and Queen Victoria) within the following 20 years. The Savile Row tailors became the first port of call for persons of prominence in need of fitting.

The list of influential tailors in the Row’s impressive history is vast, but certain examples are particularly key. The first is Gieves and Hawkes, an amalgamation of two longstanding businesses (Gieves, founded in 1785, and Hawkes, 1771) which can be found at Number One Savile Row. The first Savile Row tailor to offer ready-to-wear clothing, it is one of its most successful and business-savvy establishments and has a number of national and international branches. It also holds various Royal Warrants and provided Prince Charles his wedding tails for his marriage to Diana. On the other hand, Kilgour, French & Stanbury are most famous for their role in dressing Carey Grant for Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest. 

Hardy Amies (founded in 1946) and Nutter’s of Savile Row (1969) were crucial to the Row’s modernisation, thanks to their owners’ innovation and (in Nutter’s case) eccentricity. The illustrious Sir Edwin Hardy Amies – knighted in 1989 for his services to fashion and to the Royal family themselves – staged the first ever men’s ready-to-wear catwalk shows at The Ritz in 1961, and swept Savile Row into “designer” territory. Tommy Nutter, AKA the “maverick tailor”, was similarly influential for his contemporary and fashionable take on the traditional suit – with his signature wide lapels, nipped-in waists and bold patterns and fabrics. Bespoke classes and rock stars alike, from the Duke of Bedford to Bowie and the Stones, enjoyed these “rakish silhouettes and jaunty cocktail-lounge styles,” and three out of four of the Beatles’ suits on the iconic Abbey Road cover were Nutter creations. 

In spite of the considerable popularity that these two tailors afforded, there was, nevertheless, a general decline in Savile Row’s sales from the 60s onwards; and it was not until the 1990s that a new generation of tailors injected the street with a fresh lease of life. These were Ozwald Boeteng, Richard James and Timothy Everest: men that have reaffirmed its reputation as the ultimate in bespoke chic.

Daisy Woodward is the fashion historian at Topman GENERATION and a contributing writer at AnOtherMag.com