Fashion: People In Fashion

Good to know some things barely change, especially in the world of bespoke tailoring. Hester Lacey strolls down Savile Row

A large statue of an eagle, perched high on a shelf, keeps a watchful eye on proceedings at Henry Poole & Co, the oldest tailor on Savile Row. The eagle is a relic of the Paris Exhibition of 1851; he looks out on a cosy and masculine vista of leather armchairs, glass cabinets of military memorabilia (including some spectacular Poole-tailored uniforms) and an enormous selection of fabric sample swatches. The stern-looking old bird has probably borne witness to some riotous fittings; at one time, the establishment was more of a gentlemen's club than a clothes shop. Henry Poole, or Old Pooley, as he was known, played host to the swells of the 1870s with hock, claret and fine cigars. These days, under the direction of Angus Cundey, great-grandson of Old Pooley's cousin Samuel Cundey, things are more decorous.

Henry Poole & Co was founded in 1806; Angus Cundey joined the business in 1957, after a year apprenticed to the Lanvin fashion house in Paris. "I came back, did my National Service and started in the cutting room. Then my father became ill and I had to come out and spend my time on sales and admin, which is where I've been stuck ever since," he says genially. As a boy, he wanted to be an RAF fighter pilot but, he says, he has never regretted taking his place in the family business; his son, recently appointed a director, will be the fifth generation to run the company.

Apart from a computer system to deal with accounts, things have altered little over the course of those generations. The Henry Poole workshops are housed in the Savile Row premises and it is very specialised work. The cutters specialise in cutting and fitting; the trousermakers and coatmakers put together the pieces (bespoke jackets are always known as "coats"), then the garments are passed on to the finishers, who do the buttonholes and sew in the linings, and the pressers and the machinists who sew in the pockets. Each suit represents around 50 hours' work. "We try to keep to our old traditions," says Angus Cundey. "There has been one considerable change: now that America is our biggest market we have had to learn different methods of dealing with the lightweight materials that they insist on. But the basics are the same as in my grandfather's day."

A two-piece made-to-measure Henry Poole suit costs between pounds 1,695 and pounds 2,000 and clients, says Mr Cundey, find they are worth every penny. "Once you have had a really proper bespoke suit you are very unlikely to go back to off-the-peg." He regrets that the Englishman is not the stylish dresser he once was. "The Americans and the French are prepared to pay more for their clothes than the average Englishman. I believe it is a result of the Second World War and clothing coupons; we never recovered." At the moment, he says, single-breasted suits are in vogue, particularly among his younger customers, but with a three-button front rather than the traditional Savile Row two-button style.

These days, tailors also have to be globetrotters. Although there are some fifth-generation scions of the British aristocracy who have remained faithful customers over the past two centuries, the bulk of Angus Cundey's customers today are businessmen. "Part of our costs are down to giving amazing service - like rushing to New York with 100 suits to fit," he says. Each client's individual paper pattern is kept on file until they die.

Mr Cundey is particularly proud of his record-keeping. "We are the only firm in Savile Row that has managed to keep all its records, right back to 1846." In the basement, 105 huge tomes record every purchase. The company's first royal warrant was from Napoleon III in 1858. Queen Victoria granted Henry Poole & Co the royal livery warrant in 1869 which they hold to this day.

These days, Henry Poole & Co turn out around 1,800 suits a year. "In my grandfather's day it was 12,000 a year," says Angus Cundey. "Then we employed 300 sewing tailors and 14 cutters. Today we are still the largest bespoke tailors in Savile Row and we are down to a workforce of 70." He wonders, he says, if he has encouraged his son to join a dying business. "But we won't go out of business through lack of demand. It will be because there are not enough craftsmen to keep going." And venerable traditions don't come cheaply. "Keeping a whole lot of craftsmen in central London is a very costly operation. But it's the only way we know how to work. For a firm like ours, one of the top names, to have to find a different way of working would be a tragedy."

Henry Poole & Co, 15 Savile Row, London W1X 1AE, tel 0171-734 5985.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
i100(More than you think)
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
arts + ents
Life and Style
tech

Sites using the popular Gigya comment platform were attacked by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)

Extras
indybest
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Executive - Software

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + 55,000 OTE + benifits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Software Sa...

    Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton; £400p/d

    £400 - £420 per day: Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?