While shops all along Britain's high streets are closing their doors, battered by the recession, some of Britain's finest traditional Savile Row suit-makers are expanding – into major department stores.
The tailor E Tautz, which dressed such figures as Winston Churchill and Edward VII, was driven out of business in the Seventies by cheap menswear chains such as Burton. Now it is relaunching, but with a modern twist.
Despite the continuing success of Savile Row, E Tautz's £3,000-a-throw suits are to be sold in upmarket department stores.
"We tried to get in touch with the sort of people who were E Tautz customers in the past and the type of clothes they wore, and take inspiration from that," said the firm's managing director, Patrick Grant. "They were sporting and military tailors, so they were more about rugged wearability than super-luxurious clothes, although Winston Churchill did order a pair of white cashmere breeches."
Despite the popular historical image of an overweight, statesmanlike Churchill smoking a cigar, the politician was lithe and fashionable in his youth. Known for his love of fine clothes, between 1895 and 1900 Churchill was thought to have run up the modern equivalent of £30,000 in tailors' bills.
Archive photos show a slim Churchill horse-riding decked out in the tailored, luxurious leisure wear that the chain was famous for. The new line includes equally sumptuous products, expanding to include smart suits as well as leisure wear.
While E Tautz accessories will be sold in the affiliated tailor Norton & Sons on Savile Row, most of its ready-to-wear collection will be sold in high-end department stores such as Harrods and Selfridges in the UK, and Barneys in New York.
"The double-breasted jacket and the lounge suit were both invented on Savile Row, and it is about leveraging that [Savile Row] brand," said Mark Henderson, chief executive of Gieves & Hawkes and chairman of Savile Row Bespoke.
As wallet-friendly purchases go, paying the price of a small car for a three-piece suit in midnight-blue mohair with grosgrain silk facing might not seem like the most obvious choice, but fashion experts believe that there will be no drop in the demand for such outfits.
"There is a market for it. People are spending less generally, but more on bespoke tailoring" said Hope Lawrie of GQ magazine. "As far as businessmen go, there is a pressure to look like someone you want to employ. Not everyone has to wear a suit to work, but it is still important to look smart and professional."
The relaunch of Churchill's former tailor exploits a surprise boost for traditional suitmaking. Defying the downturn, Gieves & Hawkes reported a rise in sales in recent months, and year-on-year growth.
"Savile Row is remarkably resilient. It has been going for over 200 years, and there is a case for saying that 'we survived the Great Depression – crisis, what crisis?'" Mr Henderson said.
Nevertheless, tailors are concerned that without government support their businesses will not be able to continue to fund the training of apprentices, a three-year process that costs nearly £100,000 per trainee. A delegation of Savile Row tailors met the skills minister, Lord Young, last week to urge the Government to consider the impact of training costs on small, high-end fashion companies.Reuse content