Has sacred code of Savile Row tailors been broken?
The case of the stolen inside-leg measurements has stunned the genteel world of men's outfitting. Tom Peck reports
Tuesday 27 April 2010
'A tailor is as important to a man as his doctor or dentist," says Simon Cundey, director of Henry Poole & Co, acknowledged founders of London's Savile Row. "He lives and breathes with you the whole span of your life. From your university gown, to your suit for your first job interview, your wedding, and all the way through your life and career. And, like a doctor or dentist, trust and discretion is at the heart of this relationship."
The news then, that a former tailor at Ede & Ravenscroft, the country's oldest outfitter with clients including the Queen, Prince Charles, and David Cameron, is alleged to have stolen confidential information about a number of its clients, including their most intimate measurements, has caused quite a stir around the luxurious fitting rooms of the 250-year-old street.
The company, whose Burlington Gardens store looks down Savile Row, alleges that former member of staff, Matthew Farnes, secretly set up a rival business while still working for Ede & Ravenscroft.
The company claims in a High Court writ that Mr Farnes took with him private details of its customers and lured a number of them to his new business.
Mr Farnes, who spent four years in the bespoke department at Ede & Ravenscroft's Burlington Gardens store, is being sued for damages of up to £150,000.
The writ claims that Mr Farnes emailed himself the company's bespoke measurement form, which was confidential, as well as contact details of customers.
For around 200 years, the great, the good, and the fabulously wealthy have surrendered their vital statistics to one of the outfitters on the famous street. In the mahogany drawers of Henry Poole & Co's luxurious premises still sit the "paper patterns" – the set of 30 measurements that go into the production of their bespoke suit – of everyone from Winston Churchill to Edward VII. When Buffalo Bill brought his "Wild West Show" to Britain in 1887 he too called in for a fitting. "He had a 46-inch chest," says Mr Cundey.
Excepting Buffalo Bill, these measurements are evidently not for public consumption. "We have some very high-profile customers. Some of them are happy for people to know who their tailor is. Others prefer it to be kept quiet."
But the case only highlights the fact that, for all the deference and discretion of the fitting room, in many cases the tailors of Savile Row are cut from the same cloth as the businessmen and bankers they kit out. This is not the first time a tailor has set up on his own and sought to take his clientele with him.
"It happened to us in the 1970s," says Mr Cundey, the seventh generation of his family to run the business. "A cutter went off to form his own company. Back then it wasn't so difficult. The law was much less strict.
"But these things do go on. Many a pint gets drunk over talk of who's doing what and going where. It's like any industry.
"Certainly there's an element of loyalty between customers and their specific tailors," admits Mr Cundey. "But people are loyal to their outfitters too. Poole has a certain look, a unified cut, that our customers like.
"Often people will go off on their own, and it all either goes very right or very wrong. Sometimes they'll realise they can't deliver the final product. They don't have all the works they need, or the accountancy. They'll make promises on price that they can't keep. They'll last for a couple of years before customers start coming back to us. The grass is always greener on the other side.
"These patterns, these measures, they belong to the house, not to the tailor. Imagine you had spent many months developing say, a recipe for a cookie, and once you've got it just right, someone comes along and gives it to say Starbucks?"
He adds: "I'd say 80 per cent of cutters out there are pretty loyal. But if this business with Ede gets drawn out into a long legal battle it might lead other cutters to think twice about going their own way.
Opposite Henry Poole & Co is Mark Marengo, who, having been in business for three years remains the newest name on the street. "It might be seen as if people are poaching someone else's clients," says Neil Marengo, Mark's brother and front of house man. "But often customers are very loyal to their particular tailor, like many people are to their hairdresser. If that tailor moves, the client will probably follow, he has allegiance to his personal tailor.
"Customers often talk to us about their lives, their careers. They are getting new suits for their weddings, or to start new jobs. There is an understanding that that information is treated with discretion, especially as we might also be making suits for colleagues of theirs."
Mr Farnes, who opened his own tailors in nearby Sackville Street last year, vehemently denies all the allegations. He said in a statement: "I robustly deny this allegation and will be fully defending this in court."
Standing outside his new shop, Savile Row Artisan, he said he feared that the legal action could taint his reputation. He would not comment on whether he had worked with royalty during his four years with his former employer.
Ede & Ravenscroft, which makes ceremonial robes as well as suits, jealously guards its close ties with royalty, members of the House of Lords and the legal profession.
The case is a blow to the house, established in 1689 for the coronation of William of Orange and believed to be the oldest tailor in the world.
If the case does proceed, the attire of those present in court may well command as many column inches as the evidence itself.
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