Not quite our class, darling! Savile Row tailors deny snobbery...
... but say chain stores will really lower the tone
Laura Chesters is a business reporter and covers the consumer, food, drink and luxury goods sectors on the business desk at The London Evening Standard, i, The Independent and The Independent on Sunday
Sunday 15 April 2012
The gentlemen of Savile Row are getting hot under their stiffly starched collars as they absorb the news that yet another vulgar imposter, this time The Kooples, a French fashion brand, is about to lower the tone of their Mayfair street.
The tailors who cut and assemble suits in the street whose name is synonymous with quality, still reeling from news that the preppy, all-American Abercrombie & Fitch is proposing to open a children's store in their exclusive neighbourhood, now have a new concern: the indie-chic label The Kooples is soon to arrive, attracting skinny jean-clad hipsters to the area. Traditional tailors fear the chain will turn the world-renowned street into "one of the generic malls or high streets we have across the country".
The Kooples, set up by three brothers from a family of rag trade entrepreneurs – its first store opened in the sixth arrondissement of Paris in 2008 – is in talks with the owner of the lease of No 5 Savile Row to take on the shop from Bernard Weatherill.
The newcomers will sit alongside the Ivy League clothes chain which is planning to open its store at No 3, in the building that was once The Beatles' Apple headquarters, while Alexander McQueen is opening a menswear store at No 9.
Mark Henderson is chairman at Savile Row Bespoke Association, a group of 14 companies formed to protect the art of hand-craft tailoring on the street where Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham shop today, and Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill bought their suits in the past.
"We would like the street to be the home of fantastic quality, luxury menswear," he said. "A fashion store is not particularly welcome as it does not fit in to what Savile Row, including its heritage and history, is about."
Anda Rowland, vice chairman of Anderson & Sheppard tailors, said: "We're not sniffy or looking down our noses at these brands; we just feel it is a great shame to see Regent Street wrapping into Savile Row. It has been the home of tailors for hundreds of years, and we won't be able to get that character back when the chain stores move in. It makes the tailoring industry more difficult to preserve and, if Savile Row becomes like one of the endless generic malls or high streets, it is a loss for everybody."
Property sources have said the deal is close to being signed, although Cushman & Wakefield, a property company advising The Kooples, would not comment on its plans.
The Kooples, a play on the French pronunciation of couples, has taken France by storm: there are 111 stores across the nation selling British indie and rock'n'roll-inspired fashion with a hint of Parisian chic – former Libertine Pete Doherty helped to design a collection. Actresses Clémence Poésy, Hilary Duff and Rachel Bilson are fans of the brand that uses real couples in its advertising campaigns. It is now selling its style back to the Brits, with T-shirts starting at £65, and most clothing selling for more than £100. Compared with Savile Row, where bespoke suits can cost more than £3,500, this is little more than shabby chic.
Last month, tailors reacted angrily at the prospect of Abercrombie & Fitch's new children's shop, expanding its franchise of East Coast leisurewear served by intimidatingly attractive and semi-naked staff in Burlington Gardens, just out of sight of most of Savile Row.
One tailor described it as "like adding orange squash to the best vintage champagne", while another said: "I don't think anyone objects to moving forward, but a chain store selling crappy clothes to ghastly people isn't really the direction in which we should be travelling."
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