Orange suits on Savile Row? Outrageous

Young designers are rediscovering classic tailoring and the value of a prestigious address.

It's hard to imagine a dreadlocked Mick Hucknall of Simply Red buying suits in Savile Row. Or, for that matter, Madonna slipping into tailors there in search of presents for her male friends - although both have recently. It's equally curious that Ralph Lauren, who runs a multi-billion dollar empire, should be so keen to announce that his new Purple Label, "the pinnacle of his menswear collection", is handmade in a Savile Row factory.

To many, Savile Row is still a bastion of British stuffiness, an ode to the gentleman and his Club; tailors to a dying breed which enjoys being measured up almost as much as spending weekends shooting grouse in bespoke tweeds. In truth, the last decade has been hard. The designer era rampaged and the high street was transformed while aristocratic customers spent more money on roof repairs than new suits.

But things are changing. Even No 1 Savile Row, home to Gieves & Hawkes, the original tailoring address, has started stressing its casualwear. And men who would have referred to themselves as designers in the 80s - Ralph Lauren, Richard James, Ozwald Boateng - have rediscovered classic tailoring and want not only a Savile Row address but cut and quality too.

Scattered among the dowdy windows of traditional tailors - worsted wools and walking sticks - are sudden dashes of colour. Oranges, pinks, purples, lime greens, bold checks, unusual stripes, set boldly against each other. Late 20th century menswear is making its presence felt.

"I discovered Savile Row 10 years ago, when I was 18," said Ozwald Boateng, who opened his shop in December. "I respect the tradition and the snobbery and I love the pomp." Fresh from his workshop on the Portobello Road, Mr Boateng's bright canary polo neck and dashing navy suit declare that he is far from the typical Savile Row gent. But in many senses he wants to be: "Tailoring has almost become fashionable again," he says. "The Row was on its last legs and it needed to be reborn."

Indeed, though his cut is traditional, and he loves the form of shoulder lines, waists, and curved backs, Mr Boateng defines himself as a "bespoke couturier", somewhere between a designer and a bespoke tailor, at home at the Parisian menswear catwalks or in Covent Garden, where he hopes to open his next shop.

Richard James also took an unusual route. After starting out as a buyer at Browns in South Molton Street, he took up the sketch pad to fill a gap he saw in the market."Everything has changed since the 80s," he said. "There's a reaction against high fashion. It's about people's style rather than a designer's. A few years ago our customers would have worn Comme des Garcons or Armani. But men are realising that there's something not very sophisticated about wearing a suit you can buy in any major city."

In his sleek, minimalist showroom, Mr James and his partner Sean Dixon (formerly John Galliano's commercial director) talk about the fine quality cloth on their shirts, the traditional two vents on suit jackets, a slight flare on the cuff, a narrower trouser and a clear waist. "Not outrageous. Modern but still classic."

It's all part of re-establishing old values, like the almost defunct practice of buying specially-commissioned runs of fabric from the Yorkshire mills. Even though the bulk of Mr James' business is off-the-peg, these runs guarantee a uniqueness. "Men can have a suit made here for pounds 1,100, and a ready-to-wear designer suit costs that. People are aware they're paying for advertising costs. Here you pay for workmanship."

In a strange way, the so-called New Wave on the Row are trying to reinvent tradition. "I thought now was the time for a new sophistication," Ralph Lauren says of his Purple Label. Or, from Mr James: "Our clothes are English to a tee. We're trying to bring back the spirit of Savile Row" (this is a street that once had such standing that the Japanese appropriated the name as their generic term for tailoring - Sabiro).

lt isn't the first time the old guard has been shaken by newcomers. In spite of a behind-the-scenes sniffiness - comments like "they're not even tailors but they're getting the publicity" - their arrival is a continuation of Savile Row history. "You had Tommy Nutter, Rupert Lycett Green, Michael Fish and myself," explains Tom Gilbey (best-known as the waistcoat king but also an innovative tailor) about the last influx of new blood, in the 60s. "Tommy Nutter wasn't a tailor and a cutter. He came from the sales side."

Without such marketing skills, the old school has not exploited the potential of one of the world's best-known brand names. It wasn't long ago that some Savile Row firms were resisting offers of export deals to Japan. Like Nutter, the newcomers see things differently. One could hardly imagine them serving years in a basement learning the crafts of cut and sew."We're not tailors," Mr James admits. "But we work with tailors who've been in the business a long time and know all the techniques that are dying out."

Given panache and an opening into the world of modern men, Savile Row has potential. After all, Lauren and Armani learnt a long time ago that perfect packaging is essential. And, in the right hands, Savile Row offers that - as long as it remembers that men are no longer Nelsons or Wellingtons and that a glorious past does not necessarily confer success on the present.

News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
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
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

    £35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'