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Business Analysis & Features

Pattern changes for Savile Row

The London home of the world's finest tailors is awash with takeover rumours. Laura Chesters reports

London's Savile Row is synonymous with quality, cut, class – but also discretion when dealing with its rich clientele.

Well-dressed gentlemen, international business tycoons, royalty and celebrities have popped in and out of their favourite tailors on the street for two centuries. But Savile Row's close knit community of inconspicuous tailors and cutters is now rife with gossip about who will be the next tailor or brand to sell out to a giant overseas conglomerate.

Earlier this year, for example, Huntsman became the new toy for hedge fund star Pierre Lagrange and his fashion designer partner Roubi L'Roubi. In 2012, the 240 year-old royal tailor Gieves & Hawkes – dweller of No 1 Savile Row – was snapped up by Hong Kong-listed Trinity, controlled by the Chinese billionaire Fung family. Tongues are wagging over who will be next.

Many observers think the Fung family – rulers of Li & Fung, the Asian trading house that supplies clothing to Marks & Spencer and Walmart – is eyeing up its next prey.

This time the scuttlebutt and tittle-tattle has focused on Kilgour, which has dressed stars from Fred Astaire to Jude Law, and Bernard Weatherill, a tailor that has been based in Savile Row since 1912.

JMH Lifestyle, owner of Kilgour and Bernard Weatherill have dismissed the takeover rumours as "playground gossip". However, those who claim to be in the know insist talks with Fung subsidiaries are continuing.

The Fungs have certainly been busy, using a myriad of subsidiaries to snap up luxury brands: they back Trinity, which owns Kent & Curwen and Cerruti 1881, while the private investment arm of the families of Victor and William Fung owns Hardy Amies.

Also, talks have been on and off for the past year to buy Tommy Nutter, worn by the likes of Mick Jagger, Elton John and John Lennon. It is currently owned by Alan Lewis, the Conservatives' vice chairman for business.

Some tailors think Lewis could even be in talks to sell another of his menswear businesses, Crombie. A Crombie spokesman says: "We are always prepared to listen to eminent companies who believe they can help grow the Crombie brand worldwide. However, we have not been actively soliciting such proposals."

But nothing is straight forward in the home of the bespoke suit. Even the rights to the famous brands can be complicated.

After Tommy Nutter's heyday of the Sixties and Seventies, various trademarks and brand names were created. The famous tailor died in 1992 and some of the businesses that used his name prospered.

In February, David Mason re-launched the Nutters of Savile Row brand at London Collections: Men 2013. Yet, Nutters of Savile Row is a different brand and company to the Tommy Nutter label and has its own separate customers and identity.

Savile Row is certainly back on the fashion map. The success of new names including E. Tautz and England basketball player turned designer A. Sauvage are part of the renaissance.

If the Fung empire were to get its hands on further brands on this small central London street it could become a serious powerhouse that would expand the Savile Row name around the world. The world's rich businessmen want to own the street not just be dressed by it.