Of all the streets in London, of all the roads, squares, crescents, mews and places, surely Savile Row has remained the most legendary and stylish of them all. A beacon of bespoke tailoring for almost 200 years, the street set the standard for the way a modern man should dress; its influence is international and its history awash with the most fascinating stories and characters.
Savile Row began to be associated with tailoring when, in the nineteenth century, Beau Brummell, that iconic figure of Regency England, swapped breeches for full-length trousers and established a new way of dressing for men. He patronised the tailors that had started to congregate on the Burlington Estate, and by the early 1800s, some had opened premises on Savile Row itself. Before long, the area’s sartorial authority had been established.
Gieves & Hawkes, perhaps the Row’s most famous outlet, and an amalgamation of two very old businesses (Hawkes & Co, founded in 1771, moved to the Row in 1912), can be found occupying a large, gleaming and very grand building at the best address of Number One Savile Row. Entering the shop in 2013 is akin to stepping into a sort of gentleman’s megastore, a one-stop shop where you can pick up a cashmere v-neck and an Edwardian silver topped match striker and have your handmade Oxfords expertly shined at the same time. Along with Gieves, one can’t talk of Savile Row without mentioning the illustrious Sir Hardy Amies, who established his own couture house at Number Fourteen in 1946. More than half a century later, the beautiful townhouse still stands proudly underneath a flag bearing Sir Hardy’s name. Pop in and take a look at the newly relaunched (and highly sumptuous) menswear. Whilst you’re on the Row, make sure to pay a visit to Drakes, a treasure trove of silk handkerchiefs and one of my favourite shops in the whole of London. I’m collecting them – handkerchiefs – my drawers are stuffed full of the things in a dizzying range of patterns, from paisleys and polka dots to dachshunds and flamingoes. Just south of Savile Row lies Jermyn Street, another historically brilliant spot for menswear, and once home to the 1st Duke of Marlborough (as well as the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley). If you’re after a bespoke shirtmaker, look no further than this esteemed row of shops. It’s excellent for English shoes too – Edward Green, Crocket & Jones, Church’s and Tricker’s all have outlets here.
Of course, shopping for menswear in London isn’t all about bespoke. (This requires a bank balance much greater than mine at this point, sadly). With Savile Row and Jermyn Street, it’s the idea of heritage, history and romance that has always captivated me, perhaps even more so than the clothes themselves. Luckily, numerous new menswear shops have sprung up in several districts across the capital over the past few years and as far as I’m concerned, there are two destinations in particular that should be on the radar for all interested men. Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury is one of them. This quiet row of shops has the feel of a village high street and is home to many wonderful independent shops selling goods for the home as well as clothing for men and women. Oliver Spencer, Universal Works, Folk and Private White V.C. all have shops here, so you need cast your eye no further if you happen to be a fan of modern, everyday clothing with an old style twist. The other site of note is Shoreditch – it has become a great hunting ground for menswear of late. Present, the contemporary retail space and coffee shop on Shoreditch High Street stocks an array of brands under one roof, as does the excellent Anthem on nearby Calvert Avenue. Anthem’s owner, ex-City trader Simon Spiteri, worked as a menswear buyer at Liberty before breaking free and setting up shop by himself. French label A.P.C. and MHL by Margaret Howell reside just around the corner, as does the independent store Hostem (with interiors designed by the ‘eccentric assemblage’ duo and artist/interior designers James Plumb, of who I am an enormous fan.)
So there we are – Mayfair may reign supreme in the realms of high-end menswear, but these two locations could surely give the more established spots a run for their money when it comes to passion and creativity… Until I’m decked out in a beautifully crafted bespoke suit (give it a few years), these streets are where I’ll continue with my shopping for the time being. Though not quite as famous or as steeped in history as their older, more elegant brothers, they’ve got a similar spritely magic about them, that’s for certain.
Luke Edward Hall