Savile Row Tailoring
Savile Row is synonymous around the world as the centre of excellence in bespoke tailoring. In Japan, the word suit derives from Savile Row. It is believed that Japanese tailors learned their craft from British tailors who followed their empire across the globe and these skills were then in turn taught to the Chinese. In China today, the highest regarded books on tailoring are written in Japanese and the tailors learn their language to further their training.
Savile Row tailoring, though often copied, is rarely ever equalled. The high-end bespoke tailoring field is a lot smaller than the custom suit. Fewer clients can afford to purchase a suit above £6000 than those who spend two or three thousand. Because of this, making techniques are adjusted to eliminate a large part of the hand sewing elements thus bringing down the cost price of manufacturing. To promote their garments, custom clothiers will lay still claim to the Savile Row title to justify their high prices and attempt to break into this market, but for the most part, their product is sub-par to Savile Row.
Savile Row tailoring is revered around the world as the highest possible standard in bespoke tailoring. This notoriety has humbled many in their field. Few would wish to claim such a title. During the years Rory spent there, he like many of his peers, worked hard daily to make themselves worthy of the name. But Savile Row, like anywhere else, struggles with consistency and scalability. Each garment maker creates a unique garment. These garments can be very different from one another when compared side by side. To overcome these variations, clients are paired with a garment maker who remains with this client through their time with the company. The clients of retiring tailors are passed to the apprentice to retain consistency.
In the past ten years, Savile Row tailors like Rory and others have travelled to China to teach the art of Savile Row tailoring. Indeed many of these companies produce a garment indistinguishable from the small tailor shops dotted up and down the famed Mayfair Street. Savile Row hasn’t influenced as much of the Asian culture since the fall of the empire as it does today.
Indeed, even some of the most notable tailors on Savile Row have outsourced some of their manufacturing to Asia for the consistency they offer. In many places rather than offer overseas manufacturing, these garments are mixed into the products made in-house. Despite the attraction of low-cost overseas manufacturing of comparable goods, there are still companies like Henry Poole's who safeguard the old guard by refusing to meddle in such practises and retain all the garment making in-house, but as time wears on, they are the exception rather than the rule.
On Savile Row, the term tailor is a general term used to describe many disciplines offered by the tradespersons they employ. A cutter, coat maker, trouser maker, etc. are all tailors.
These areas are broken into different skills. Rarely, if ever, does one tailor train in each area. In the instance they had, they probably struggled in one field and hoped they could succeed in another.
We first begin with the cutter.
A cutter is someone who takes measurements, cuts patterns and conducts fittings. They are also a
production manager managing a small team of selected makers both in-house and off-site. A cutter is often supported by an under-cutter, a title generally given to an apprentice who works under the cutter. The term under-cutter is often confused with a striker.
A striker is someone who strikes the patterns on to the cloth. This is often the responsibility of the under-cutter but in some cases a cutter who failed to learn the trade of pattern cutting may be retained in this position solely and have other responsibilities such as being a trimmer. Which brings us to the next role.
The trimmer trims the jobs – the term given to cut clothing. They add the canvasses, linings, zips, buttons, treads, etc. so that the maker has everything they need to make up the job. They will sometimes oversee the trimming room, maintain the stock and order all necessary materials.
Some companies have coat baste makers. A coat baste maker is often either a coat maker who was unsuccessful in this position or the coat maker’s apprentice. Their responsibility is to make the coat up to pocket baste, a task that should take about four hours. The coat maker completes the coat up to what is called fit bar finish. This is the coat finished without the hand-stitching, like felling and buttonholes which is done by a tailor called a finisher.
A coat maker is a tailor who makes coats (jackets). Other specialised garments such as tailcoats are not always made by every coat maker but only a select few who have trained in this role.
Most coat makers can make overcoats too as they are very similar garments.
Coat makers are often supported by a machiner, also know as a pocket maker.
The pocket maker sews all the straight seams as well as the cross pockets, out-breast and in-breast
pockets. They prepare the job while the coat maker is making the canvasses.
The finisher adds the finishing stitches to the coat. They often work in teams of two or three and usually work off-site. In days gone by, the finishers were working mothers who could take their work home with them so they could still care for their children.
The old coat makers referred to these finishers as ‘kippers’ (an edible fish of which you usually get two as they are small in size). Finishers usually travelled in pairs as they were entering male dominated environments and personal rights weren’t as well protected or respected as they are today.
Coat makers aren’t the only tailors to have finishers. The trouser maker is also supported by a finisher. The very traditional way of making trousers meant them being almost completely made by hand. Many would have argued that is was not the trouser maker who made the trousers but the finisher.
The trouser maker’s apprentices first job was to whip stitch the trouser legs, a task one would expect to have taken hours. This was done long before over-locking machines became common place.
Nowadays the trousers are almost completely made by machine. The pockets, waistband and seams are machine sewn on and the finisher is tasked with adding the top stitching, hemming and adding the waistband curtains and lining. Fewer buttonholes are found on trousers as they are on coat and so are usually of a lesser quality.
After every garment is finished, it needs a good all around press, a step carried out by the presser.
A presser is known to press the shape into the garment - something that is disputed by many makers. Indeed they both have a role in creating its shape but a presser is often attributed to being able to fix an ill made garment by working it with an iron.
Waistcoats are most likely the only garment made completely by their maker.
In the past, it had been difficult to see how a waistcoat maker could make a living working solely on these garments since depending on the fashion of the day, waistcoats may or not have been in vogue. Waistcoat makers often also act in a supporting role to the alterations tailor taking over any and all hand-stitching work that needs to be replaced on a finished garment.
The alterations tailor is often the unsung hero of Savile Row tailoring. They bear the resemblance to the "master tailor" than any other role.
An alterations tailor knows how to cut, how to fit and how to make every bespoke garment. They fix the flaws left by the makers, they fix the fitting issues left by the cutters and they advise everyone on how to improve their garments because nothing gets past the tailor that fixes everything.