Bespoke, a typically London approach to quality garments Featured

From country tweeds with Blackberry pockets to jewel-encrusted laptops.
by 11 May 2009

Britain’s grand tradition of bespoke has never been stronger. From Savile Row to Chelsea, the world’s most revered artisans uphold the finest craftsmanship, as cutting-edge talent pushes the movement into new frontiers. The classic methods of centuries past are preserved as style evolves, making London a Mecca for those seeking something luxuriantly, uniquely, inimitably ‘them’.

Old world legacies — James Locke, the oldest hatters in the world; Asprey, the Royal Family’s personal jewelers; Dunhill and Holland and Holland, makers of the finest rifles in the world — form the backbone to a forward-thinking revolution. The new generals include Ozwald Boateng, Viscount Linley and Stella McCartney – all pushing bespoke into new realms by pairing razor-sharp styling with finesse. “At the moment, fashion is about individuality rather than conformity,” milliner Philip Treacy told Luxos.

For those with a developed sense of personal style, bespoke is the ultimate statement in an age when mass production is viewed with increasing apathy.

The gamut of London’s custom-made goods runs from interiors detailing clients’ life journeys to country tweeds with integrated Blackberry pockets and jewel-encrusted laptops. The area from Bond Street to Regent Street and down to St James’s teems with some of the most highly skilled artisans, tucked below and behind Palladian shopfloors, upholding the world-leading reputation for
custom goods that the area has generated for three centuries.

Bespoke may be synonymous with personal design and craftsmanship, but it arguably belongs to London. The term originated from the 17th century word ‘bespeak’, meaning that a piece of cloth had been ‘spoken for’ and could not be bought by anybody else, and quickly entered the vernacular for anything custom made.

Mark Henderson, Chairman of the Savile Row Association and Deputy Chairman of Gieves and Hawkes, explains that the term ‘Savile Row Bespoke’ will soon become a world-recognised trademark, as it already is in Europe.

“We are motivated by the desire to ensure that the terms Savile Row, and Savile Row Bespoke in particular, remain synonymous with the finest menswear in the world.” The picturesque Mayfair street is the epicentre of British tailoring. For three centuries gentlemen have travelled here for custom-made suits incorporating three fittings, 50 hours of handiwork and seven people – from fitter to cutter to specialized garment-maker. Clients’ measurements remain on tailors’ files today.

Stepping into Henry Poole, Savile Row’s longest-standing atelier, the reverence to tradition is evident, from the Royal Warrants bearing the names of tsars, emperors and kings to the cutting area at the shopfloor’s centre, emphasising its position as one of the last remaining tailors on ‘The Row’ trading purely in bespoke. “It’s a hell of a legacy,” says Simon Cundey, Managing Director and descendent of Poole, who arrived in the Row in 1846. “But we embrace anyone who can bring in true form if it’s nicely put together. It encourages the younger community, giving them a hub to evolve fashion.”

Today sharper, sleeker and more fashion-forward fits are found at Ozwald Boateng and Kilgour. These contemporary faces continue the legacy that Tommy Nutter, the rebel tailor who shook up Savile Row in the 1960s, introduced as the forefather of the ‘New Bespoke Movement’. His protégé, Timothy Everest, flies the flag for ‘New Bespoke’ today, combining traditional tailoring with a contemporary or individualistic twist. And designers such as Pamela Blundell, Stella McCartney and Jimmy Choo Couture are the trailblazers for female bespoke (one of the few global markets currently flourishing), drawing A-list clienteles of film stars and aristocracy alike.

While fashion may be bespoke’s most outward face, a thriving industry is sweeping through homes. “There has been a definite shift in attitude towards the concept of bespoke. We are seeing a much more adventurous approach,” says Viscount David Linley, whose bespoke interiors company is among the best-established and dynamic in the world, producing everything from tables sturdy enough to support an Irish jig to the interiors of superyachts. “The strong British heritage of bespoke design gives us a firm foundation, enabling us to look forwards with confidence.”

Katherine Howlett details each client’s life journey in upholsteries and prints. Artist Petr Viegl was commissioned to melt family gold into a painting’s seal. “Every custom piece has a story to accompany it that can be handed down through the generations,” he says. This renaissance in individuality and craftsmanship extends to cards and letterheads. According to a spokesperson at Smythson, the leather goods company most famous for its stationery, bespoke stationery’s status as the utmost luxury in personalized communication is thriving.

From classic suits concealing secret ipod pockets to Luvaglio, the $1 million laptop incorporating jewels, personalized specs and a handmade shell, there is no ceiling to bespoke. It is luxury’s past, present and future. British artisans have the pedigree and vision to uphold and evolve this industry of personal legacy with world-leading style and panache.

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