I thought it was worth a look back at this fantastic BBC documentary about Savile Row that was originally posted on ACL May 3rd, 2008. How has The Row reacted? Since it has been far too long since I have been in London, I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments. Have other High Street retailers moved on to the famed street? How is the economic slowdown impacted the tailors?
Not long ago the BBC presented a facinating three part program on the world of Savile Row. In the first installment the English bespoke world is under threat from the American “High Street” brand Abercrombie & Fitch. Having previously worked on the public relations team at Abercrombie & Fitch, I am particularly familiar with the company. It is a very strategic and well run organization. A&F is a company where every decision is well thought out and purposeful, especially when concerning the brand image. I have to give credit where credit is due – the company’s branding and execution is on point with any of the luxury goods companies out there. That said, A&F’s decision to open on Savile Row while great for branding and image purposes, is painful to see and embarrassing to watch, especially as an American. The affect of mass market retailers on the institution (albeit a privileged one) of Savile Row, could prove to be disastrous. Though I suppose only time will tell.
I can’t seem to find the other two episodes…if anyone can locate them I will add to the post.
Comments on “From the ACL Archive | Savile Row on the BBC”
Just found this. Download only though, not sure of the quality.
Business is down for many of them, but they’ll get through it. Many are also doing more traveling to get closer to their clients, which they’ve had success in.
Richard Anderson’s perspective in a recent interview: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/sep2009/sb20090911_532036.htm
Very Interesting…hope to see the other videos. Its pretty sad that something like this has to happen. This equates to todays society where wal- mart, target, ect are taking over the mom and pop stores…
side note the young dude with the dark slicked hair in the begining, I did not catch who he worked for, was shot by the sartorialist a while back.
â€œLabels say youâ€™re one of the boys, but a bespoke suit says you are the man.â€
That was good stuff — thanks for posting this.
There are a kazillion torrents out there. Just check.
As a Londoner, I’m pleased to report that A&F’s incursion onto the Row doesn’t appear to have precipitated a land-grab by other high street stores. If anything, the threat of this happening has simply forced the old guard to up their games – witness the slick new Kilgour and Norton & Sons stores, for example. Competition improves the species and all that.
As an aside, it does amuse me how you Americans seem to deify A&F as some kind of luxury goods company. Discerning shoppers this side of the pond, myself included, tend to regard it simply as an upmarket Gap. A successful marketing exercise, sure (just like our indigenous A&F-clone Jack Wills), but in no way a luxury label. This impression is not helped by the banging house music, topless male models and tourist queues on Saturdays, none of which can be said to complement the Row’s still rather genteel atmosphere.
Woah there Yennings. Before you accuse of worshipping a brand, I pray you check your ignorance.
We Americans do NOT deify A&F. I’m curious where you’ve gotten this information? I find it slightly humorous that you’re speaking of the “discerning shoppers” on your “side of the pond” when you’re commenting on a blog about a discerning shopper on our side of the pond.
If you knew anything of the culture and atmosphere of “discerning shoppers” in the United States, you would be WELL aware that the clientele of A&F stop very closely at the line between Junior High School and High School. The latter group consisting of wannabe-prep douches who do not consist of “We Americans”.
We never said it was a luxury label.
I agree with Victor. The oldest American market Abercrombie touches would generally be at most I think two or three years past High School. In fact, the only people over the age of 25 that shop the brand are European tourists who wait in lines outside of the place to get in. I do believe that most American men who have even a slight interest in clothing regard it no higher than Yennings or any other discerning shopper, really.
That being said, this is very interesting, as Abercrombie and Fitch WAS a respectable sportswear company that made camping equipment and hunting clothing and the like, but then subsequently lost its direction, as do many great brands. (Banana Republic, Aeropostale, etc). This was under discussion by some guys at the J.Crew men’s shop the other day. Michael, maybe you could head back there and check out their archives? Assuming, that is, that they’ve not let anorexic pre-teens eat them.
And Victor, take a deep breath. 7:25am is far too early to be so worked up.
I think that, against the Beeb’s best efforts this is actually a very positive story. The fact that the entire street is still given over to this ancient business in the 21st Century is miraculous. I walked down Savile Row a few Saturdays back and though everything was shut (the customers being at their country seats) the street looked to be flourishing, with just the right note of tradition and pop. Nothing dusty and fogeyish, partly thanks to the newer tailors who are presumably attracting younger customers, and as Yennings said, forcing the old guard to “up their game”.
At the end of the street I noticed milling crowds of youth and assumed it was an organized celeb sighting. But they were queuing to get into a shop with no signs, and I made a wild guess that it was Abercrombie & Fitch. The entrance is actually on Burlington Street, directly behind Albany, the gentlemen’s residence, so, not on Savile Row, as such. It was terribly incongruous, of course, but it is an entirely different type of business, which has nothing to do with bespoke tailoring. I’m sure there were a few raised eyebrows when Apple Corps was established on Savile Row, and the Beatles’ concert on the roof obviously ruffled feathers. But the street wasn’t then given over to the music industry.
As I glanced at the kids and their parents waiting to get into the un-named shop I couldn’t help wondering what Henry Poole’s famous customer, Charles Dickens, would have made of it. I decided that he would be amused.
This Throeau quote may finally be put to use.
“It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.” ~Henry David Thoreau
I was living in London when A&F opened. It was at the very end of Savile Row actually on burlington gardens across the street from the museum and an old art dealer. I think the location has worked out for them it is fairly easy to access from the main high st., regent st. were all the major big retailers are located. so you don’t get to many teenagers wandering down savile row. Evisu has also had a shop on saville row for a while now and is somewhat untraditional retailer for the street.
Apologies, Victor old boy – didn’t mean to put any Yankee noses out of joint. And I certainly didn’t intend to suggest that the august readers of this site ever worship at the altar of A&F. Merely that amongst high-street shoppers, their brand seems to enjoy a mystique that the quality of its actual products does not justify. Sorry for any confusion.
Lovely documentary, either way. Shame that Auntie has seen fit to remove the accompanying episode from its otherwise excellent iPlayer service. A sad indictment of the times, I fear.
A&F is only proof that marketing works. They (in the most recent incarnation) were never about selling clothes, only selling images and romantic ideas of how to be a successful teenager / young adult (i.e. getting laid, always being at least 1/2 naked and surrounded by the opposite sex). The brand really only serves those misguided souls who can’t figure out if they want to get laid or buy a pair of jeans. This is pretty obvious, but anyone who really cared about clothing would not pay more for rips and tears, and would immediately notice within the first few minutes how everything in the store is made in China.
ACL – I’m interested on hearing what strategic moves you encountered behind the scenes at A&F. I haven’t seen them make a media move here in the US since they stopped selling those sex catalogs and closed up shop on making racists t-shirts. I’m sure its much more subversive these days because even the preteens are catching on to the ridiculous camp of the brand.
Jack, I have noticed most teenagers have moved on to the Hollister brand, some teens even acting as if wearing Hollister is the anti A&F.
As much as you guys might think I’m curious as to your thoughts of A&F, I was really only asking about the changes of Savile Row. Everyone already knows everything you need to know about A&F (lawsuits, racism, homo-eroticism, Quarterly, offensive tee shirts, wafting fragrances named Fierce, etc.). So, please, no more on that topic. â€”ACL
I had to stay home sick from work today, and this made my afternoon. Great find!
This is an interesting, albeit unsurprising article pegging A&F as the world’s worst recession brand.
There’s a new programme currently airing on the BBC focusing on Harris Tweed. It’s a continuation of the Saville Row and British Style Genius programming and features contributions from Patrick Grant and others.
Apologies if it’s unavailable to view outside of the UK.
It isn’t available outside the UK. Fucking iPlayer! ha
A friend of mine was involved in the building of the store. A&F put up a massive hoarding with gaudy advertising all over it, on the outside of the building while it was being renovated. It took a lot of time and money just to build and put the eyesore up. Westminster council asked them to take it down. ‘OK’, said A&F, ‘how much do you want’? ‘I’m sorry’, the council replied, ‘this is Westminster and you are new here, it doesn’t work like that. Now take it down or we’ll stop your whole construction’. After spending a long weekend of nights putting it up, he then spent another grueling night shift ripping it down.
I’ll second Tom’s recommendation of the Harris Tweed documentary – I was vaguely aware of the industry being in bad shape and then the somewhat dubious “rescue” of the Yorkshire cloth magnate Brian Haggas. A year or so on it’s fascinating to see what’s played out, and thankfully it looks as though the resurgence of interest in traditional craft in tailoring might have come just in time for the weavers there, despite their isolated advocate body being seemingly outdated and ineffectual. The mind bogglingly misguided and arrogant attempt at gobbling up the whole Harris Tweed name for himself by Haggas seems to have ended in hubris, but it’s astonishing to watch – when it get’s to “Harris Tweed – The Movie” you’d think you were watching a satire – it’s pure Spinal Tap meets Local Hero, with a dash of David Brent thrown in. How Patrick Grant was that patient with the whole affair I don’t know..
Recently, Forbes featured an article on the status of Savile Row in the downturn, and most seemed to say they were doing well, but not booming. There have been numerous articles about a flight to quality within the menswear market, an understanding of the value of a bespoke suit. I am not sure how reliable the articles are, or if they are just trying to convince themselves that everything will be ok. More interesting than the AF openning is the current feud between the Savile Row Bespoke Association and the Savile Row Alliance. Appartently, some of the tailoring houses are offended by Kilgour, Gieves and Hawke, and others opennly branding and offering ready to wear. Bespoke seems to have reversed its decline and begun to carve out a specialized market share (obviously much smaller than in the past, creative destruction and all that). Another interesting turn of events regarded a made-to-measure outfit, Sartoriani (sp?), who labelled their wares as bespoke. This was challenged by the Row, but the UK advertising authority ruled that bespoke had lost its meaning, and in the process gave it back. My main question is how they will continue to find tailoring talent?
Here is the link to the Forbes article
i’m always comparing the similarities of fashion to the automotive industry. They both allow people to show off their personality/status to society at large. In this I’d compare Savile Row to the old school coach builders of the early 1900’s or so. They prided themselves on handmade coaches, attention to detail etc, however the machine age quickly challenged their economy.
The coachbuilders that survived (somewhat) were the ones who realized the writing on the wall and evolved with the times. They partnered with larger established firms to provide those firms with the prestige of their brands in exchange for financial stability.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.
The link from styleforum.com works, the files are huge but the quality is good.
I just started watching this, and the premise that A&F selling jeans will raise rents and price the the $7,000 suit makers out of business. Well, raise the price to $10,000. I mean if someone is game to spend $7,000 on a suit (or whatever they cost), then why not $10,000?
THOROUGHLY enjoyed this. One of the most interesting fashion documentaries I’ve watched. Thanks Michael for posting this.
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