The famous suiting street of Savile Row has dressed the world’s most impressive men—both fictional and real. Film stars, politicians, royalty and even James Bond himself have all visited the manicured Mayfair road in search of a beautifully tailored piece of clothing.
The reputation of Savile Row has been central to the British men’s wear industry. But luxury brands that have always been dominated by women’s clothing are starting to shift their focus and broaden the market offering.
As streetwear finds a wider audience and men’s style loosens up, designer brands are pumping money into their men’s wear collections—and stealing some of Savile Row’s market. Brands such as Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton are spending far more on men’s wear than ever before, no doubt bolstered by predictions that the sector is set to grow at a rate of 2 percent a year until 2022, according to data by Euromonitor.
Additionally, while the rise of streetwear has helped diversify the luxury men’s wear offering, it has taken away the focus from Savile Row and the idea that well-made men’s clothes must be tailored. Compounding that is the change in work culture—in London, only 30 percent of men now wear a suit to work every day. According to Euromonitor, sales of men’s suits fell by $700 million between 2012 and 2017 in Britain, France and Germany.
“There is no doubt that there has been a huge casualization in fashion and in luxury,” said Anita Balchandani, an analyst at McKinsey & Company. “Having said that, there is no doubt that brands that resonate best with customers are those with heritage, something everyone on Savile Row can capitalize on. And sure, there are new brands interpreting men’s wear in a competitive way, but they don’t have the authenticity.”
Since the 2008 recession, men have also become more careful with their spending. A bespoke Savile Row suit costs an average of 4,800 pounds ($6,200)—an unaffordable sum for most British consumers. This means Savile Row, which is known for its focus on made-to-measure tailoring, is now faced with a choice: Do they cheapen the brand and offer affordable ready-to-wear tailoring, or look to markets where people have higher disposable incomes?
Many, such as Gieves and Hawkes and Stowers London, have chosen the second option, catering to a high proportion of American and Chinese clients, many of whom have been inspired by films such as Kingsman: The Service. Gieves and Hawkes now has tailoring stores in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Other tailors have tried a different approach. Huntsman & Sons is still making the classic suits that made the brand famous, but the firm is also adapting to the impact athleisure is having on men’s wear. A year ago, it collaborated with Reebok to make a suit using the brand’s Flexweave footwear fabric.
“Savile Row is changing,” said Brian Lee, a director at research company Gartner. “Abercrombie & Fitch moved in a few years ago and it’s losing a lot of real estate to bigger clothing retailers. While there is some truth that the bespoke process is an experience, it probably needs to update to make it easier for new customers not to be intimidated and dissuaded from trying it out.”
The tailors of Savile Row have a limited presence online. This is partly because their brand depends on the famously rarified atmosphere of their Mayfair boutiques, but also because buying their made-to-measure suits requires an in-store presence.
“The truth of the matter is that Savile Row brands are suffering due to the custom nature of their work and dying brand recognition,” said Lee. “Savile Row currently has minimal digital presence right now and mostly relies on word of mouth online through forums and reviews to attract new clientele.
“While they are not going to be DTC [direct to consumer] e-commerce brands, being online will allow them to control the conversation better and at least help them tell new audiences how their cut or style is different from other Savile Row tailors,” Lee continued. “Even if they don’t go fully online, I would suggest they look into easy fixes like booking an appointment from a website to make it easier for a younger, more digitally-native suit buyer to find a time to come in for a consultation.”
However, even if they haven’t quite joined the tech revolution, Savile Row is still modernizing. In 2008, the average age of a tailor on the Row was 60, now it is 40 and dropping. They have also increased their accessories output, which is far easier to market globally.
“I absolutely believe Savile Row has a strong future ahead if they embrace the technological revolution,” said Balchandani. “Digital media means they can easily become global brands and set their sights on markets with UHNWIs [ultra-high networth individuals]. Savile Row has always been great with customer service; e-commerce means they can expand that to a broader base.”