Regional tailors are not the only members of the industry helping to push the boundaries of Savile Row. In a bid both to attract more business from women and provide the appropriate expertise to cut for the female form, an increasing number of traditional tailoring establishments have recently employed women tailors.
Last year, Gieves & Hawkes, where bespoke suits for women cost from £3,500, appointed Kathryn Sargent as its first female head cutter. Meanwhile Huntsman launched its first women’s bespoke department, where prices start from £4,000 for a bespoke suit. Blocks with softer shoulders and extra shape-making seaming over the bust have been adopted by the two brands, as have more lightweight, colourful fabrics and linings.
Sargent says, “There have always been women behind the scenes on Savile Row, but more at the seamstress end than the tailoring and cutting end.
“Now the timing is right for change. More women are being drawn to bespoke tailoring: with the recession, bespoke now seems an especially good investment given the prices of some designer clothing. They have high-powered jobs and need to look the part.”
Susannah Hall, a bespoke tailor based in London’s Clerkenwell whose suits for women start from £1,100, says she expects women to account for 10 per cent of business by the year-end. “A woman tailor offers a different eye than a traditional male tailor, as skilled as he may be,” she says. Although she acknowledges an element of stereotype, she admits: “I think it takes a woman to understand what a woman wants.”
Anette Akselberg, head of women’s bespoke at Huntsman, believes Savile Row is more interested in gaining women’s custom now because it has finally recognised that there is significant demand. “It is making the right changes in terms of the necessary expertise, atmosphere and cloths. But that is a hard message to get across, given strong perceptions of Savile Row as a very male world offering a male product,” she says.
Emma Willis, who has a store on London’s Jermyn Street and sells her ready-to-wear collection at New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue, has enjoyed significant success as one of very few female bespoke shirtmakers. “Women like to see more women in these male worlds,” she says. “It makes them more approachable, and reassures women clients that there are categories that suit them, too. As customer recommendation builds, I can only see women’s interest rising.”
Still, there are obstacles, and not everyone is as gung-ho about the opportunities. Gemma Johnson, founder of peripatetic tailors Johnson & Co., which offers a service for women clients (with prices from £750), says: “A lot more work goes into making a bespoke suit for a woman than for a man. There’s the investment in cloths and a greater number of ‘try on’ suits in order to take basic measurements. Also, there are usually extra fittings required, and dealing with the problems of weight fluctuations.”
For these reasons, many tailors on Savile Row are put off by the idea of a bespoke service for women.
Anda Rowland, managing director of Anderson & Sheppard, confirms the tailor has no plans to provide for women. “It is a different competency, and you really need a specialist, such as Edward Sexton, who has a reputation for making women’s suits. There’s plenty of business in specialising for men. Besides, women tend to have a set view as to how bespoke tailoring will look on them that doesn’t always translate in reality.” With the new breed of women tailors, perhaps the reality will come closer to the fantasy.
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