A Fight on Saville Row
An argument about tailoring
Saville Row is the iconic centre of British tailoring. But the invasion of an American chain is threatening the traditional menswear community, and could be self-defeating.
But at one end, opposite the back entrance to the Royal Academy, the American brand Abercrombie & Fitch have opened a new store. The shop features logo-heavy casual wear with a preppy, Ivy league style. There are queues outside the door and as you enter you a greeted by a shirtless male model.
“Give Three-Piece A Chance”
If the existing businesses on the street were upset about this new business on their doorstep, they are even more upset at the prospect of a new Abercrombie & Fitch childrenswear shop on the street itself. Abercrombie & Fitch will benefits from the iconic brand of the street which adds cache to their clothes, but they are strikingly different to the quality bespoke tailoring that the rest of the street has - brands like Gieves & Hawkes, Anderson & Sheppard, Oswald Boateng.
The campaign against this has become more
International vs. Local?
This is a fight for a distinctive culture against a mass-produced one imported from overseas. Some of the arguments against the new store are weak. For instance, they have complained that the pavements are too narrow for the queues waiting to get into the Abercrombie stores.
“There’s this idea that those on the Row just want it to stay a place for a wealthy clientele who can afford £4,000 suits,’ says Anda Rowland, a tailor on the street, ‘but few people take the wider implications into consideration: that the tailors have their own business dependants – alterations people, cloth houses – and need to stick together for all to survive. Or that the Row is emblematic of a growing interest around the world in British menswear. After all, it’s precisely the prestige that the Row has that other brands want to buy into.’
Rowland is right that the brand is important, but wrong that the economic benefits are important. Isn't it just as beneficial to have a brand drawing in tourists, as Abercrombie & Fitch does? Ultimately, it is an argument about distinctiveness and the privilege that surrounds it. As Chair of one of the traders, Angus Cundey, says ‘It’s hard not to sound snobbish about it”.
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Tailor Joep de Graaf on flickr creative commons
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