Savile Row fashions its way through lockdown
Richard Anderson and New & Lingwood have been included in a feature on London’s bespoke tailors that have continued working despite the economy going into hibernation, with loyal customers still placing orders, written by Hannah Uttley for the Telegraph Online.
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Since Britain went into lockdown almost three months ago, the way people get dressed for the working day has been turned on its head.
Dressing formally from the waist up has become common as meetings via Zoom become the norm, while sales of loungewear have soared as homeworkers seek comfort.
Meanwhile, the cancellation of weddings and major sporting events has made demand for the bespoke tailored suit largely redundant.
But despite the challenges that come with homeworking and the closure of stores under lockdown, London’s tailors from Savile Row to Jermyn Street have continued work behind the scenes.
“We were lucky enough before lockdown to have a lot of work in progress,” says Richard Anderson, whose sought-after bespoke tailoring has seen him nicknamed ‘the King of Savile Row’, where he has worked for 38 years.
“We realised what was going to happen and our bespoke tailors set up their bedrooms, garages and living rooms into workshops as best they could and we were able to furnish them with work. Some of them might want to stay there [after lockdown] and continue to work from home.”
Some of Anderson’s most loyal customers have continued to place orders throughout the pandemic, with commissions including a cashmere overcoat and lightweight jackets and suits for the summer.
But with the tailor largely reliant on sales from its bespoke business, Anderson has been unable to fall back on online sales in the way that some clothing retailers have. He says the coronavirus crisis is set to have a “massive” impact on sales.
“If your sales are 25 to 30pc down that might be a good result, it’s just unchartered waters,” he adds. “When we reopen on Monday I don’t think people are going to rush back to the shop even though I’ve got a couple of hundred suits here waiting to fit customers.
“Not having the Chelsea Flower Show, Wimbledon and all the other big sporting events, weddings, is going to be a massive hit. It will come back and it’s a question of keeping our powder dry as best we can for now.”
At New & Lingwood on Jermyn Street, chief executive Freddie Briance has accelerated the retailer’s online expansion to keep the till ringing throughout the pandemic.
The business, founded in 1865, has evolved from a tailor to selling mostly ready-to-wear men’s clothing such as jackets that cost up to £795 online and £35 socks.
New & Lingwood makes around three quarters of its sales in-store, so when the pandemic hit, Briance knew it would have to adapt quickly.
“It hit right when we would expect things to pick up,” he says. “February is a bit of a dead month in retail – no one really does anything other than clear the stock from their last season and settle on new pieces.
“It’s been a really interesting test of our online business and business in general, to see how much flexibility there is to accommodate for these external shocks. We had one in March but once we adjusted how we communicated with customers we saw people coming back.”
Briance says online sales have since doubled compared with a year earlier, and while he admits no one wants three-piece suits, demand for luxury loungewear has rocketed, with sales of dressing gowns up 162pc.
While demand for suits has dried up, Richard Anderson has been busy taking orders for bespoke face masks that cost between £30 and £90. The double-layered masks are made using the tailor’s shirt stock cotton, but customers can choose to customise their own using silk.
On Monday, when he welcomes customers back to his store that first opened in 2001, fittings will adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Anderson says customers will be asked to button or pin the front edge of coats, with adjustments noted from a distance before being marked up more accurately later.
While he is not oblivious to the challenges that lie ahead, Anderson points out that his business has already survived two major crises.
“We signed the lease for the shop just a few weeks before 9/11 happened so that was a massive challenge when we first started – overseas customers just stopped coming,” Anderson recalls.
“And in 2008 when Lehman brothers went down and the financial crisis happened it was like a light went off; no one was in here for a year. I had customers come in after that saying ‘life is too short, I work too hard, I’ll have four cashmere jumpers instead of one’. I think they will be very keen to get back to as much of the normal way of life as quickly as they can.”