Monday, 4 April 2011
Book review: Savile Row, the Master Tailors of British Bespoke
UPDATE: The current edition of Savile Row has been exhausted, but James informs me a second edition is coming out shortly.
James Sherwood’s latest book has been out for a while, but I like to wait and review a book once I’ve actually read it. And it’s still available, indeed reduced from £45 to £36, on Amazon.
That hefty price tag is justified by sumptuous production. The Master Tailors is a real coffee table book – something that will have you poring over the weave detail on big, full-page prints. It makes you realise the weight of Cary Grant’s flannels, brings out the fineness of a pearl-stitch buttonhole and allows you to appreciate the spray-on tightness of Prince Eddy’s full dress uniform. Even without buying the book its scale of illustration should be obvious from the flannel greatcoat on the cover with its black, silk-covered buttons.
But this should not be mistaken for a contemporary book, or a practical one. While it is detailed and entertaining throughout, Master Tailors is at its best when explaining the history of different house and the customers that frequented them. The level of research and factual depth is impressive, but then that isn’t surprising from one so buried in the archives of the Row’s institutions.
It should not be used as a guide to Savile Row today, or the practical choice of where to have a suit made. But the history does inspire you to join the ranks of movie men that frequented Anderson & Sheppard, or the navy men that went to Gieves & Hawkes. Indeed, the most impressive thing about the writing might be that it remains consistently enjoyable, despite the necessity to be structured as two dozen potted histories. One way this is achieved is by dropping in pieces of social context, such as the fact that Idina, Countess of Erroll’s being measured ‘astride’ at Huntsman is a little ironic given her reputation for promiscuity.
This is certainly the best of James Sherwood’s books on Savile Row. It should be purchased if you are planning to buy a suit there and want to build up the excitement; if you have no plans to do so, it could be rather frustrating.