How to Make a Savile Row Suit: A Short Documentary from the Museum of Modern Art

Sav­ile Row is unfash­ion­able. This, of course, is its great strength: not for noth­ing does that Lon­don street stand as the last word in time­less tai­lor­ing. Since at least the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, men have gone to Sav­ile Row not just to com­mis­sion hand­made suits from their favorite shops, but to par­tic­i­pate in as many fit­tings as nec­es­sary through­out the process of bring­ing those suits ever clos­er to per­fec­tion. The result, over decades and indeed gen­er­a­tions of reg­u­lar patron­age, is the cul­ti­va­tion of not fash­ion but style. Even so, Sav­ile Row fig­ures in the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art’s online course Fash­ion as Design, whose videos on the mak­ing of a bespoke three-piece suit you can see here.

It all hap­pens at Ander­son & Shep­pard, a fix­ture on the Row since 1906. In the first video, “behind a drawn cur­tain, a mas­ter cut­ter” — whose job includes not just cut­ting the cloth but inter­act­ing with the client — “takes an ini­tial series of 27 mea­sure­ments: 20 for the jack­et, 7 for the trousers. From these mea­sure­ments, the cut­ter fash­ions a pat­tern in heavy brown paper.”

We then see the cloth cut to this pat­tern, “and the many pieces of fab­ric are rolled for each gar­ment into tiny pack­ages, which await the tai­lors.” The sec­ond, which begins in the back of the house, shows how these tai­lors “receive their bun­dles of fab­ric and set about deci­pher­ing the cutter’s notes. Three weeks after a client’s mea­sure­ments have been tak­en, his suit will be ready for a first fit­ting.”

Empha­sis on “first”: though the young man being fit­ted here only appears for one ses­sion, some bespoke suits can require two, three, or more, worn each time as a wear­able rough draft held togeth­er with bright white thread and marked up for lat­er cor­rec­tion. This reflects not the tai­lor’s inabil­i­ty to get it right the first time, but the rig­or­ous desire of the Sav­ile Row habitué for an ide­al fit. (Ander­son & Shep­pard’s list of for­mer clients include such noto­ri­ous­ly per­fec­tion­ist dressers as Fred Astaire, Bryan Fer­ry, and Prince Charles.) Watch­ing this process from start fin­ish under­scores the truth of those famous words, “The dif­fer­ence between style and fash­ion is qual­i­ty” — famous words spo­ken by no less a detrac­tor of Sav­ile Row than Gior­gio Armani, but true ones nonethe­less.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dress Like an Intel­lec­tu­al Icon with Japan­ese Coats Inspired by the Wardrobes of Camus, Sartre, Duchamp, Le Cor­busier & Oth­ers

Recall­ing Albert Camus’ Fash­ion Advice, Noam Chom­sky Pans Glenn Greenwald’s Shiny Pur­ple Tie

Fash­ion Design­ers in 1939 Pre­dict How Peo­ple Would Dress in the Year 2000

Browse a Col­lec­tion of Over 83,500 Vin­tage Sewing Pat­terns

How Ladies & Gen­tle­men Got Dressed in the 18th Cen­tu­ry: It Was a Pret­ty Involved Process

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­terBooks on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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