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Huntsman, 11 Savile Row, London
A cut above the rest.
Savile Row is synonymous with the finest tailoring in the world. Huntsman are quintessentially British, residing at 11 Savile Row.
Founded in 1849 by Henry Huntsman, they have always been a byword for style. Patronised by film stars, politicians, musicians and royalty, Huntsman have dressed the most famous with the finest finery.
Fashion by its very nature is disposable with an intrinsic obsolescence which renders it out of date with the advent of each season’s shows in Paris, Milan and New York. However, Huntsman is the epitome of eloquence, transcending fashion.
Reflect on the attire of those who frequented the hit parade in the 1970’s and appraise their stage show garb and it immediately conjures sneering smirks of ridicule.
In contrast, look at the style dandy of his generation, the Duke of Windsor, formerly the Prince of Wales, his sartorial elegance still looks becoming in the current era. It is no surprise to learn he was a Huntsman client.
The Huntsman look
The lounge suit is thought to be approximately 150 years old, gentleman have selected them in preference to the morning suit ever since. Huntsman have made lounge suits, morning suits, military uniforms over the years but in the late 1940’s Huntsman launched its single button jacket and this has been a look often favoured by its customers ever since.
Huntsman jackets feature a slightly higher armhole than other tailors offerings and the jackets taper to the waist, espousing a svelte appearance. The skirt length on the jackets is a little longer than some but the overall appearance is timeless and relevant.
Huntsman has its own exclusive tweeds from the Isle of Islay, in the Inner Hebrides. Checks are perfectly matched by the time-served cutter, who ensures patterns line-up and pockets and lapels integrate perfectly.
Other fabrics come from Huddersfield or in the case of Loro Piana, the delectable cloth with delicious feel, Italy.
As you look at the internal walls of the Huntsman premises, you will see rows and rows of sample books. The choice is bewildering, but don’t despair informed advice is readily at hand. Peter Smith, General Manager, has worked on Savile Row since he was aged 16 and can offer valued wisdom.
A special breed of craftsmen and craftswomen
The single thing which differentiates Huntsman are the people who work at this famous tailors.
Skills are learnt over an extended period. Knowledge is acquired working on “the Row”, learning from the previous generation of artisans and holding the reins of proficiency for the fated métiers of tomorrow.
Martin Gambier, a cutting room assistant, started working on “the Row” when he was 17 years of age. He has been “striking”, laying patterns out and matching checks to ensure they align, for the last 26 years.
Martin describes how he constructs a jacket, adding layers, padding it, pushing it, putting “life into the jacket”. He refers to the rope shoulder, “whipping the cord over” the armhole. He exuberantly talks of the craft he has been engaged in. His vocabulary is vigorous. There is passion in the timbre of his diction.
Patrick Murphy is the Head Cutter and deftly works with chalk in hand, marking out the profile of the customer’s pattern on the material. Ruler, shears and chalk are the brushes and easel of this artist and great master of cloth cutting.
Venture downstairs, away from the public gaze and you will meet the cheery Sybil Dance, a finisher. This sprightly lady has worked at Huntsman since a teenager, with 60 years service, she has a joie de vivre and a clear enthusiasm for her work. She hand sews buttons to the jackets with deft dexterity belying her age.
As you venture towards the window of the workshop watch Elhas Dugunyurdu wielding a needle with great aplomb as the members of the public walk on the pavement and look down at his industrious hands making alterations to garments.
It is the people who make Huntsman the institution that it is, skills brought together under one roof, a world cup squad of artisans based in an atelier for sartorial delectation.
In the pattern room, rows of patterns hang on rails. Names of clients past and present are written in copperplate font in pencil.
The client list is impressive from H. M. Edward VII, to Charlie Watts and David Walliams.
Military regalia featuring elaborate braid and vivid variegation mesmerize with their painstaking construction.
The fixtures and fittings of the shop are reminiscent of a gentlemen’s club with leather Chesterfield armchairs and settees, roaring open fire and stags' heads on the wall. Any other interior decor would somehow seem out of place.
A broad choice
Huntsman offer ready to wear clothing where arms of jackets and trousers can be adjusted to suit. A broad selection of buttons can then be added to provide an element of personalisation.
Made to measure is personal to the customer, adapting a standard pattern with extensive handwork undertaken on the company's own premises.
But for any budding Beau Brummell, it has to be bespoke. The pattern is personal to the customer, every detail from start to finish is unique. A bespoke suit will necessitate three, possibly four fittings. This is tailoring without compromise.
I once remarked that I would have a Huntsman suit for my daughter’s wedding when she was a mere toddler. She is now 15 years of age and I intend to frighten away any potential suitors for the next 20 years at least. However, one thing is certain, I will not wait this long for my first Huntsman suit.
It is the work behind the scenes, sadly hidden from view, which underscores the rationale to procuring a suit from Huntsman. In my modest way I hope I have imparted some of the details which distinguish this as a tailor par excellence.
All aspects of the suit have functionality, surgeon’s cuffs and a flower loop on the reverse of the left lapel beneath the button-hole for one’s Boutonnière.
A Huntsman suit is a rational purchase because it will retain its fresh appearance for many years. It can be complimented with an extra pair of trousers to enhance its longevity and can even be serviced to maintain its like-new appearance. It will not date or look out of place with the passage of time.
I recently used a quote of Oscar Wilde in an article about a wristwatch and smiled as I saw the same quotation on literature at Huntsman; “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”. Whilst I may be accused of lacking originality I think Wilde’s quote is most apt when considering the merit of owning a Huntsman suit.