That vow of silence that a Savile Row tailor takes on entering this hallowed precinct means that the Row has never traded upon its illustrious clientele in a way that the women’s couture houses have. No paparazzi are tipped off when a Crown Prince is in for a fitting, no diary columnist alerted to the new style predilections of a certain footballer, no affirmation of who is or maybe a customer – unless that customer himself desires the limelight.
In recent ‘celebrity’ years there have, admittedly, been more of the latter, allowing their tailors to reveal their patronage. But in the main, confidentiality is the watchword.
So Joseph Morgan of Chittleborough & Morgan, left, is not simply trading on past glories when he talks about the glamorous names of his early years in the Row.
“We wouldn’t dream of talking about present customers,” he says, with an air of incredulity that anyone might expect such. “I know some tailors do talk about their famous clients, but not us, oh no.”
And this company makes for many of the famous. It continues to have a style aura that has been maintained since early association with the Tommy Nutter phenomenon.
Tommy’s arrival upon the Savile Row scene in the late 1960s brought a breath of fresh air and excitement to a Row that certainly needed it. His extravagant styles initially scandalised the old guard but his own charm and success plus the attention he drew to the Row in general meant he was finally embraced, if with some misgivings.
And he created a tailoring business that harboured a host of talents – not least Joseph Morgan.
The pronounced silhouette of the jacket in progress, right, and the coat below is typical of Chittleborough and Morgan’s style. Another three-button check jacket below.
“I trained at Meyer & Mortimer and then went to Dennis Wilkinson,” he records. “I remember when I was first there, I went to greet a customer and it was Harold Macmillan. I thought ‘oh my god, it’s the Prime Minister, how do I address him?’
“We made for most of the Conservative government at that time, and the Kennedys in America. John Morgan was one of the tailors there, who helped me a great deal.”
When he moved on the Jarvis & Hamilton in Conduit Street, Tommy Nutter, who lived in the street, would pass by every morning and wave to Joe, working in the window. And when Tommy started his own business in 1969, Joe joined him.
He may have been used to an illustrious stream of customers by then but he was little prepared for the showbiz razzamatazz of Tommy Nutter’s establishment.
“We made for the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Diana Ross, Herman – it was amazing. I remember taking suits along to the London ‘Talk of the Town’ for Herman and not getting home till late.”
It was inevitable that the disparate mix of talented tailors should disband before long, Tommy going off, Edward Sexton starting his own business, and then Joe Morgan and Roy Chittleborough starting their own partnership in 1981.
Roy had trained at Kilgour, French & Stanbury and had joined Nutter’s from there. Like Morgan, a classically trained bespoke tailor, his time with Tommy helped give the styling edge that this company retains.
“We are always looking for something new, fresh details,” Joe explains, “but we have our own style. From the early days, we have continued with a very high, close armhole, a straight shoulder, waist suppression – a ‘hugging’ suit.”
The tailoring is impeccable, a recent new refinement on buttonholes making them even finer, subtle details in the inner pockets giving extra security with immaculate smoothness, only the best of natural horse hair used to give ‘guts’, and the finest Irish linen for the canvas.
“It’s the construction that makes a Savile Row bespoke suit,” said Joe. “That’s why it is the best.”
Despite the fact that their style favours a long, slim silhouette, they have many customers who do not fit that mould. “All sorts of awkward figures come in,” he says, “and they are looking for something a little more stylish. Many young men now like a good jacket that they may team with jeans or cords, and with good shoes.”
To help customers have the right style foundation, the firm now offers a selection of shoes by Gaziano & Girling, a young company making beautifully stylish and classically made shoes.
Work in progress shows some of the new soft English tweeds from Fox Bros, as mentioned in the last edition of savile Row-style, and other light tweeds, plus a luxury cashmere jacketing from Loro Piana, in addition to plain classics.
Despite the economic climate, business is good but there is one problem: the shortage of basting cotton. “Everyone is looking for it,” Joe complained. “We can get some, but it is too thick. So we have to seek out the fine threads, which are in short supply.”
This is one result of the world wide shortage of cotton that is seeing cotton plants closing in Asia and prices soaring. This is going to be one of the factors pushing up prices of clothing on the High Street for the first time in years and though basting cotton may seem a small detail in the Savile Row scheme of things, like all clothing, fine tailoring hangs on a thread. Let’s hope next year’s cotton crop is a good one.