When Anderson & Sheppard left their established roots at 30, Savile Row in 2005 for premises on nearby Old Burlington Street, there were more than a few raised eyebrows.
But five years on, the future of the famous firm – whose illustrious list of clients includes Sir Alec Guinness, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich to name just a few – appears bright and secure after such a dramatic move.
Indeed, under the auspices of vice-chairman Anda Rowland and managing director John Hitchcock, the bespoke tailoring of Anderson & Sheppard is proving itself to be well and truly recession proof.
“Next year’s turnover based on projected orders is very, very good - better than we’ve had for the last five years,” confirms Rowland. “Our order book is 14 per cent up.”
Hitchcock, who travels twice a year to the company’s hotbed in America, paints a similar picture regarding the back end of 2009.
“Autumn was fantastic for us,” he says. “We were flying through that much that we were actually struggling to keep up in terms of production.
“We’re definitely seeing new customers all the time. When we had the old shop we probably saw one new customer a week - now we’re seeing one or two a day.”
The experienced and much-respected Hitchcock, with the firm since 1963, also points out that you don’t really expect to grow a business through a recession. So how has it been done?
A key point, outlines Rowland, is value. To some this might not immediately be evident, given that the cost of an Anderson & Sheppard bespoke suit runs well into four figures.
But Rowland says: “The luxury market (and she mentions a couple of top-end designer brands here) have been pushing prices up and up because it’s their business model. And they’ve come to a point where readymade will cost more than we can produce bespoke.
“Hearing that, a lot of people will say to us, ‘Well, why don’t you put up your prices if you want to do better business?’ But we always say that you want to keep people coming in to order everyday suits, you don’t want to become like a specialist tailor that is just for weddings or black tie.
“The business of value is very important and we really do provide value. We don’t make a huge profit and we don’t mark up much at all. You really get value here – longevity, the quality of materials, quality of work – that is for sure.”
Above, suit jacket in a glen check with the Anderson & Sheppard roll lapel, the third button and buttonhole on the role. Rowland indicates three contributory factors in the A&S resurgence: their slick website, a strong PR message (“We don’t want the big spread but we want the expert quote”) and a shop that is as welcoming as it is classy.
But, as she is very aware, it is still the fabled ‘soft’ style of tailoring, the range of excellent cloths and the expertise of the staff – from front-of-house duo Colin Heywood and Karl Matthews to Hitchcock and his tailoring team – that underpin the whole operation.
“The PR helps people to get to know about you, the website is where they will come and double-check and then the shop is another element,” she says. “But what sells us is Colin and Karl and the cutters. That is really what makes people decide. All the other things bring them in.”
The distinctive house style – softer and less constructed – is often referred to as the ‘English Drape’ and has established Anderson & Sheppard as a Savile Row flag-bearer for over a century.
And while the business will always be about style rather fashion, it moves with the times. Among the recent trends that shop manager Colin Heywood reports is a ‘more modern look’ with trousers.
“If you look back in years, all of our trousers would have had a pleated front,” he says. “Now a lot of younger guys want flat fronted trousers with a slimmer cut.
“The total circumference used to be 21 inches at the knee and 18 inches at the bottom. That has changed to 20 inches and 17 inches (respectively) and occasionally 19 inches at the knee and 16 inches at the bottom, which gives a very tapered look.
“We also seem to be getting quite a few calls for three-button roll-through jackets. We like to roll the lapel to the centre – this creates a less tubular effect
“You can see the button hole on the lapel as it curves around, in keeping with our house style in which the emphasis is on drape.”
So this classic house evolves with the times, changing the details but always remaining elegantly classic. It clearly chimes with the tastes of a new generation of customers as well as the old.