Away from Savile Row, a select group of tailoring establishments are pulling more than their weight when it comes to keeping the capital’s scene in rude health.
It’s an interesting time to be a bespoke tailor in Britain’s capital. The world is getting more casual, and the conventional business suit is looking increasingly less relevant. Rents are rising across the city, especially in the West End. And throughout London, more and more made-to-measure tailors relying on factory-based production are opening up shop and misappropriating the word “bespoke” as a marketing ploy—diluting what it really means to have a suit cut, fitted and stitched by hand just for you.
With one or two exceptions, the old guard on Savile Row are bearing the brunt of these challenges with mixed degrees of success, while there are, thankfully, tailors in other parts of London in rude health, doing things a little differently, while maintaining the core principles of a truly handmade garment, which should be designed to fit flawlessly, flatter the wearer just so, and improve with time.
Benson & Clegg may occupy a relatively small two-storey shop on Piccadilly Arcade in St James’s, but its mullioned windows belie a tailoring house with a big personality. Founded in 1937 by Messrs Harry Benson and Thomas Clegg, the company has from the outset enjoyed a younger outlook than its neighbours across Piccadilly on the Row. In the house’s infancy, Benson & Clegg dreamed of creating what they called a “club lounge tailors”; a sophisticated watering hole in which customers could relax and unwind, and perhaps, if they wanted to, order a suit. At a time when a gentleman visited his tailor solely to conduct the serious business of clothing himself, not to socialise or make merry, this novel approach represented something of a sartorial rebellion.
Nevertheless, Benson & Clegg’s idea caught on, helped in no small part by the support and patronage of King George VI, an enthusiastic early customer, who granted the tailor a Royal Warrant in 1944. A second warrant followed in 1992, when the Prince of Wales recognised Benson & Clegg as the chosen royal supplier of gold blazer buttons, badges and regimental ties—a service the house has provided to the armed forces since the 1940s.
Today the top floor is the domain of head cutter Oliver Cross, one of the most welcoming individuals you could ever wish to meet. Tall, broad and ferociously bearded, he’s a warm personality and forward-thinking cutter who takes care not just to turn out flawless tailoring but to help customers feel truly at ease in the store.
“If a customer feels he can relax then I get to learn more about him,” says Cross. “I believe that makes for a better garment. The time we spend socialising builds trust between me and the customer, which helps him to communicate what he likes to wear and helps me to cut the right thing in terms of construction and proportions.”
This shows in Cross’s work, which is well-balanced and shapely - but not stiff. Expect full-bellied lapels that he drafts freehand (not something all cutters are comfortable doing), strong roped shoulders and a lean, waisted silhouette.
“I’ve always thought that confident proportions add a real sense of elegance to a suit”, says Cross. “Why visit a tailor to have something made that you could pick up off the peg?”
This is an extract from the article 'The New London Cut' featured in the Robb Report; words by Aleks Cvetkovic.