Cut us some slacks! Tailors warn Mayfair's Savile Row may 'disappear'

Cut us some slacks! Tailors warn Mayfair’s famous Savile Row may ‘disappear’ because of huge rent payments and plummeting profits in coronavirus pandemic

  • EXCLUSIVE: Stores on the Mayfair street are ‘struggling’ due to impact of Covid
  • Revenue has plummeted by up to 85 per cent at some shops as footfall slumped
  • Businesses still have to pay landlords ‘between £100,000 and £200,000 a year’
  • Martin Nicholls of Norton & Sons warned the road as we know it could disappear

Savile Row has erupted in a furious row over eye-watering rent prices as businesses warn the world-famous street could ‘disappear’ in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Stores on the prestigious Mayfair road in central London, which boasts the finest tailors in the country, are ‘struggling’ due to the ‘potentially devastating’ pandemic.

Revenue has plummeted by up to 85 per cent at some shops as footfall slumped and the travel ban battered international sales.

But businesses are still forced to pay landlords ‘between £100,000 and £200,000 a year’ to lease their properties, which they say leaves little room for profit.

Martin Nicholls, managing director and head cutter at Norton & Sons, 13 Savile Row, and owner of his own store, warned the street as we know it could disappear.

He said it was ‘not feasible’ to pay the mammoth annual rent bills in the current climate and claimed a store needed to make £1million a year to break even.

Stores on the prestigious Mayfair road, which boasts the finest tailors in the country, are ‘struggling’ due to the ‘potentially devastating’ pandemic

Revenue has plummeted by up to 85 per cent at some shops as footfall slumped and the travel ban battered international sales. Pictured: A customer at Cad & The Dandy facing the new normal on June 15

He told MailOnline: ‘These sort of places of special historic interest are starting to go and Savile Row could be one of them if we’re not careful, which would be a huge shame.

‘You’ve really got to preserve Savile Row. It’s one of the iconic shopping streets in the whole world. There are not many places anymore that are tied to a trade or an occupation.’

He said the coronavirus pandemic is ‘potentially devastating’ for the stores, adding it was mainly due to the ‘high-rent zone’ and meagre profit margins.

Martin Nicholls, managing director and head cutter at Norton & Sons, 13 Savile Row, and owner of his own store, warned the street as we know it could disappear

He continued: ‘Because we put so much work into it, [the suits] cost a lot to create and I think if you talk to anybody… there’s not actually a lot of extra fat that we create.

‘So when you take a hit on that side of things it becomes very very difficult to keep your overheads and they are very, very high and only seem to increase.

‘I think at this point we are all trying to get together and say to Pollen Estate, which is the main landlord, where we are and say to them that it’s not feasible for us to pay these high rents when effectively we have been closed.’

He added: ‘Everyone is kind of fishing in different waters but at the same time we still have common problems which is it is hard to keep things going.

‘We are currently just trying to talk to our landlords, renegotiate in the new normal because we’re not going to return to the turnover that we used to enjoy and work very hard for. It’s just feasibly not possible.’

Mr Nicholls, who has also worked at Gieves & Hawkes, Huntsman, Hackett, Alfred Dunhill and Harrods, is not the only one on the street feeling the pinch.

Savile Row Bespoke Association chairman and Dege & Skinner managing director William Skinner said he felt the rent was very high and managing director and co founder of Richard James, Sean Dixon, added he hopes landlords are sympathetic in the wake of the crisis.

The ongoing pandemic has struck at a time when Savile Row would be bustling with shoppers preparing for wedding season or for events such as the Royal Ascot.

The ongoing pandemic has struck at a time when Savile Row would be bustling with shoppers preparing for wedding season or for events such as the Royal Ascot

Most stores temporarily shut down at the end of March when the lockdown was brought in and either recently or will soon tentatively reopen with social distancing measures (pictured)

Most stores temporarily shut down at the end of March when the lockdown was brought in and either recently or will soon tentatively reopen with social distancing.

Mr Nicholls, who designed and cut Daniel Craig’s dinner suits for the world premieres of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, said: ‘We had an amazing January and February. February was like the best ever. March – nothing, well virtually nothing.

‘We went from doing really, really well with the year looking absolutely brilliant, to it being a disaster.’

Who are the talented tailors on Savile Row?

  • No 1: Gieves & Hawkes
  • No 2: Joseph
  • No 5: Kilgour
  • No 8: Hardy Amies
  • No 9: Alexander McQueen
  • No 10: Dege & Skinner
  • No 11: Huntsman
  • No 12: Scabal
  • No 13: Stowers Bespoke
  • No 13: Richard Anderson
  • No 13: Cad & The Dandy
  • No 13: Gormley & Gamble
  • No 16: Norton & Sons
  • No 19: Chester Barrie
  • No 20: Welsh & Jefferies
  • No 29: Richard James
  • No 30: Ozwald Boateng
  • No 32: Lanvin
  • No 34-35: Gary Anderson
  • No 36: Jeff Banks
  • No 37: Nick Tentis
  • No 38: Davies & Son
  • No 39: Gaziano & Girling
  • No 40: The Savile Row Company

High street shops have bowed under pressure from Covid-19, with swathes of stores going into administration and laying off workers.

Suitmakers TM Lewin announced it was insolvent on Tuesday, John Lewis is expected to axe stores, workers and one of its headquarters and even the iconic Harrods revealed it must slash around 700 posts.

But Mr Nicholls said the problems on Savile Row go back further than the recent crisis, with many showrooms on the famous street having already being empty.

He said when he first marched down ‘the Row’ 30 years ago to look for an apprenticeship it took him two days to get through every tailor.

He recalled how there were different outfitters in the basements, on the ground floors, the first floors and the second floors.

But now he believes he could do it in an afternoon due to fewer stores being open, which he blames on the landlords.

He said: ‘The fact of the matter is when you walk up and down Savile Row you find half the shops empty.

‘I think the landlords are very much living under this whole idea that things will come back.

‘I think the reality is that people are starting to find new ways of working and, especially with the lockdown, people have identified that they can work from home.’

He added: ‘I do think that it’s the fault of the landlords. They have to take the blame for that fairly and squarely because they’re pricing people out of the market.’

The Pollen Estate is the main landlord on Savile Row and owns 43 units in Mayfair on ‘the Row’, New Bond Street, Cork Street, Old Burlington Street and Clifford Street.

The company has been in the hands of a combination of private family trusts descending from the five daughters of the Reverend George Pollen, and investors.

But in 2014 Norges Bank Investment Management, Norway’s Sovereign wealth fund, bought a £381million – 64.2 per cent – stake in the Estate.

The street attracts famous names from across the world, with Tinie Tempah pictured at Norton and Sons in 2015

The daily running of the firm is left to Property Director Julian Stocks from Knight Frank LLP.

He said: ‘The Pollen Estate’s ambition is make sure all of our tailors and other occupiers make it through this crisis and beyond.

‘We are working with everyone to establish what help is required and will be offering a mixture of rent free periods, rent deferments and monthly rents when businesses open again.

‘Our main focus to date has been to help the smaller businesses first and, as much of the bespoke tailors’ business depends on travel, we expect to continue to have to provide support to our tailors for some time.’

Some Savile Row stores have been serving customers during the lockdown while others are opening in the coming days.

Outfitters are now having to think of new ways to measure gentlefolk for their garments to abide by social distancing rules.

Customers will face a different experience when they get fitted, as tailors – who usually measure a client front on – will now work from the side.

Some Savile Row stores (pictured, o Cad & The Dandy on June 15) have been serving customers during the lockdown while others are opening in the coming days

Stores will be littered with hand sanitiser stations, masks will be distributed at the entrances, staff will wear visors and changing rooms will be wiped down after use.

Some of the larger tailors have even opted to open up a whole floor of their stores as dressing areas to give customers maximum space.

And for those suffering from coronaphobia, there is the possibility of home visits until the Covid crisis has fully abated.

Managing Director of Henry Poole & Co Simon Cundey, who is based at Number 15 Savile Row, said: ‘We certainly face challenging times ahead.

‘This certainly is a new challenge to hit Savile Row, this time with social distance. We have always used the term client vs patient and wish to keep this way.

Stores will be littered with hand sanitiser stations, masks will be distributed at the entrances, staff will wear visors and changing rooms will be wiped down after use

‘However safety to the clients and staff is paramount, as when fitting are we are in a close proximity.’

Mr Dixon of Richard James, where he has worked for nearly 28 years, explained how the Savile Row experience will change at his store.

He said: ‘Obviously having fittings for customers, especially bespoke customers, is critical.

‘The stores have to be clean and disinfected and hand sanitiser is everywhere, but when it comes to actually fitting somebody we’ve been advised that we need to not face them.

‘You need to stand to the side, keep how close you are to them to a minimum – all these things are possible – and wear visors and masks and gloves it really is that simple.

‘It’s all doable, minimising the amount of time you spend with someone in close proximity.

‘I think wearing a visor is probably the most important, if not more important than the mask for us.’

Mr Dixon admitted the new measures were ‘not a great luxury experience’, but said they were a necessary compromise.

He added: ‘Part of the bespoke experience is having a fitting, but not the only part of it.

‘Probably the most enjoyable part is the discussion of the style of the suit, choosing fabrics, those sorts of things and those can be done.

Some stores are even selling face coverings as the pandemic continues, with Cad & the Dandy masks shown

‘But absolutely, I think you are going to lose a little bit, you know you can’t see someone’s facial expressions well.

‘But I guess it’s something we’ll all get used to, we just have to be adaptable. We’ll take it seriously.’

Tailors need to take around 27 measurements from their clients so they can craft them the perfect suit.

The process can take 30 minutes or hours or a number of visits to complete, then buyers have to return for extra measuring and fitting sessions.

Customers can browse through thousands of different cloths to pick their style, as well as decide on the number of buttons, if they want single or double-breasted and whether they prefer their pockets straight or slanted.

It takes around eight to 12 weeks to make the bespoke suit, according to Anderson & Sheppard, but this depends on the time of year and request.

One option being touted as a solution for the post-Covid tailor is the use of Zoom for customers who may be abroad or are not ready to enter the store yet.

Tailors take around 27 measurements from their clients so they can craft them the perfect suit, with them now doing ti from the side rather than the front (pictured at Cad & Dandy)

Mr Dixon said: ‘We’re looking at that, absolutely. I think it’s more for the ready-to-wear business. You can always have a look around the store with a sales person.

‘I think doing the bespoke made-to-measure service is a little bit more difficult. You can’t get the texture and fabrics and slight subtlety in colour from a Zoom call.

‘But you can have a conversation about what someone wants and then you can send them small bits of fabric. They can then look at home and decide if they like it.

‘So why shouldn’t we introduce it into a kind of retail environment, it totally makes sense. We just have to use the technology as best we can.’

Mr Skinner of Dege & Skinner added: ‘We’re taking advantage of technology wherever possible, video calls (Zoom) and apps to browse the latest cloths and to request samples.

‘Some customers like the innovations, others still prefer the more traditional approach.’

According to tradition, the word bespoke originates from when customers would ‘speak’ for a particular length of fabric.

Shops must offer a choice of more than 2,000 fabrics – with at least 50 hours of hand-stitching and several fittings going into a Savile Row bespoke to justify the £5,000-plus price tag.

It has certainly dressed the wealthy in the past, with the likes of Beau Brummel, Lord Nelson, Napoleon III, Sir Winston Churchill and Prince Charles shopping on the road.

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