Style / April 2018

How Richard James Lit Up Savile Row

When Richard James first opened on Savile Row, it caused an uproar. Now 25 years later, the tailoring house has truly cemented its place on the hallowed street.

A model wears a midnight single-breasted Ottoman cotton jacket with a blue and white striped seersucker cotton shirt, both by Richard James. Styling by Jo Grzeszczuk, photograph by Olivier Barjolle.

Hate is a strong word. But that’s what Richard James felt when he first opened his tailoring business on Savile Row, a little over 25 years ago. “We were hated,” the tailor has put in, not mincing words. But then disruptors - and especially those in cosy, rather unchanging worlds - usually get a poor reception. Here, after all, was a tailor ready to get contemporary with colour, pattern and a signature long and lean silhouette, to have catwalk shows and to dress brightly-lit shop windows that you could actually see through, to - gasp - open at the weekends.

Here, in other words, was a tailor keen to operate as a modern retail brand on a street that was, as he put it at the time, “dying a death”. He wanted to respect Savile Row, but also to make it “sexy”. ‘Fashion’ might have been another of his dirty words. Or ‘youthfulness’ - of the kind that Savile Row had captured, if fleetingly, during the swinging sixties.

No wonder, as Welsh & Jefferies said, what the likes of James and other “parasites” was doing was all “image and marketing”. And, yes, James’ first job was selling candy floss on Barry Island beach - so hawking his wares came naturally. But what James did, with his business partner Sean Dixon, was more than that. It was about changing attitudes, shifting away from Savile Row’s reputation as a stuffy, somewhat intimidating place - only for those in the know, of a particular income and, preferably, class - full of people ready to dress you as they saw fit, which was largely with at least one eye on the past.

“Bespoke is all about you, not a designer telling you what to do,” James - the inaugural winner of the British Fashion Council’s Bespoke Designer of the Year award - has noted. “[Other establishments will] make you a beautiful suit - but it will be the suit of his particular establishment.”

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Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a writer on menswear, design and much else for the likes of Wallpaper, CNN, Robb Report and The Times. He's the author of several books on menswear, the latest 'The Details', published by Laurence King. He lives in London, has two small children and is permanently exhausted.