Book Review: Bespoke - Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed

Thursday, July 8, 2010
The majority of tailoring and style books seem best suited, as I usually observe when reviewing them, to the coffee-table. Full of pretty pictures, but short on really engaging content, they seem to lack a clear purpose.

'Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed' suffers from no such problem. Entirely free of pictures it is, instead, a genuinely fascinating and entirely gripping story. It is the remarkable autobiography of Richard Anderson, who started a gruelling Huntsman apprenticeship at seventeen and went on to become head cutter and then to found his own firm, Richard Anderson Ltd. at 13 Savile Row.

Mr Anderson's story is certainly interesting enough in itself, and his depictions of the many funny, horrible, tragic and simply mad characters on Savile Row, tailors and customers alike, are endlessly entertaining. However, he makes the sensible choice to intersperse his story with the sort of detailed descriptions of bespoke tailoring technique, process, protocol and culture that absolutely fascinate me. Few other authors touch on this for the simple reason that, however much they might like suits, they do not have Mr Anderson's life-long history on Savile Row.

Although the title might suggest a detailed examination of Savile Row itself, Anderson, perhaps wisely, restricts himself to his own personal experience, with the result that the focus is almost entirely upon Huntsman and then on Richard Anderson Ltd. The title's use of the tailoring term 'ripped and smoothed' is perhaps particularly appropriate for Mr Anderson's treatment of Huntsman, which is fairly thoroughly ripped apart for its management under Don Bargeman and Trevor Swift. Regardless, in both positive and negative aspects, the book gives an almost unique view behind the calm and traditional facade of Savile Row, and for that alone it is very well worth a read.