Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Save Savile Row! from a sea of buggies and expensive tot wear.
Abercrombie and Fitch have decided to open a store on Savile Row, not unsurprisingly the bespoke tailors that the street is famous for are not happy. Some media commentators have gleefully seized upon this as a battle between new brash American company and snobby backwards London tailors.
The issue here is not one of elitism vs clothes for the masses. Nor is it down to snobbery. I have to declare myself as being someone who is mystified by the appeal of cheaply manufactured, logo-rich infantile clothing, Abercrombie and Fitch, Jack Wills and Superdry are all equally guilty. At least in this case the fact that the clothes are infantile is justified by the plan to open a kids store on Savile Row.
I might think the clothes are crap but each to their own, and in a recession any business hiring British labour and paying taxes is very welcome, even if A & F’s recruitment policy is infamously eugenic in nature. The issue is the location and the nature of London, its character and its long term future as a destination of charm and character. This shop would have been perfectly at home in Oxford Street, Regents Street, Westfield, Knightsbridge or a dozen other locations all of which are more suitable for those with buggies and children in tow. Please, Abercrombie and Fitch, pitch yourself there. Look at the habitual queue for the nearby adult store, it is nice that it is popular but this kind of kerfuffle will ruin the atmosphere of Savile Row proper, what about the unfortunate smaller tailoring businesses? it takes concentration. Will their international clientele be prepared to push through groups of parents, toddlers and teenagers yearning for bright hoodies and baggy shorts?
It is completely inappropriate in a small street with centuries of links to artisans who have been steadily squeezed out of many parts of London. There will be a sector who will respond with a shrug, after all who cares about an elitist trade that many people will never be able to use? It is progress for commerce to take precedence in a city. But the fact is that is not the entire story with London. Savile Row suits are more than a luxury indulgence; they are part of the fabric of this City. A major appeal for tourists is this heritage/historical/individualistic element and we need tourism. London already has areas, like Oxford Street or the City of London where traditionally bugger all attention is paid to atmosphere or style.
Savile Row has a timeless stylish sophisticated edge; Love 'em or loathe 'em children kill style, elegance and sophistication. What they are about is noise, buggies, colour, fun and mess. Savile Row does not have wide pavements and car parks, I already take a detour to avoid walking in front of Hamley’s Toy Shop on the capacious Regents Street to avoid the chaos, I'd hate to have to do the same for part of Savile Row.
I can see why Abercrombie and Fitch want to ride, for status and to justify their silly prices (far sillier in real terms than the price of a Gieves and Hawkes shirt) on Savile Row’s elegant coat tails. But they have already diminished the character and suavity of the street with another shop in the vicinity. This isn’t about snobbery, I am female, I am not going to buy a suit or jacket there, but it is another lovely little street to dawdle about in and one that is world famous. So synonymous with good quality is it that in Japan a tailored suit is simple known as a sebiru (a Savile Row). The quality of streets are easily damaged by bad planning and the tendency to back commerce at all costs. Look at the once famous book shops of Charing Cross Road? Now replaced with TK Maxx, chain restaurants and grubby tourist tatt. I’m not convinced that the increasingly venal Westminster Council care, but there have been a few wise council decisions recently in London so one can only dare hope.