RITE OF PASSAGE
Inside the new Anderson & Sheppard shop, at 32 Old Burlington Street, London.
Photograph BY CHRISTOPHER SIMON SYKES.
A Style Is Born
It is perhaps the finest bespoke tailor in Britain—which is to say in the world. With a clientele both established and au courant, Anderson & Sheppard enters its second century true to its radical founding ideal: The suit shouldn’t wear the man; the man should wear the suit.
By David Kamp in Vanity Fair November 2011
In March of 2005, Anderson & Sheppard, the standard-bearer of Savile Row—tailors to Fred Astaire, Noël Coward, Gary Cooper, and the Prince of Wales, not to mention sundry dukes, barons, maharajas, marchesi, industrialists, actors, composers, Rothschilds, Guinnesses, and Waughs—did something utterly at odds with its tradition-bound history: it moved.
And not only did it move. It moved off Savile Row, relocating from its corner spot at No. 30, where it had stood for 78 of its 99 years, to a smaller space a block west in Old Burlington Street.
The move caused some grumbling—as much within the firm as without. It will never be the same, the grumblers said. How can Anderson & Sheppard be Anderson & Sheppard if it isn’t in old No. 30, with its heavy double doors, its mahogany paneling, its herringbone floors, and its long tables in the front room piled high with bolts of cloth?
Yet it wasn’t long after this move that the Anderson & Sheppard staff came to a pleasant realization: the customers were still coming in. In fact, orders picked up at the new place, and walk-in traffic remained as brisk as ever. Steeped in lore as the old premises at No. 30 were, they turned out not to be what mattered. What mattered were the cutters, tailors, and salesmen with whom the customers had developed enduring relationships; the happily anticipatory experience, which time and age can never temper, of picking out fabrics and linings and buttons for the latest wardrobe upgrade; and, above all, the distinctive way an Anderson & Sheppard suit looks and feels—softly elegant, cut to show the wearer’s style rather than impose one on him.
The natural look. The sloped shoulder. The limp silhouette. The English drape. What to make of these curious phrases, all reliably used to describe the Anderson & Sheppard style? To the uninitiated, these words might suggest lightness and grace, but then again, they might suggest a strange clientele of invertebrates. Why the unrelenting emphasis on softness? To answer this question, it helps to know what the fledgling firm was rebelling against in its early decades.
Yes, rebelling. “Establishment” as Anderson & Sheppard is now thought to be, it was once the renegade of Savile Row. Its sign pointedly identified the firm as CIVIL TAILORS. For civilians, not the military—not the place to go for clothes that would cinch you up and make you stand at attention.
This was something of a radical stance in 1913, the year the young firm left its original space, in Sackville Street, and took its first address on Savile Row, at No. 13. At the foot of the Row, at No. 1, stood Hawkes & Co., military tailors of long standing. Just atop the Row, in Conduit Street, was J. Dege & Sons, uniformers of the cavalry. At Nos. 36–39 stood the firm credited as the first to establish Savile Row’s reputation as a bespoke mecca, Henry Poole & Co., which specialized not only in military tailoring but also in livery and court dress.
The work of these firms was every bit as skilled and accomplished as Anderson & Sheppard’s would be, but still very Victorian in its formality and stiffness. It was only when an innovative Dutch tailor named Frederick Scholte hung up a shingle at 7 Savile Row that the great softening began, and that men’s fashion plunged headlong into the 20th century.
Scholte is credited with creating the look that came to be known as the London cut or the English drape. He was also the mentor of Peter Gustaf Anderson, known as Per, the Swedish expatriate who, with Sidney Horatio Sheppard, a trouser cutter, would found Anderson & Sheppard. Scandalous as it might seem that the most definitively English of Savile Row cuts was in fact the work of a Dutchman and a Swede, it’s indisputable that the look’s foremost popularizer was as English as could be: the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, later still the Duke of Windsor.
The “drape” of a coat (to use the traditional Savile Row term for jacket) is the manner in which it hangs from the shoulders. A Scholte coat was roomy over the chest and shoulder blades, resulting in a conspicuous but graceful drape—the fabric not flawlessly smooth and fitted but gently descending from the collarbone in soft vertical ripples. The upper sleeves, too, were generous, allowing for a broad range of motion, but the armholes, cut high and small, held the coat in place, keeping its collar from separating from the wearer’s neck when he raised his arms. The shoulders remained unpadded, left to slope along the natural lines of the wearer.
As to how Anderson & Sheppard came to be the most celebrated and sought-after practitioner of the Scholte style, the records are scant and the details murky. Per Anderson went into business for himself way back in 1906, when the Prince of Wales was only 12 years old. It’s not clear whether the young Per Anderson learned the English drape from Scholte as a fully realized style way back at the turn of the century, nearly two decades before it became popular, or whether, more likely, the style evolved over an extended period of time, with the two men refining their own takes on the same basic idea. But what’s undoubtedly true is that by the 1920s the “soft look” was catching on—and that Anderson & Sheppard was reaping the benefits.
Scholte’s legendary obstinacy was actually a help to his former protégé’s firm. Whereas Scholte banned most show-business people, believing them to be undesirable riffraff, Anderson & Sheppard welcomed them. Ivor Novello and Noël Coward, the era’s prevailing British stage geniuses and social gadabouts, were early converts to the English drape as practiced by A&S, as was their American counterpart, Cole Porter. Fred Astaire struck up an enduring relationship, paying his first call in 1923.
The measure books—the broad leather-bound volumes in which customers’ measurements are recorded, along with their city and country addresses—from the late 20s and 30s capture the fizzy energy of a burgeoning phenomenon, of positive word of mouth spreading through the era’s transatlantic smart set. George Gershwin is listed as the reference for his brother Ira (in 1928, when they and Astaire returned to London to mount Funny Face), and likewise Richard Rodgers is listed as the reference for his songwriting partner Lorenz Hart.
Contrary to popular belief, a reference was not (and still isn’t) necessary to gain admittance to Anderson & Sheppard’s sacred fitting rooms. The reference was basically a courtesy, a way for the company to receive assurance from established customers that new customers could pay their bills. It was also a social exercise, a way for an established A&S “old boy” to welcome a friend to the club. So it was that the politically and socially prominent M.P. Sir Philip Sassoon vouched for his friend Charlie Chaplin, and that Noël Coward vouched for Laurence Olivier. In 1937, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. vouched for someone who became one of A&S’s most memorable clients: his then semi-clandestine lover, Marlene Dietrich. At Anderson & Sheppard, ladies were welcome—provided that they wore men’s suits, as Dietrich did. Today, the New York-based satirist and waistcoat enthusiast Fran Lebowitz, who was vouched for by the editor of this magazine, upholds the Dietrich tradition.
In 1927 the company moved from the modest quarters it had outgrown at 13 Savile Row to a spacious new home at No. 30, a multi-story neo-Georgian building. In the dandified years between the wars, some of Anderson & Sheppard’s more devoted and wealthy clients didn’t think twice about placing extravagantly huge orders. Douglas Fairbanks Sr., according to Norman Halsey, one of the firm’s former managing directors, “had a fetish for overcoats: we made him so many that we had to keep a large book with cloth cuttings so he did not duplicate them.” Then there were the Chopitea brothers of Peru, playboy sugar barons who ordered suits 50 at a time; one brother was said to keep a house in Lima just for his wardrobe.
But such exercises in overindulgence shouldn’t obscure the truth: it was style, not volume, that defined Anderson & Sheppard in the 1930s. No decade since has set as high a bar for men’s fashion, nor has there been another time in which popular taste was so closely aligned with good taste. As the men’s-wear expert Alan Flusser notes in his book Dressing the Man, “that elusive but convenient character, ‘the average man,’ was exposed to more visual ‘aids’ in the form of smartly attired public figures than he could shake a stick at.” In other words, the style arbiters had actual style. And among the leading arbiters were Anderson & Sheppard men: stars like Fred Astaire and Gary Cooper.
John Hitchcock, left, the head cutter and managing director, and David Walters, the trimmer.
BY CHRISTOPHER SIMON SYKES.
PATTERNS & SPECIALS
Left, each client’s measurements are fashioned into a template. Right, a selection of cloth woven exclusively for Anderson & Sheppard.
BY CHRISTOPHER SIMON SYKES.
REACTION TO A STYLE IS BORN
The reaction to the new book, Anderson & Sheppard: A Style is Born, has been fantastic. A lot of the customers that come in are aware of the book and have seen parts of it online, but they haven’t necessarily seen a hard copy. We’ve sold quite a few copies, and others have browsed through it and found inspiration in the photographs.
In fact several customers have commissioned things based on items they’ve seen in the book. Overcoats have been popular, as have the house tweeds that are displayed over a few double-page spreads.
Overall, everyone seems to be pleased it has come out well, that it has been so well written and produced a great piece to celebrate Anderson & Sheppard.
For anyone that isn’t aware of the book, it was curated by Vanity Fair editors Graydon Carter and Cullen Murphy and features photography by Jonathan Becker and Christopher Simon Sykes, as well as eight original watercolor paintings by illustrator Paul Cox. It also includes a history of Anderson & Sheppard by David Kamp, which runs through its founding, premises on Savile Row and the move to Old Burlington Street. It was released on October 27, costs £50 and is available in the shop now.
Posted by James on November 28, 2011 in Anderson & Sheppard "blog".
BARON GUY DE ROTHSCHILD
Banker. At Longchamp racecourse outside Paris, 1980.
BY MARTINE FRANK/MAGNUM PHOTOS.
Gallery owner. County Dublin, Ireland, 2008.
BY JONATHAN BECKER.
Designer. At Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, 2008.
BY JONATHAN BECKER.
October 28, 2011
Cut From the Same Cloth
By ERIC WILSON in The New York Times.
When he was younger, and poorer, Jonathan Becker, the photographer whose wonderful portraits have appeared in Vanity Fair for three decades, had his suits custom made by an English tailor in Argentina who charged him about $60. While working on a book in London about 12 years ago, he decided to have them made at Anderson & Sheppard, the Savile Row tailor, on the recommendation of Graydon Carter and Fran Lebowitz.
As he tells the story:
“I had a couple of things made there, but then I started ordering suits the way I did in Argentina. They sent me the bill, and I couldn’t believe it. I put it in a drawer and, luckily, they didn’t bother you too much about bills, or at least they didn’t used to. Then the manager of the store called me a while later and said, ‘Mr. Becker, we have a problem.’ ”
“I said, ‘I know.’
“ ‘How could you know?’ he said. ‘We are having to move the shop, and we are looking for someone to document the old shop so we can recreate it.’
“I agreed to do it, and he asked, ‘How much do you think it would cost, Mr. Becker?’ And I looked at the bill, and told him that price, and he said, ‘Why, Mr. Becker, you’re as expensive as we are.’ ”
Mr. Becker’s photographs, along with those of Christopher Simon Sykes, form the backbone of “Anderson & Sheppard: A Style is Born,” a new book published by Quercus that traces the history and clientele of a century-old tailor that has catered to Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Bill Blass and the Prince of Wales. Its move, in 2005, to a smaller location on Old Burlington Street, was once seen as symbolic of the decline of Savile Row, and yet the store has had something of a renaissance. Kate Moss spotted a jacket in the window of Anderson & Sheppard and asked for one just like it (though it was actually cut for a six-year-old boy).
At a party at the Monkey Bar on Tuesday night, John Hitchcock, the managing director of Anderson & Sheppard, could barely finish a sentence before he was interrupted by another customer, whether Ray Kelly or Jean Pigozzi.
“Really, you only need one fashion designer, but you need a lot of tailors,” Mr. Hitchcock said. Younger people have become more interested in apprenticing, he said, after learning that Alexander McQueen had started his career at the shop, which called to mind that story about a young McQueen writing a naughty message in the lining of a jacket destined for Prince Charles.
“It was quite a good way of getting himself publicity,” Mr. Hitchcock said. “But it wasn’t true.”
Mr. Carter, who edited the book with Cullen Murphy, noted that the tradition of bespoke tailoring has been discovered by a new generation that is far more fashion obsessed than when he was in his 30s and bought a tweed jacket and a nailhead double-breasted suit at Anderson & Sheppard. “As you get older, good tailoring can correct a lot of ills,” he said. “It can take 10 pounds off.”
Is that so?
“Good tailoring, and Spanx,” he said.