Love Letters from Britain

The Story of the Suit with Kathryn Sargent

London's Savile Row is an iconic destination for tailoring, home to the best bespoke and made-to-measure suits in the world. Kathryn Sargent is the first female tailor on the Row; walk with her down this historic Mayfair street to discover the magic of the bespoke British suit.
29th Nov 2021
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Love Letters from Britain The Story of the Suit with Kathryn Sargent
Love Letters from Britain is a new series of short documentary-style films uncovering the untold stories of UK’s most innovative luxury brands, produced for Walpole by BBC StoryWorks commercial productions and including stories supported by the GREAT Britain & Northern Ireland campaign.
Please click here to watch the full series

"Savile Row holds such prestige today because it's still synonymous with what it was always synonymous with,which is the very best tailoring that money can buy. There's no other concentration anywhere in the world that has quite that same allure."

The British Suit in 2021 by Aleks Cvetkovic
"Now is the time of the tailor"
To celebrate The Story of the Suit, we revisit 'The British Suit in 2021', written by Walpole columnist Aleks Cvetkovic shortly after the end of the last lockdown.

The purported ‘death’ of formalwear has dominated the men’s luxury press over the past 12 months. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a once-in-a-generation disruption to our normal patterns of behaviour, and has temporarily changed the need to put on a suit or sharp-looking sports coat in the mornings. Some pundits predict we’ll be living in sweatpants forevermore, others think that by summer we’ll all be dressing up again.

Myself, I’ve spent much of the past year veering between lockdown enforced doom-mongering and bouts of optimism, but with a timeline out of the UK’s lockdown finally in place, I’ve settled on holding fast to two truisms. The first is that humanity has come through countless pandemics, and with every return to normalcy our wardrobes have settled back into their pre-pandemic shapes and sizes.

The second is that there is always a strong demand for world class things. Britain’s bespoke tailoring heritage is unparalleled, and while there’s a rich culture of tailoring in Italy and some very fine Parisian tailors too, no other destination carries the clout of Savile Row.

"Things may have been rocky for the past year or so, but the latent demand for luxury goods – including handmade suiting – remains strong."

Simon Cundey, Managing Director of the street’s oldest and arguably grandest tailor, Henry Poole, proves the point: “We’re very excited to be leaving lockdown behind us,” he says. “We’ve seen a steady flow of clients booking fittings from the 12th of April onwards when we can reopen our doors, as well as first-time clients booking consultations, which is hugely encouraging. We even have overseas clients booking appointments for later in the year in the expectation that it will be easier travel soon. Our customers want to cut a dash now more than ever.”

Savile Row-trained bespoke tailor and master cutter, Kathryn Sargent, agrees: “In all my conversations with clients I sense that there is real desire to dress up again – people are bored of casual clothes,” she says. “The pandemic was not a choice, it enforced casualwear on us while we were all stuck at home, so I have every confidence that in the coming months the suit will come back stronger than ever.”

Moreover, the Row has seen a number of new arrivals in recent seasons, which have brought fresh energy to the street. Legendary tailor Edward Sexton has opened an outpost at No.36 Savile Row, marking Sexton’s first return to the street since he moved to a studio in Knightsbridge in the 1990s. Other high-profile British brands like Hackett and Thom Sweeney have settled on or close to the Row too, as has esteemed British haberdasher, Drake’s.

So too has The Deck: a made-to-measure tailor founded by Daisy Knatchbull that opened on Savile Row in 2019. Knatchbull’s business has been a runaway success, is a 2021 Walpole Brand of Tomorrow and the first women’s-only tailor in the street’s history. “It’s exciting to be able to carve out our own space for women in a traditionally very male dominated street – challenging the status quo,” she says.

Moreover, The Deck’s view of the suit is acutely modern: “Durability, quality, versatility and longevity have been at the core of our ethos since the start,” Knatchbull continues. “We encourage women to buy a suit that will take them from picking their kids up from school, to a lunch, to a black tie event without having to change. Investing in something you can wear day and night is key.”

"Therein lies the power of the suit in 2021: British brands are creating elegant, versatile and easy-to-wear tailoring with today’s smart-casual world in mind."

In Marylebone, Charlie Casely-Hayford designs tailoring that’s known for its dynamic look and feel. His vision of the suit is quite different to Savile Row’s, but is every bit as relevant: “I think the suit will hold its place in the upper echelons of one’s wardrobe for moments of celebration or power dressing, but it has taken on a double life in 2021,” he says. “We’re seeing a new generation adopt it as a form of casualwear. So, as we look forward, I think it will operate at both the top and bottom of the clothing hierarchy simultaneously.”

Brands are also waking up to another feather in the suit’s cap – its green credentials. Quite apart from being designed to last the best part of a lifetime, handmade suits are often made locally (for example, for a suit to be classed as a Savile Row garment it has to be made within 100 yards of the street itself) from natural materials: whether linen, mohair, cotton or wool.

Walpole member, Dugdale Bros & Co. is a British cloth merchant based in Huddersfield, and is making this point well-heard with its new Get Behind The Suit campaign, which aims to recognise the suit’s value as a life-long garment. “Our cloth is woven in the UK to last the course, and it’s only for use in fine suiting,” says Dugdale’s chairman, Robert Charnock. “My grandfather was a weaver before me, and he always used to say: ‘Italian cloth is for looking at, English cloth is for wearing.”

“Really, now is the time of the tailor,” he concludes. “British tailors are asking themselves what they can do to make a suit that is going to last and that isn’t a seasonal throw-away item. That’s exactly what the fashion industry needs and is exactly what the consumer wants.”

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