They say that change is the only constant. But when you’re an outfit like Huntsman, one of the foremost authority on bespoke tailoring—that just so happens to be based along the street that holds the highest regard for all things tailoring—the idea of ‘change’ can be tricky. Yet, for Huntsman, change is something that it has periodically done.
As a bespoke tailoring house, Huntsman has a longstanding history of crafting tailor-made garments for British royalty, aristocrats and the military, since being founded in 1849. The initial focus then was in the arena of equestrian and sporting, creating leather breeches for the elites. It was only in the ‘30s that Huntsman transitioned to the bespoke tailoring practice that it’s more commonly known for till today.
As much as Savile Row is the pinnacle of tailoring, Huntsman didn’t start out there. The house only moved from its original New Bond Street operations to Savile Row in 1919, after the end of the First World War. 100 years later, Huntsman’s operations have since diversified but still steeped in its bespoke tailoring focus. And yes, even more than just being the inspiration behind the little-known Kingsman film franchise.
Towards the end of 2015, Huntsman began taking its travelling trunk shows to Asia—catering to clientele based in China, Korea, Thailand, Japan and Singapore. And as Huntsman’s senior client manager Hadden White tells us, there’s no difference between the experience that a client receives in Huntsman’s flagship on Savile Row and that of a trunk show.
“The whole essence of what we do on a trunk show is bring Savile Row to our clients abroad. We bring our full collection of cloths to the clients. It can be difficult because we have to travel with five suitcases at a time, but we are offering that real Savile Row experience; you’re just not having it in a shop,” White explains.
And it’s true. Stepping into the suite at the Four Seasons, where Huntsman bases its trunk show operations while in Singapore, what constitutes a bespoke tailoring experience was right there. A thorough (and complete) collection of cloths, client-servicing finesse, and most importantly, an experienced cutter in the form of senior cutter Robert Bailey.
“Robert has had 30 years of experience in the business. His father was a head cutter of a house—it’s in his DNA and that is what we are bringing to the clients here,” White tells us. The cutter is the most integral part of the bespoke process. After all, a cutter is the one that does the measuring (Huntsman takes up to 36 body measurements), crafts a personalised pattern based on those set of measurements, and fit garments on you. So having someone as experienced as Robert Bailey for a quarterly trunk show, is getting the bespoke experience at its finest.
If anything, being in the comfort of a hotel suite could potentially be less intimidating than a proper establishment, especially if it’s your first bespoke tailoring appointment.
As part of Huntsman’s 100th year on Savile Row, its bespoke offering has been expanded. The usual bespoke service has been rebranded as Bespoke 1849—the house’s most intimate and personalised service. An offshoot of that is the newly launched and revolutionary Bespoke 100. ‘Revolutionary’ because instead of the traditional 12-week wait for a final bespoke garment, Bespoke 100 promises a six to eight-week delivery. And the latter is also cheaper. A Bespoke 100 two-piece suit starts from GBP3,500 as opposed to the Bespoke 1849’s starting price of GBP5,800.
Where’s the catch, you say? Well, there isn’t really one that would qualify the service as a par below traditional bespoke tailoring. Bespoke 100 offers the same level of attention and service as Bespoke 1949—a bespoke baste, and is measured, cut, fit, finished and pressed by Huntsman. The differences lie in the options and a slight tweak in the intermediate process. Bespoke 100 offers a tighter edit of cloths (house cloths and those that are above a certain price band are not included), and is partly hand sewn by certified ateliers outside of its Savile Row premises.
“We are open about it to our clients. Bespoke 100 is partly done in different certified ateliers around the world, including China,” White explains when asked if he could divulge on where the Bespoke 100 suits are made. The tailors in the atelier in China were trained by Dennis Cooper, Huntsman’s ‘star tailor’, while in Italy, Huntsman has identified and gathered some of the country’s best tailors to handcraft the Bespoke 100 pieces.
It’s this outsourcing of a part of the process that has enabled Huntsman to cut down on the cost of a Bespoke 100 piece, as well as shortened the waiting time of a completely in-house creation. As it stands, the Bespoke 1849 service requires a waiting list—only to ensure that the 12-week delivery promise is met.
It’s a testament too to the popularity and relevance of a house like Huntsman. As White expresses, “A lot of people think that Savile Row is a very old business. But I can assure you that it’s not. Most people in Huntsman are 22 or 23 years old.” White also tells us that there’s still an interest among the younger generation in taking up the trade.
And if you think that Savile Row clients are old-school dandies, think again. Huntsman has dressed notable personalities the likes of Orlando Bloom, Caspar Jopling (husband of British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding), David Bowie, Alexander McQueen, and Marc Jacobs—they definitely do not fit the old stereotype of a bespoke client. In fact, Jacobs most recently got married in a Huntsman suit, as well as received the first ‘Fashion Trailblazer’ award at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards in an olive green bespoke Huntsman creation that’s anything but old-fashioned.
Being part of the fashion industry, there’s the need to address modern issues such as ‘sustainability’ and Huntsman acknowledges it. “The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter globally, and I think being able to manage how our products are made in a very ethical way—either in-house or with our suppliers—is the first step. Ensuring the cloth is well-sourced, is the second,” White expresses. He cites the use of Loro Piana’s Pecora Nera, a fabric that’s completely un-dyed and is naturally sourced, as a way for bespoke tailoring to be even more environmentally conscious.
Additionally, this year, Huntsman worked with London College of Fashion where second-year BA (Hons) Bespoke Tailoring students were given the task of creating new designs from Huntsman’s stock of unclaimed garments and excess fabrics. The winner of the challenge was then given the opportunity to intern with the house. It was an excellent way of finding a solution for often-discarded materials and at the same time, encouraging a new generation of creatives to think about sustainability in design.
100 years on Savile Row and 170 years in the business, Huntsman is no archaic heritage brand. The bespoke tailoring house understands the need to stick to its expertise, and evolve strategically without alienating clients of its core business. At the same time, its relevance is buoyed by its ability to recognise the needs and expectations of a fresh crop of potential clientele; something even the big luxury fashion houses have trouble with sometimes.