Huntsman – While Sheep Graze on Savile Row
It’s a great tradition guaranteed to put a smile on the face. Sheep grazing in Savile Row, getting fitted for a bespoke four leg tweed ensemble and returning back to the Yorkshire meadows for a nice cup of Tetley’s before the farmer has missed them.
This flock of Exmoor Longhorn and Bowmont Merino sheep was doing their bit to open Wool Week organized by the Campaign for Wool 2015, helping to reinforce the provenance of fine UK wool combined with the world-renowned practice of artisan tailoring on this famous street.
I followed up an invitation from Huntsman, long established on the Row since 1849 and one of the incumbent hosts, to meet their designers. En passant were AA Gill and the down to earth gentleman that is David Gandy who had time for a chat on seeing the source of the best of British wool.
Huntsman had a piece commissioned by the fine artist, Joy Pitts displayed in the frontage of No. 11 in the form of a brightly-colored sheep, patterned in pain staking fashion using a combination of Huntsman and Woolmark Labels (100 labels stitched by Woolaton branch of the WI with Merino wool to celebrate the WI centenary) with the help of 450 BBC Get Creative participants.
I met with the recently appointed Creative Director and co-head cutter, Campbell Carey who talked me through some of the ‘work-in-progress’ on the cutting tables in the back end of the showroom, where together with the apprentices on the lower floor beavering away through their five year apprenticeship, all the making takes place on site – uniquely so I was told. English wool tends to be of a heavier weight and was soon informed “it is important to match the weight of the lining with the weight of the cloth, which will address the abrasiveness of the heavier wool against the skin.”
Huntsman has enjoyed the publicity benefits of having some of the Hollywood greats as their de-facto ambassadors. Gregory Peck, via his son Anthony’s efforts, had a wonderful retrospective in the showroom last year of the garments made for him by Huntsman, with a cashmere hounds tooth or the ‘Peck Tweed’ as it has affectionately been named part of this human and intimate relationship the clients form with their bespoke tailors over the years. “When we have the captains of industry spend their valuable time with us, being fitted for a suit, the quality of their observations, passed in conversation is of a remarkable level and a privilege to hear,” said Campbell.
Dario Carnera, Co-Head Cutter revealed, 80 per cent of the garments are made in the UK, with wool sourced predominantly from a Cheshire mill. “As part of our history, we use exclusive designs created just for us by the mills for a traditional client base.” A bespoke suit will take 8-10 weeks, with a minimum of three fittings and approximately 80 man/woman hours (yes there are women apprentices and cutters in Savile Row – I saw them!). This is why one of these beauties will set you back around £5k depending on fabric. As the old adage goes, ‘if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it.’ But nothing elitist is going on here just fine tailoring and the craftsmanship respected the world over that allows them to produce something like 5-600 bespoke suits per year. Together with the new ready to wear collection and plans to grow the ranges, including accessories – knitwear, shirts, ties, luggage – it’s a thriving business, with the Asian market steadily becoming more important to them.
Additionally, it didn’t hurt that some of the The Kingsmanspoof spy movie was shot in-store and Matthew Vaughn came up with the storyline whilst he was having a suit fitted. As a result “we still have clients coming in from Japan, just because of the movie,” Campbell said. He showed me the fitting room number ‘2’ used in the movie, which also allowed him a nice ‘door-holding’ bit part. And now an even more compelling reason to see the movie.
By Paul Markevicius