Posted on April 13 2016
Her Majesty The Queen will become the first reigning British Monarch to reach the age of 90. I thought an article inspired by British Monarchs who 'Rule the Row' was indeed appropriate. In this exclusive extract from his book, Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke, the author examines the long and illustrious history of British royal patronage of the tailors of the Row. Enjoy
— A letter dated 1851 from HM Queen Victoria to her son, the future King Edward VII (probably drafted by HRH Prince Albert). Quoted in A Family Album (1960) by HRH the Duke of Windsor.
History has proved that the better dressed a Prince of Wales, the less suited he is to the throne. Of all the British royals to patronise Savile Row, the greatest names in sartorial history have indeed proven to be ill judged by posterity. When dandiacal monarch King George IV died in 1830, the Times reported ‘there was never an individual less regretted by his fellow creatures than this deceased King’. When jovial King Edward VII, arguably Savile Row’s greatest patron, finally reached the throne in 1901, he reigned for only nine years. His narcissistic son and heir Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, died prematurely aged 28. His brother King George V’s peacock of an eldest son Edward VIII abdicated before he’d even been crowned for the love of American divorcee Mrs. Simpson in 1936.
And yet we have these magnificent princes to thank for endorsing Savile Row’s great tailoring houses with their Royal Warrants and setting fashions in men’s tailoring that endure to this day. King George IV may have been the most sartorially incontinent of Princes — leaving a wardrobe valued at £15,000 on his death — but without his patronage when prince-regent a fashion leader such as Beau Brummell would not have been given the license to elevate fine tailoring from a trade to a royal prerogative.
It is not coincidental that the beginning of Savile Row’s reign as monarch of men’s style coincided with the French Revolution of 1789. Summing up his legacy, Brummell declared, “I, Brummell, put the modern man into pants, dark coat, white shirt and clean linen. I dare say that will be sufficient to secure my fame.” As the Duke of Windsor pointed out in his Family Album, Brummell’s legacy was essentially revolutionary: thanks to him, “all men now dress more or less alike”. It was a subversive crusade when commoners dictated to princes such as the regent. In an equally audacious example of lèse majesté, the prince-regent attended Brummell’s morning levee at No. 4 Chesterfield Street where the fashionable world would gather to watch the Beau dress. The levee was a major court ritual at Versailles before the Revolution, where court attended the ruling family at their morning toilette, thus the Beau was supplanting a very potent divine right of kings. Scant surprise, then, that the prince-regent swatted Brummell like a fly, leading to his social and financial ruin in 1816.
As the regent grew fatter, he banished Brummell’s rules of severe cut and fit from court, returning fashion to pre- Revolutionary excess: a style embraced by his equally corpulent brother who was crowned William IV in 1830. The unsung hero of ‘Brummellism’ in the British royal family was German Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg Gotha who married Queen Victoria in 1840. He was also responsible for bullying his son Bertie (later Edward VII) sufficiently to trigger a life-long addiction to bespoke tailoring. In a letter drafted by the prince consort, Queen Victoria writes to her son and heir “dress is a trifling matter which might not be raised to too much importance in our eyes”, adding “we do not wish to control your own tastes and fancies which, on the contrary, we wish you to indulge and develop. But we do expect that you will never wear anything extravagant or slang.”
Can it be coincidental that Bertie placed his first order with Henry Poole & Co. in 1860, the year of his father’s untimely death? To the despair of his widowed mother, Bertie’s extravagant wardrobe was indeed sartorial slang that went on to have worldwide influence. His tweed knickerbockers, shooting suits with matching spats and deerstalkers were cut in the brightest checks, including the pattern that still bears his name. As the Duke of Windsor recalled, “My grandfather unquestionably had a wider influence on masculine fashions than any member of the royal family since George IV. He was a good friend to the tailors of Savile Row; consolidating the position of London as the international sartorial shrine for men as already Paris was for women.”
Prince Charles and his Anderson & Shepard morning suit after Ascot (1979)
Edward, Prince of Whales ( later briefly King Edward VIII, and following his abdication, the Duke of Windsor )
The prince lost prematurely to Savile Row was Edward VII’s eldest son Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence and Avondale. But for conspiracy theories linking him to the Jack the Ripper murders (unlikely) and the Cleveland Street male brothel scandal of 1889 (more than likely), Eddy would be a mere footnote in history. But scandal and his sudden death from influenza in 1892 have made him a cult figure not dissimilar to the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Like the princess, Eddy was a cause célèbre and fashion plate in the burgeoning British newspapers and pictorial journals of the era such as the Illustrated London News.
Photographs and sketches such as Hay’s Spy cartoon for Vanity Fair demonstrate Eddy’s dashing, decadent demeanour and an instinctive appreciation of fashion that went beyond royal protocol. As biographer Andrew Cook relates in The King Britain Never Had (2006), “the way Eddy dressed is the clearest indication of his interest in life outside royal circles. In mufti, he wore high collar and big cuffs in the ‘masher’ style of the 1880s” that led to his nickname ‘collars and cuffs’ in the journals of the day. Mashers, or swells, were cocksure men about town and Prince Eddy — with his hooded eyes, waxed moustache and knowing smile — was a right royal masher.
In dress or undress uniform of the 10th Hussars, tailored into the waist like Dior’s New Look by Davies & Son (who also dressed his brother George), Eddy is magnificent. In hunting tweeds, kilt and badger head sporran — worn with a stiff white wing collar and broad tie knot — he resembles nothing more than a fashion plate. By all accounts an indolent, fashion-conscious young man with little grasp on his destiny as future king, the monarchy may have been fortunate that the title Prince of Wales and prospective bride Princess May of Teck passed to Prince George on his death. Thus the arch conservative King George V inherited the throne in 1910. The king’s severity towards his son Edward’s attire had much the same effect as Prince Albert’s disapproval towards Bertie. It drove him away from the king’s tailor Davies & Son and towards one of the Row’s great revolutionary cutters, Scholte. In his chapter of the Family Album titled ‘Father’, the Duke of Windsor characterises George V’s sartorial reign in a concise paragraph: “On domestic occasions, when I dined with my father, we would always wear a white tie and tails and the Garter Star, though when he himself had no guests he would relax so far as to wear a dinner jacket. In the daytime, of course, whenever I visited my father, I would have to put on a morning coat.” Exceptionally conservative, George V favoured the frock coat and tie passed through a ring of the late Victorian era.
The tragic dandy Prince William Albert Victor ( Prince Eddy), Duke of Clarence and Avondale, who's generous tie know and badger head sporran hint at his sartorial flamboyance
The Duke of Windsor, patron saint, of Savile Row's tailoring house
Edward, Prince of Wales chose to declare his independence from his oppressive father through dress. His taste went on to have worldwide influence. As Cloth & Clothes magazine declared in 1953: “The uncrowned Edward VIII as Prince of Wales was the undoubted style leader of the younger set in the rather flippant Twenties. He probably has had more influence on the unusual in present-day trends than anyone in the world.” As early as 1912, the young prince was photographed wearing a two-button, single-breasted coat worn with a tie that would pass unnoticed on the streets of London in 2009 but for a white wing-collared shirt. The prince was also an early adopter of double-breasted, four-button coats that had evolved from Edward VII’s reefer and demanded side vents to allow for comfort and movement. His trousers followed the fashion for wider, looser legs in contrast to the Edwardian drainpipe. Much to Scholte’s relief, Prince Edward never went so far as to wear the heavily pleated, turned-up ‘Oxford bags’ that became a brief fad of 1924 amongst varsity students.
The prince’s taste in clothing reflected his somewhat rackety, dynamic life in the 1920s. As an ambassador of British style, he circumnavigated the globe. He flew his own plane, drove his own Hillman and danced nightly at the Café de Paris or the Embassy Club. Instead of traditional regal sports shooting and horseracing, the prince preferred golf, steeplechase and sea bathing off the coast of Biarritz. It was he who banished the stiff stud collar in favour of shirts constructed complete with soft collars and cuffs. Contrary to popular belief, Prince Edward loathed formal dress and would subtly subvert it at any given opportunity to annoy his father. Thus, the Prince’s black morning coat and waistcoat worn at Ascot were trimmed with jazzy silk edging and worn with louche, limp, spotted silk bow-ties instead of cravats.
It was Prince Edward who finally set the blueprint for what we know as the black-tie dinner jacket. He, like all society men, wore evening tails with ‘boiled’ (read: stiff) bibbed evening shirts for most of the 1920s. But in the 1930s, the prince revived a midnight blue short jacket cut by Poole’s for Edward VII for private dinners and had Scholte cut a copy that he wore in public with a white waistcoat similar to his grandfather’s. The only sartorial coup de théâtre he denied initiating was — somewhat ironically — the Windsor tie knot. As he says in A Family Album, “The knot to which the Americans gave my name was a double knot in a narrow tie. It is true that I have always preferred large knots as looking better than small ones.” But the duke’s thicker knots were achieved with an extra thickness of material rather than dexterity, much to the disappointment of the website forums that spend hours debating the art of the Windsor knot.
On accessories, the duke excelled; toning his tie, socks, shirt and handkerchief with the suit, though never matching. His eye for balancing checks, spots and stripes is still considered masterly by Savile Row. When the duke’s remarkable wardrobe was auctioned by Sotheby’s long after his death in 1997, it was noted that many of the suits he wore in later life had been cut by Scholte in the ’20s and ’30s. His eye for tartans, tweeds and sports clothes is faultless to the point that relaxed elegance emerges as his true legacy to men’s style. He was way ahead of the curve in the ’20s wearing tobacco suede lace-ups with grey flannel trousers and navy blazer in town. Following his lead, sportsmen deemed it acceptable to play in shirtsleeves and Fair Isle sweater, having seen Prince Edward playing golf thus attired.
When Edward VIII was forced to abdicate, the most influential man to have graced Savile Row was exiled from Britain. The newly titled Duke of Windsor lost everything except his sense of style. As men’s tailoring journal The Outfitter concluded on 19 December 1936, “The sartorial world has certainly lost its most dominating personality, but let it not be thought that by this great depravation we will be without style leadership. The new king [George VI] might have taken as his prototype his late father, for he has the same extreme good, quiet taste.” Cloth & Clothes (1953) christened our present queen’s father “the impeccable monarch”, but he never reached the heights of sartorial excellence achieved by his brothers the Duke of Windsor and the Duke of York.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert pictured with their five children
Prince Philip, resplendent in Gieves-tailored admiral's full dress (1987)
Three generations of the British Royal Family in a formalwear portrait, Queen Elizabeth II and her consort Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and his son Prince William ( 2003 )
Neither, it must be said, did the present queen’s consort Prince Philip. In October 1952, Men’s Wear quoted Fred Stanbury, co-chairman of Kilgour, French & Stanbury, saying “The Duke of Edinburgh does not want to be a style leader. The art in tailoring is to make the customer — not the suit — look his very best.” Tailored by Teddy Watson at Hawes & Curtis then John Kent, Prince Philip has progressed quietly and elegantly as a Savile Row man for more than 50 years. At the side of HM the Queen at all great state occasions, resplendent in Gieves-tailored admiral’s full dress, His Royal Highness is a magnificent sight.
The present Prince of Wales’ relationship with Savile Row has been diffident; possibly because the shadow of the dapper Duke of Windsor still loomed large over the Windsors in his formative years.
The tailoring fraternity expected a champion of flamboyant Windsor style, and received instead a careful, sometimes contradictory man. In 1971, a young Prince Charles attended a Savile Row white-tie dinner wearing a sports jacket in response to industry criticism of his style. Prince Charles did indirectly follow in his great-uncle’s footsteps by choosing the Anderson & Sheppard cut (a scion of Scholte tailoring) and remains loyal to the house but for a brief interlude at Turnbull & Asser. His military tailor is the grand old house of Welsh & Jefferies. While minor members of the royal family such as the late Earl Mountbatten (Prince Charles’ mentor) and HRH Prince Michael of Kent display flamboyance worthy of the Duke of Windsor, Prince Charles, like his father, enjoys bespoke tailoring while not resorting to what Queen Victoria famously called ‘slang’ attire. All eyes on Savile Row inevitably rest on heir apparent Prince William and his rather more rakish younger brother Prince Harry. Though discretion prevents me from naming the house, it is satisfying for British bespoke tailoring that one of their number has taken the measure of Princes William and Harry in 2009. Equally gratifying was Lord Freddie Windsor’s pride in his Hardy Amies bespoke morning tails cut for his 2009 wedding to Sophie Winkleman. Though it is unlikely a prince will ever again lead fashion, the young royals’ support for Savile Row is most welcome.
Extracted from Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke by James Sherwood (Thames & Hudson, 2010).
Article can be seen on TheRake.com