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Bown's Bespoke - Overcoats - GeorgeI am not the person to advise you against Savile Row.  I love its traditions, its character and its expertise.  If you can always afford it, my advice is always to go there for your tailoring and to go nowhere else in the world.  But I am the person to recognise that not everyone can invariably pay £2000+ for a suit and £1500+ for an overcoat.  Poverty, as I never cease telling my friends, has its disciplines – and I am master of them all.

So let me share with you my greatest sartorial secret: how to achieve a good imitation of Savile Row at a third of its prices.  I invite you to follow me as I have an overcoat made in London.

Let me warn you at once that my strategy requires some work and that our focus will be on the final result.  In no way are we replicating ‘the Savile Row experience’.  There will be no mahogany lined fitting rooms, no framed Royal warrants on the walls and no attention from solicitous cutters, deferentially seeking to cater to our slightest whim.  On this occasion ours will be a humbler experience – but not without its pleasures.

And one of the chief of those pleasures is the selection of the cloth.  For this we must go to Regent Street.  Here are located a number of shops which specialize in selling suit and coat lengths to the public.  They have huge stocks and therefore provide a choice of design and quality which most tailors (outside Savile Row) simply cannot match.  Here I find access to many thousands of different patterns of cloth.

Nearly all the cloths in these shops are English – from mills in Huddersfield.  For both suit and overcoat cloths the usual price range is £50 to £90 a metre, although pure cashmere can be £200+ a metre.  A 2-piece suit normally requires 3 metres.  My overcoat, since it would be double-breasted and very long, would also need 3 metres.  Seeking something a little different, and something to wear with brown shoes, I chose a brown 19 ounce herringbone by Holland & Sherry.  Pure wool, of course, with the herringbone pattern very pronounced and beautifully soft to the touch.  (This particular cloth had to be fetched from the warehouse, which was done overnight.)  The price?  £70 a metre.  So total spent so far: £210.

Before you leave the shop there is another matter to deal with which is of crucial importance.  The buttons.  One of the features of Savile Row tailoring is the use of real horn buttons.  Other tailors usually substitute plastic buttons – which can be quite convincing substitutes, but that is what they are: substitutes.  The cloth shop should be able to supply you with the genuine article, in exactly the right colour.  You will need 4 small buttons for each cuff and the appropriate number of large front buttons, plus a couple of spares for future use in case of loss.  They cost about £1 each.  I took 20, taking my total spending to £230.

Now comes the difficult part: finding a good, reliable tailor.  This is where personal recommendation is vital.  Two fine fellows (one the manager of a famous hotel, the other a noted journalist), whose judgement I trust – and, perhaps more to the point, whose clothes I have seen – had been trying to persuade me to go to a fellow off the Euston Road.  So I found myself wandering down Cleveland Street looking for George, Bespoke Tailor.  And there was the sign (behind some railings, to which was chained a bicycle).  Bown's Bespoke - Overcoats - GeorgeBut where was the shop?  Gingerly – so as not to scuff my polished brogues – I descended a narrow iron staircase and entered the basement premises.

No shop this.  But a workroom – and a busy one.  All around tailors sewed.  And there in the midst was the eponymous George, a gruff middle-aged Cypriot.  “Yes?” he asked.  Things here, I soon learnt, are very much to the point.  You need to know what you want, so I would counsel prior thought about your exact requirements.  But George seems to have a master’s approach to his craft, so that every one of the details I wanted was faithfully executed in the finished garment – despite the speedy and apparently cursory nature of the proceedings (my initial visit lasted all of 5 minutes).

Two weeks later and I was back for the fitting.  Another two weeks and I was walking back up Cleveland Street with my new overcoat.  It is a beauty: calf length, double-breasted with all four buttons to fasten, working buttons at the cuff, a startling red lining and a deep lower left inside pocket for my scarf.  The fit is excellent, well waisted and snug around the shoulders.  One or two stray pieces of cotton had to be snipped away when I arrived home, but nothing too untoward.  You should be aware of one feature of your fitting, however.  As this is a workroom, pieces of cotton and fluff are everywhere.  The clothes you wear on your visits will probably need a thorough brushing thereafter – but I did warn you this would not be Savile Row…

If you choose one of George’s materials, the price of an overcoat is £390; taking in your own material the price is £250. This took the total price of my wonderful new overcoat to £480 – less than a third of its Savile Row equivalent.  Is it as good?  Well, even with its real horn buttons, its fine cloth and its good tailoring, there is a difference.  But it is a marginal difference, and I suspect very few outside the trade could spot it.  Well done, the shop in Regent Street, for supplying the raw materials; well done, George, for putting them together so well; and well done, me, for finding a real bargain.



143 Cleveland Street, London W1P 5PH, England.
Telephone +44 (0)20 7388 6886

Open: 7.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m., Monday to Friday
Two-piece suits from £475

Francis Bown 2004
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