“I’m just going to come a little bit forward,” said Mr. Carnera, moving the robot a few feet to the left.
He was collecting the roughly 20 measurements that are standard in a first Savile Row fitting, the initial step in the fabrication of a made-from-scratch suit that starts at about $8,000 and can reach as high as $40,000 for the priciest material.
“Twenty-seven and a quarter,” said an assistant in Seoul, through a translator, holding a measuring tape.
This system, up and running since September, wouldn’t work without a pair of living, trained hands on the client. As robots go, Huntsman’s is primitive — essentially a camera and intercom on wheels. It doesn’t have arms, let alone the fingertips to find an inseam. The point of the gizmo isn’t to eliminate the need for the human touch. It’s to eliminate the need for Mr. Carnera to travel, which, because of the pandemic, he can’t.
This grounding is a fiasco for Savile Row tailors. They typically spend nearly as much time flying around the world, fitting clients, as they do cutting and sewing. For many houses, 70 percent of revenue comes from these overseas trunk shows. With tailors stuck in their shops, and London tourism in free-fall, the most famous men’s clothing street in the world is gasping for life.
“Our company lived through the Boer War, World War I, the Depression, World War II, recessions,” said Simon Cundey, the managing director of Henry Poole & Co., which traces its roots to 1819. “But through all of these crises, we could visit our customers and they could visit us. This is a tragedy on a different scale.”
The struggles started before the pandemic. The decades-long drift from formal wear has wounded a retail strip known for elegant, hand-sewn garments that take up to 90 hours to produce. Plus, the cultural cachet of the suit has waned. All Savile Row shops are associated with a Hollywood star who was a regular: Fred Astaire at Anderson & Sheppard, Charlie Chaplin at Gieves & Hawkes. Most died decades ago.
Covid has turned the Row’s challenges into a brush with the abyss. Even dandies are now trundling around their homes in Lululemon. The four months of business between the first and second lockdowns helped, but not a lot. Profit-sapping quarantines meant that tailors still could not fly to other European countries, Asia and the United States, as they typically do three or four times a year.
American Anglophiles are the street’s not-so-secret sugar daddies. New York, Los Angeles, and a few other U.S. cities account for roughly one third of all revenue on the Row, managing directors here say.
Fortunately, the biggest landlord on the street has pockets deep enough to afford some rent forbearance. Most of the Row is owned by one of the richest entities on earth: Norway’s $1.1 trillion sovereign wealth fund. It owns a majority of the Pollen Estate, a holder of prime acres of central London real estate for nearly 400 years.
The overseers of the fund know that if the celebrated houses of Savile Row close or scatter for cheaper premises, the street’s cachet will disappear, along with much of its value. This gives tailors here a rare kind of leverage. Which may be one reason there’s a lot of we’re-in-this-together talk from Julian Stocks, a Pollen Estate property director.
“The fund family are actually very long-term thinkers,” he said. “It’s not about that slightly American approach of ‘make a quick buck and move on.’ It’s all about sustainable growth and value over the long term.”
How long this generosity will last is a major preoccupation for owners and employees here. So is the broader question of whether the street can shake off its image as a fusty redoubt of old-school haberdashery. Many of the nearly 30 shops are attempting an update. Some are opening or expanding online shops that offer ready-to-wear lines. Others are selling bespoke doctor’s scrubs and pandemic masks. A few are experimenting with Zoom. So far, only Huntsman has built a robot.
“I was skeptical when I first heard the idea,” Mr. Carnera said. “I’m very traditional. I work with a pair of shears that are about a hundred years old. But the bottom line is that we had to do something.”
Magdalena Handwerker, Head Ladieswear Cutter
Tune In To Huntsman- The Window
Nothing on the box? Perhaps it’s time to put down that remote and make an appointment at Huntsman. We’re now delighted to welcome you back in-store by appointment, with more ways than ever to enjoy our bespoke services it is back to work physically and virtually for our dedicated team of Client Managers, Cutters and Tailors.
Through the COVID19 crisis, it’s been the resilience of the Huntsman team which holds testament to our dedication to the best bespoke service and the world’s finest handcrafted clothes. From the confinement of their own homes, our Cutters and Tailors have been working tirelessly, sewing scrubs for Frontline Workers and completing clients’ orders to ensure no delays!
Now, our Cutting Theatres and workshops eagerly await your orders, our shears at the ready- with new and exclusive cloth and services, now is the perfect opportunity to start planning your new commissions for early Autumn!
It’s not only the team at Huntsman that have adapted to new ways of working. As we all settle into the ‘new normal’ the way we do business, and dress for business has changed. Huntsman’s Creative Director Campbell Carey has designed a collection of chic separates for this Summer and summers to come. Lightweight linens and cotton inspired in a contemporary colour pallet are welcome additions to your work and leisure wardrobe. Why not complete your summer ensemble with a masks/">Huntsman Mask, handcrafted in the finest 100% Egyptian cotton and available in 5 colourways. The double-layered design allows you to house your own filter elegantly and discreetly within the mask. As many of us prepare to return to our daily commute, and with the prospect of a "new normal" on the horizon, safety whilst stepping out of lockdown is paramount.
Whether it’s taking Zoom meetings or channel hopping, this is a collection you’re sure to love as we move from confinement.
Though much of Savile Row remains unlit, we hope our window is a shining beacon of bespoke and better times to come. If you’re stuck for shows to binge, the Huntsman window is well worth a watch.
Speak to us about booking an appointment at either 11 Savile Row, or W57th St, we’d love to see you.
Or shop our Summer Separates collection online.
Welcome Back to Huntsman
We’re delighted to announce that from the 15th of June we will be welcoming Clients back to 11 Savile Row and W57th Street by appointment. It will be business as usual, and your welfare and comfort remains our top priority.
We are following COVID19 guidelines closely and would like to offer you more information on the ways in which we’re keeping you safe when you visit us in-store.