Not long ago, Abercrombie & Fitch announced their intention to expand their presence on Savile Row, the heart and home of British bespoke tailoring for the last 200 years.
All we are saying:”Give Three Piece A Chance”
This potential Abercrombie & Fitch kids store, incited The Chaps(a group of humorous vintage lovers) to organize a protest for April 23, 2012 to save Savile Row from yet another character-devoid chain store. Fortunately, the uproar received a lot of coverage from the likes of The Guardian, Forbes and the Washington Post. However, it seems like a number of important points have yet to be discussed.
First of all, I want to say that I find it admirable that Gustav Temple, editor-in-chief of The Chap magazine, and his followers to have organized such an event. The worldwide coverage proves that even a small group of people can spread the word effectively in this day an age. Overall, the demonstration seems to have been properly planned, with nicely designed protest banners, a slogan and even a song. Now, the question is – why were they protesting? Let’s take a look at the Chaps and the new store.
The Chaps are a group of people with a love for the vintage lifestyle and goods. They don’t seem to take themselves very seriously, which I find to be an important quality. Their manifesto is both funny and telling at the same time, claiming that tweed is the only fabric one could wear and that you should never NOT smoke! They organize themselves around meetings, their namesake magazine, their website, and the occasional protest, apparently.
Abercrombie & Fitch
On opposite side of the spectrum, there is Abercrombie & Fitch. The company was founded in 1892 in New York City by David T. Abercrombie and Ezra H. Fitch. Ironically, they were a purveyor of fine hunting and sporting gear. In its original incarnation, the brand would have suited the Chaps perfectly. However, today’s Abercrombie is a known for hawking perfumes, t-shirts and flip flops in an overtly youthful, aggressively sexualized environment meant to play on the in-crowd insecurities of its modern 18 to 22 year old consumer base. Therefore, I can understand why the interests of both groups clash.
The Chap – Representative of Savile Row?
However, I am was surprised to see The Chaps speak up against the omnipresent American retailer. Sure, as traditionalists, this group is probably strictly against these kind of establishments and they have every right to express their concerns. But do the Chaps really represent the Row? Their vintage inclinations are much more about costume than they are about functional, classic fashion.
Not only are they unlikely to patronize a genuine Savile Row establishment, they seem to have very little in common with the people they are defending. They are vintage lovers who simply seem to enjoy the idea of Savile Row. This is exactly the reason why there were voices from tailoring circles that questioned the usefulness of this protest, because many people believe Savile Row is already a relict from ancient times. So, if now vintage loving men and women show up in costumes, they just confirm the view of the general public that Savile Row is history.
On the other hand, Savile Row considers itself to be a relevant force in the present day. They believe in the power of their great heritage, and they don’t yet feel ready to surrender as an overcome institution. They dress businessmen, clothes lovers and country sportsmen & women alike, and tailor their garments on the premises.
As such, I can see their point: The Chaps were certainly not the ideal group of protestors – but they were the only ones. It is always easy to criticize, but so much harder to make it better. It was The Chaps who created awareness of the issue well beyond the borders of the British Isles, not the Savile Row tailors or the customers. Of course, in a democracy you always have the right not to vote and not to express your opinion. Though, I have a hard time taking people seriously who, on the one hand, do not act and on the other hand, argue against everything that is done. If you can do it better, do it – it’s that simple.
What do you think?
Savile Row – A Cultural Heritage or Free Market?
Companies can sell products to anyone as long as there is demand and they are not leather or similarly harmful to the consumer: a piece of clothing that is contaminated with carcinogenic chemicals will be taken off the market, because it is a threat to the consumers’ health. Forcing craftsmen of tailor to cease operations is an irreversible loss of heritage, culture and know how – shouldn’t that also be forbidden? Who decides what is culture and what is not, what is beautiful and what is ugly?
Apart from that, the question arises whether authorities should step in and declare Savile Row to a living world cultural heritage. On the one hand, I would love to see the tailors on Savile Row being protected, because I have an affinity to craftsmanship as well as a deeply rooted passion. It would break my heart to see them cease operations, and I am always happy to see new tailors, shoemakers, and shirtmakers pop up. Every time an old craftsman dies, a little bit (or sometimes a lot) of knowledge and tradition is buried with him or her. I find it incredibly sad to see techniques and know-how vanish that has been developed and refined over generations, just because we are often too ignorant and short sighted to choose the cheap over the good. Here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, one of our fundamental goals is to express the value of investing in quality goods.
On the other hand, it might not be the right thing to tell the public to appreciate handmade quality over machine made quantity. Instead, I think people should learn so that they, too, can make an informed choice. Many people don’t know what level of quality. It seems to me there are more younger people who are interested in classic clothing and quality, than there were 20 years ago. Obviously, there are crafts shops popping up again, letterpress printers are in high demand, and quality is appreciated again. This organic interest is probably preferable to a protectionist approach, but that’s just my opinion.
I hope to delivered some food for thought, and I would be thrilled to learn what you think about the subject matter! In the following, you will find two videos of the protest.
If you now want to express your support for the row, please sign a petition here – it only takes 10 seconds.
Videos of the Savile Row protest.