Summer 2016

Dress to impress

Tailoring a bespoke suit is a work of art which few can do better than Savile Row’s Huntsman

One of the most famous names on Savile Row, London’s iconic street that is renowned for bespoke menswear, Huntsman’s customers have ranged from Clark Gable to Winston Churchill, and from King Edward VII to the Rolling Stones.

Established in 1849 by Henry Huntsman, the house quickly gained a reputation for dressing the hunting and riding aristocracy of Europe. In 1886, the company earned its first Royal Warrant as Leather Breeches Maker to HRH the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). Queen Victoria herself was a client in 1888 and after becoming the clothier of The Duke of Windsor in the 1920s, Huntsman gained loyal followers including Louis Mountbatten and Churchill.  

From the fifties, Huntsman became the preferred tailor for Hollywood’s stars including Clark Gable, Rex Harrison, Lawrence Olivier, Paul Newman and Gregory Peck. By the sixties ready-to-wear clothing was added to its portfolio, followed by a bespoke made-to-order service. 

As craftsman to royals, aristocrats, business tycoons and stars, Huntsman has always been dedicated to luxury tailoring with the finest materials married to skilled workmanship, CEO Philippe Brenninkmeijer tells Arabian Knight in an interview. Excerpts ...

What are the most important elements of being fitted for a bespoke suit? 

Like any work of art, we start with a blank canvas allowing us to tailor every aspect of the garment to the needs and wishes of our customers. This allows for the perfect fitting of a unique garment which supports them, without being noticeable, in everything that they do. 

Why have the Huntsman tweeds been classic menswear for over a century? 

Tweed is very much at the heart of British bespoke tailoring and we have always been famous for our tweeds, coming from our background in country recreational pursuits. Furthermore, we have our own house tweeds, which are unmistakably Huntsman in their style and execution. These tweeds are woven in a small mill on the island of Islay nestled in the Outer Hebrides, as it was a hundred years ago.

What are the stages of the suit-making process?  

We sketch the silhouette of the client at the base fitting stage based on more than 30 measurements. The measurements are translated onto a paper pattern, which is laid onto the cloth and cut. The garment is then rudimentarily sewn together resulting in basted beginnings of a suit, which is fitted onto the customer. Adjustments are drawn onto the cloth and the suit is taken apart and sewn together considering the marked adjustments. This process is repeated twice more, each time adding another dimension to the suit where it begins to look more like the finished product. Finally, once all aspects of the suit are perfected, there will be a final fitting where the last touches and tweaks ensure the garments looks and feels to Huntsman standards. However, different to a painter who starts and ends with a two-dimensional product, the cutter has to shape a two-dimensional cloth into a three dimensional masterpiece.

There is a certain mystic about Savile Row tailors, why does the tradition of suit-making continue in this part of London? And why have Huntsman suits become such status symbols?

Savile Row has been long established as the row of craftsmanship. The British love tradition and this street will always remain the global centre of bespoke tailoring with a history and heritage that can’t be beaten. 

Huntsman is seen as the epitome of British bespoke tailoring. Being one of the most prestigious tailors on ‘the Row’ holds with it an appeal and level of prestige that those “who have already achieved” are somewhat attracted to. Our clients feel they are part of an elite club due to the incredible relationship they form with the staff here, as well as the exclusivity of many aspects such as the store, the cloth and the levels of privacy we provide. Huntsman suits have become a status symbol due to all of these elements combined. 

How do you guide a client through the process of having a bespoke suit made? 

Unlike a lot of tailoring houses, our cutters aren’t prescriptive – we can make almost anything happen. We often see customers walking in with an idea of what they want but ultimately giving total freedom to the cutter whom they know will do their upmost to make them look and feel the best they possibly could. Our craftsmanship and style is as popular today as it has been over the last 165 years.

What are the subtle features that distinguish a Huntsman suit from others? 

Our classic house style, the Huntsman silhouette, is very distinct.  It was established when our cutters developed a hybrid of a classic riding jacket and a dinner suit.  This resulted in a wonderfully elegant and waisted coat. Its defining characteristics lend themselves to a coat that has echoes of the clean and subtly accentuated lines of military tailoring. It has a firm shoulder, high armhole, defined waist and a flared skirt.  Perhaps the most notable feature is our one-button fastening. The overall result is one that is composed and extremely flattering. The neat waist, skirt and structured shoulder have the effect of creating a very British coat, one of which we are extremely proud. Many have tried to imitate us, but it is the perfect balance and structure of our tailoring that ensure that the style and elegance of our tailoring remains unchallenged.

What is the most luxurious suit fabric you offer?  

Our most luxurious one is the Opus, an exclusive fabric which we outbid many other world-renowned houses for. This wool comes from a small flock of sheep in South Australia from which only the best fibres are used. Huntsman’s capabilities are not limited and we are able to accommodate more unusual requests. For instance, we recently met a request for a fabric that contained 22-karat gold and crushed sapphires in it!

What are the latest developments at Huntsman?

Our trunk shows were very successful and we recently visited customers in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, by special appointment. Some customers request special or preferred locations for consultations. Meanwhile, our formal ready-to-wear collection is now available for the horse racing and wedding season.   

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