Robb Reader: Richard Anderson

The man whose work Bryan Ferry has described as “the traditions of Savile Row with a modern twist” shares his thoughts on a time-honoured craft

Robb Reader: Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson undertook his first Savile Row apprenticeship with Huntsman aged 17. Some decades on, the atelier he set up with Savile Row veteran Brian Lishak is one of the only ones on the street which is named after its proprietor. 

How do you feel bespoke London tailoring has changed over the post-war years?When we opened the doors in 2001, Brian and I wanted to create an atmosphere that was less intimidating and more welcoming – one that would appeal to a younger audience, customers in my own age group. We painted the shop white and introduced modern art into the workspace to create a sense of welcoming. Some of those older companies- as fabulous as they were and still are – I found intimidating: they had a “Don’t-come-in” atmosphere. I wanted to do away with that. I knew that with mine and Brian’s combined experience, we could provide clients with a more welcoming experience but without sacrificing the quality of the cut, make and service.

So there was a gap in the market, so to speak?
My dream was to give life back to The Row and 2001 presented the opportunity to open the first [new] bespoke tailor on Savile Row in 50 years. It was the perfect time for us to immerse ourselves with some of the most traditional tailors and offer a point of difference, taking the age-old craft of bespoke tailoring forward. I felt tailors of The Row were missing the opportunity to service gentlemen of a wider demographic for the sake of tradition.

How has The Row changed during your time operating on it?
Ready-to-wear and made-to-measure have definitely influenced the tailoring industry. Nowadays most tailors on Savile Row stock seasonal ready-to-wear collections and offer made-to-measure services – you wouldn’t have seen collections like that from Savile Row tailors back in the day. The introduction of ready-to-wear on ‘The Row’ is a stepping stone into bespoke. We regularly see the return of customers who started out purchasing ready-to-wear and then come back for a bespoke piece. It’s an opportunity to introduce Savile Row tailoring to the younger customers. Tailors have come to understand that there is no need for the sense of secrecy anymore. Since I started at the ripe old age of 17, I have seen a huge change in the sales approach to customers; it’s much more personable and open.

Classic elegance has enjoyed a resurgence of late – has that made it easier to recruit?
As long as cutters and makers maintain the quality of style and make, the industry will remain in good shape. The amount of talented of young people coming in to the trade is extremely encouraging for the future. I’d say that the greatest shift has been the weight of fabrics. Tailors are now working with much lighter weight fabrics around the 11oz-12o mark – back when I started working on Savile Row, we were working with 16oz to 17oz.

How would you describe the differences between American and British/European attitudes to tailoring?
Tailoring is a form of craftmanship and, of course, there are techniques that are adopted by all tailors, but the beauty of Savile Row is that each tailor has their own signature style. That’s what sets each one of us apart and it’s why clients can come to purchase a limited-edition or one-of-a-kind piece. Part of my job as a cutter is to improve the body. Make anyone look a little bit taller and slimmer, disguise any concerns they have – you have to take it all into consideration. The American style tends to be a little bit easier and fuller than the British, whereas Italian style is looser fitting.

Many of the fashion brands are now catering for, and championing, a blurring of the lines between traditional elegance and street style/sportswear etc… Are you a fan of this blurring?
Although we have seen an increase in affections towards casual luxury in the fashion industry, there still remains a heavy demand for a perfectly made, suit and jacket. When Brian and I opened the doors in 2001, our vision was always to draw on the tradition and craftmanship of Savile Row to create suits of life-long quality for modern men and women. We’re now more than ever seeing the adaptation of traditional designs with a more contemporary twist.

How do you adapt to such cultural changes?
We’re currently refurbishing our store, to increase our Ready to Wear range – this isn’t because we are seeing a decline in bespoke, it’s merely because we have recognised that our Ready to Wear collection is a stepping stone for our customers into bespoke. It offers them the opportunity to first-hand experience our product and style. We regularly see the return of customers who started out purchasing ready-to-wear and then come back for a bespoke piece. We have also introduced denim into our range – although we’re tailors, we understand that trends change and with the increased combination of a sports jacket and jeans, we saw an opportunity for gentlemen to have perfectly tailored jeans along with a jacket.

 How has the very nature of luxury – in a broad sense – changed lately, and how? Throughout my career working on Savile Row, the final product has always been of the utmost importance. The quality of the cut, make and service is the reason Savile Row has the reputation as the bespoke tailoring hub worldwide. Increasingly, though, we’re finding that our clients’ focus has shifted from just the product to the combination of exquisite product and back-story. Clients like a story they can relate or feel connected to. It’s the exact reason I chose to write my second book Making The Cut. I have clients coming in asking for adaptations of garments that are made in the book. They love the look of the product, but also have been captured by the evolution of the patterns and the new fabrics in which they can be made. Each piece has its own story – from a rakish red-and-white seersucker coat to a show-stopping black sequined dinner jacket. Original sketches, patterns and photographs reveal the time, dedication and precision that go into creating a truly custom-made piece throughout the book.

In what circumstances do you get your best creative ideas?
I wouldn’t say there are any set circumstances or locations that inspire my creative ideas. I’m lucky enough to travel as often as I do. We’ve recently returned from our trunk show in Hong Kong; the colour and buzz of the city gave me so much inspiration. I love travelling and experiencing new cultures. But then again, I also get inspiration from my surroundings in London, whether it’s from an art gallery, a person, a restaurant interior. The autumnal colours in London at the moment have inspired the tones of our next tweed collection.

richardandersonltd.com. A Life on Savile Row – In Conversation With Richard Anderson takes place at the Fashion and Textile Museum (ftmlondon.org) on Thursday 29 November.

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