The future of Savile Row is female

With three female looks and two female tailors winning the top awards at the Golden Shears, Savile Row is no longer just a man's world

Now, let’s make one thing abundantly plain before we go any further. I love Savile Row. I love everything it stands for: timeless style, time-honoured tradition and unparalleled craftsmanship – the works. As a tailored menswear obsessive, I go to sleep dreaming of the place and bow down in deference to it every evening. But, I’m worried.

These days Savile Row is constantly embattled; whether rising rents, the onslaught of fast fashion, high street brands misappropriating what it means to make a ‘bespoke’ suit, or just Brexit-related uncertainly, things are tough for Britain’s bespoke tailoring community right now. Still more concerning is the traditional, some might say stick-in-the-mud attitude of some of Savile Row’s older tailoring houses – companies that prefer to whisper rather than shout – instead of embracing social media, content marketing, and other tools that keep small businesses alive and kicking in today’s digital world. Even so, a landscape like this makes an event like this year’s Golden Shears competition all the more special to be a part of.

The Golden Shears, for those less obsessed with the Row than myself, is the Oscars of the bespoke tailoring world. Every two years (the last competition was in 2017) hundreds of apprentice tailors, university students and fashion graduates from the length and breadth of Britain enter a contest to design, cut and make a bespoke outfit from scratch in their own time, without support from their mentors, to demonstrate the skills they’ve fostered on the job.

The winner gets a cheque for £3,000, a shears-shaped trophy, and widespread recognition as one to watch within the industry. It’s always an uplifting experience; not only because it is a reminder that there are hundreds of talented young craftspeople nationwide with a passion for tailoring, but also because it’s a moment where Savile Row comes together to celebrate what it does, rather than hiding behind mahogany shop doors and mullioned windows.

Moreover, this year’s final catwalk marked a fascinating watershed moment. For the first time, the number of outfits cut and tailored for women far outweighed those designed for men to wear. We might associate bespoke tailoring primarily with crusty business dress or old school men’s formalwear, but if this next generation of tailors has anything to say at all, that might well change soon.

The winner of this year’s competition was Rachel Singer, an apprentice at Maurice Sedwell, who’s extraordinary dove-grey double-breasted women’s trouser suit, with a pale cappuccino coloured greatcoat over the top was a standout from the second it emerged at the top of the catwalk. Her decision to cut a striking women’s suit and overcoat was a natural one, she tells The Jackal, even though she spends most of her time working on bespoke clothing for men. ‘I think the sexiest thing a woman could ever wear is a sharply cut double-breasted trouser suit with wide legs. If you ask me, it’s sexier than the little black dress; it’s cool, powerful, and elegant. My goal was to make something that I wanted to wear afterwards.’

Golden Shears 2019, Savile Row

The competition's winner, Rachel Singer, with celebrity judges Jodie Kidd and David Gandy

It seems that Singer wasn’t the only young tailor thinking just that. ‘It was awesome to be a part of a catwalk with so much women’s tailoring this year.’ she says. ‘I hope it debunked the myth that Savile Row tailoring is just for men. I also hope it showed how open, willing and active the younger generation is in opening up Savile Row to a whole new client base. Before I started working on Savile Row, I’d never have even thought that I could go there to shop for clothes, so to open the door to more women, and show that suiting is relevant and applicable for them too is very cool.’

This is music to The Jackal’s ears. If Savile Row is to continue to flourish today, it’ll take both the talent and the fresh thinking of tailors like Singer to propel it forward. Not that her’s was the only exceptional outfit on the night. Other standout entries came care of the competition’s runners-up; Silver Shears winner Edward Jones, an undergraduate at the University for the Creative Arts, and Dunhill apprentice, Sophie Weller. Interestingly, both opted to make womenswear too.

Jones cut a remarkable cropped women’s jacket and pleated culottes, layered over tulle pantaloons. The cloth was a heavy worsted navy chalkstripe, which channelled something of the male-dominated corporate world into a powerful feminine design. Weller cut a two-piece single-button blazer with matching shorts in a lightweight pale blue and white boating stripe cloth – creating a fashion-forward women’s suit for summer.

Evidently, change is afoot in the next generation’s approach to tailoring design. We hope this is a trend that will continue. Savile Row is one of this country’s most precious institutions, but like all precious things it needs protecting, nurturing and, sometimes, gently nudging forward. The Golden Shears’ finalists are now in poll position to do this, we’ll look forward to seeing what comes next for all of them.