The arrival of the aggressive and sexually overt Abercrombie & Fitch on the corner of Savile Row in 2007 caused consternation amongst those keen to protect the interests of Savile Row’s heritage of bespoke tailoring. This is partly because the A&F brand is seen as rather crude and distasteful and a corruption of the brand that the tailors of Savile Row have worked to build up. Savile Row, which has been selling bespoke men’s suits for hundreds of years, personifies the classic English personality, of being understated, conservative and quiet. Abercrombie & Fitch is in contrast a rude, arrogant, unsophisticated G.I. dragging his prostitute date around town looking for the nearest burger bar. In March 2006 more than 150 cutters, finishers and waistcoat makers took to the street; in protest against rising rents and redevelopment plans, which included the introduction of Abercrombie & Fitch to Savile Row. Protesters lined the street clutching shears, swatches and tape measures (Derbyshire, 2006). According to James Hall, writing in 2006, both local tailors and Westminster City Council feared the ‘the introduction of mass-market retailers could jeopardise the street’s illustrious heritage’. An anonymous Savile Row source was quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone objects to moving forward, but a chain store selling crappy clothes to ghastly people isn’t really the direction in which we should be travelling.” Barry Tulip, designer at tailors Gieves & Hawkes, expressed a wish that shoppers at A&F might, “look into the window and say, “Crikey, that’s amazing! As soon as I’ve got rid of my hankering for Abercrombie, I’m going to grow up and come to Gieves”.
Second the arrival of A&F was seen as the thin edge of the wedge that would eventually destroy the bespoke tailoring tradition of Savile Row. It was said that Pollen Estates’ intentions were to introduce fashion chain stores, who were willing to pay higher rents, to Savile Row, the effect of which would be to force tailors, who cannot afford to pay the rents, to leave. Indeed in 2006, Derbyshire reported that rising rents had forced Anderson & Sheppard, a tailor established in Savile Row since the 1920s, to move to a smaller shop around the corner in Old Burlington Street. In this sense one can understand the opposition to A&F, the question ringing in the minds of tailors must be, ‘Could Abercrombie & Fitch be the first step in the end of tailors on Savile Row?’ It would seem that in actual fact Pollen Estates have not been so naive to think that getting rid of all the tailors would be in their interest. Ian Herbert and John Walsh from the Independent reported that Pollen Estates had decided to attract chain stores to the area while retaining what it calls the “tailoring flavour”. This seems to be the case, because despite the fears aired in 2007, in 2013, tailors were still a conspicuous part of the street. It seems Pollen Estates wants to ‘squeeze’ a bit more money out of both Savile Row and the tailors, rather than get rid of the tailors altogether.
Nevertheless some have questioned whether replacing tailors with chain fashion stores will prove to be more profitable in the long-term. Mark A.V. Henderson, Chief Executive of Gieves & Hawkes, a tailor on Savile Row, was quoted as saying, “Exploiting the Savile Row name to attract high-paying retailers and businesses at the cost of this world-esteemed industry is shortsighted.” (see Hazlett, 2006). Attracting in chain stores may destroy the very reputation, which makes Savile Row a place people want to shop. Could this be a case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg?