Since 2004 Anda Rowland has run Anderson & Sheppard, one of the best known men’s bespoke tailoring companies in London. At the core of Anderson & Sheppard is the English Drape cut: a now classic suiting silhouette, which surfaced as a comfier alternative to the rigid constraints of military dress early in the 20th Century.
What is so special about Anderson & Sheppard?
The so-called English Drape cut is a cut that enables many of our customers, like those who are photographers and filmmakers, to work. Unique to Anderson & Sheppard, it’s not a military cut, it’s a civilian cut. It’s something you would wear for yourself, not as a ceremonial court uniform. It doesn’t have its origins in uniforms, which have a heavier, more structured cut. It was developed by Frederick Scholte, the Dutchman who was the Duke of Windsor’s cutter in London. Scholte was working in Savile Row and trained Per Anderson, who was active before 1906 and then joined with Mr Sheppard to create this company.
Is it possible to trace the origins of the different cuts of Savile Row tailors?
Yes. Huntsman for example has military and equestrian ties. They are famous for riding breeches, and have a much more structured coat and a longer jacket. There are differences between us, Henry Poole, Huntsman and Richard Anderson, who was the head cutter at Huntsman before he set up at number 13 Savile Row.
How is the tailoring industry of Savile Row doing?
350 to 500 people work in the industry. The Savile Row Bespoke Association has a joint apprenticeship programme which has trained about 60 people. In the last ten years we have trained a lot of young cutters who we send to visit customers in places like Germany and Hong Kong.
Who are your competitors?
The French are active, and are good at promoting themselves. The Italians, especially the Neapolitan houses, travel a lot and have focused on the Far East. Italy has many more small tailors, three or four hundred, but their young people don’t want to go into tailoring.
What is the story of your father’s involvement with Anderson & Sheppard?
My father (she shows me a photograph in a book of the impeccably dressed Roland “Tiny” Rowland) was an entrepreneur and became a customer of Anderson & Sheppard in the 50s. He really liked the British tailoring style, and particularly appreciated the ease of movement and the discrete, subtle elegance of Anderson & Sheppard, the very simple lines and the comfort. He spent much of the 50s and 60s in Africa, and was very active and outdoorsy. When he came back from Africa in the early 70s he invested in the company because he was close to the cutters. Initially it was 50/50, then, as they retired, he was the natural inheritor. As a family we have 80%.
How did you become involved?
My father died in 1998. In 2004 my mother asked me to come in when I was working for Dior Parfums in Paris. We are four children, and nobody else had this kind of background. After a moment of crisis and fear I came in as an outside person and just did it.
How was it to be a woman at the head of a man’s craft?
It was new to me, so I could ask questions others didn’t ask or think of. And I came from a very contemporary environment at Dior. I am very tenacious and I just continued to say, “This is what we need to do.”
What does your job involve?
Everything you don’t see is mine! Financial management, human resources, marketing, product development. We are not about stars, we are a team. The customer is the star.
In 2004 why did you move from your large space in Savile Row to a smaller space at 32 Old Burlington Street?
The landlord’s plans had created uncertainties over the fate of the building we were in at Number 30 Savile Row and we had to move. There weren’t any other spaces available. We moved to a three times smaller space. Our focus was to make sure that a customer who had known us would stay with us. To make that happen we had to get them to say, “It’s different,” not, “It’s smaller.” Many of the team had been at the company since they were 16 or 17, and the move was very worrying. I just made sure that everybody was involved. We had six months to move and measure all the new work areas.
Do you have less people working for you now?
No, more. We have 30 full time staff. We have six senior cutters and three apprentices and a full time trimmer. We make about 1500 suits a year.
Do you follow fashion?
We don’t follow fashion on the cut, but on the proportions. The basic principles of the cut don’t change. We have separate cutters for trousers and jackets. The head cutter was John Hitchcock, now it is Danny Hall. Our trouser cutter John Malone has been with us for 40 years, and he trained Oliver Spencer and is now training our latest apprentice Sam Labone. They can cut anything you want. We do not change the making, but now we are not often using very heavy cloth.
Can you name some of your famous customers?
Historically, people like Fred Astaire, Laurence Olivier, Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Isaiah Berlin, Somerset Maugham, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Pablo Picasso and George Balanchine. Some are multi-generational, fathers introducing sons. The Prince of Wales is one of our customers, as are Bryan Ferry, Manolo Blahnik and Tom Ford. Our clients are not so much businessmen, but artistic and creative types.
And they are all male?
We have made some very special exceptions in Marlene Dietrich, Kate Moss and, of course, Fran Lebowitz.
How do you dress yourself?
I don’t see many customers and I have a separate entrance to my office! Here I dress quite conservatively.
Where do your customers come from?
75% of our business is with USA and UK customers, the other 25% is Europe and the Far and Middle East. The percentage was more American than it is now, but we still go to the USA twice a year for the US customers. Now California is more important, LA used to be very casual but has become more formal. The Europeans are mostly the Swiss, French and Italians. We go to Germany because Germans don’t travel to buy clothes. The Far and Middle East is important, the Chinese are coming, Japan is strong and a very sophisticated market, and increasingly Koreans are interested. These days we see less of the South Americans.
Are you worried that Brexit will damage your business?
At the moment London is not as lively as it has been. There is a risk that the international people who have lived here are thinking of moving, but our team of experts will always have great appeal and we get a lot of support from our customers.
Are suits worn in different ways in different countries?
In Italy for example jumpers underneath suits can look good, but British men look good with a waistcoat, which covers the join between the top and the trousers. Italians wear old fashioned and classic in a way that looks stylish. They’re very good at mixing it up in a way that looks contemporary.
Why did you decide to open the new Anderson & Sheppard Haberdashery shop at 17 Clifford Street?
We opened it because we knew from our customers, who we are very close to, that they couldn’t find good knitwear, or trousers to wear on a boat or in a garden or for summer holidays. We said, “We can find them for you.” It’s different, and younger people come and have a look. The impact of comfort and being at ease is most important. It is managed by Audie Charle, another woman working in a man’s world!
Do women care about how a man dresses?
It is the first thing that we notice – how a man presents himself and looks after his clothes and himself from head to toe. Generally, women do not like a man who is too precious or dandy. He should wear his clothes and they should not wear him. It is a strong sign of confidence and self-respect.
How often do your customers bring a suit back in for care and repair?
Sometimes we see it 25 years later or it’s been worn so much it comes in two years later. There is a lot of sponge cleaning and invisible mending or patching or buttons being changed going on. We do a lot of alterations, but some people who regularly change shape have two sets of suits, one for each shape or size.
What is a good customer for you?
There is a good customer who only ever makes one suit, there is another one who orders two a year. We had one US client who had eighty suits made in one year! An order for eighty suits sounds wonderful, but all the work that year became focussed on him and he was in his Seventies. Now we have more customers ordering fewer suits and the team prefers that. Some clients remain for many years, others are seasonal. One customer who saved up for one suit now has seven or eight and became an addict. He says, “If my wife asks if I have been in, don’t say!” This was not the deal he made with her! Each time he comes in he says, “This is definitely the last one!” Our clients are not necessarily wealthy people.
Are new customers sometimes shy about coming through the door?
It can be quite scary, but niche businesses like ours can have a voice through the internet and Instagram. Even when coming in with a recommendation our young customers check online. People now are looking back beyond their sometimes not very elegant fathers to their grandfathers, people who look good like Michael Caine and Terence Stamp.
How much does one of your suits cost?
Now it’s £4,600. Henry Poole is much the same. Huntsman are more expensive. The prices are the same for all our customers, without exception.
Are you known more for double or single breasted jackets?
We are known for double breasted jackets, but single breasted are more popular these days because they are easier to wear.
Which is the most popular suit?
We make more navy blue suits than anything else.
Do people still want Tweed suits?
Yes, and there are more sports jackets now. People want to mix it up by wearing jeans and a beautiful Prince of Wales Tweed check coat, or navy blue suit trousers and a jumper. While the idea of a wardrobe still exists with the more traditional customers, younger buyers mix it up, understand style and are self-educated. Morning suits and dinner jackets have come back, as well as some white tie. What is in the shop window is very important. People see it and they want it.
Do you have special cloths?
We have a range of special cloths of our own design. Our staff help select the cloth for someone who has never had a bespoke suit made before when they know what the suit is for and in what climate it will be worn.
In conclusion, why should you become an Anderson & Sheppard customer?
You don’t go out of our door looking like you are wearing a new suit. It’s yours, and it looks like yours.
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June 11th, 2017
All images courtesy of Anderson & Sheppard.