There is an ever-increasing number of books about Savile Row tailors. They tend to fall into two categories: the somewhat impersonal vanity history of a firm and the more gossipy personal memoir full of dish about the tailors and their clients. The Savile Row Cutter, by Michael Skinner “in conversation with Hormazd Narielwalla,” doesn’t quite fit either category.
Each chapter is a separate set of vignettes from the life of Skinner, director of the Savile Row tailors Dege & Skinner and himself son and father of cutters. Narielwalla’s writing splices together Skinner’s first-person recollections. The result is curious but uniquely personal, a set of memories from a man indissociably linked with Savile Row, but despite its title, not strictly a book about Savile Row or tailoring.
Due to its structure, The Savile Row Cutter doesn’t purport to contain the authoritative history of the tailoring firm Dege & Skinner. As a memoir, it lacks the narrative arc of another recent book by a tailor, Richard Anderson’s Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed, which sets up Anderson’s coming of age as a tailor at Huntsman of Savile Row against Huntsman’s own transformation. The Savile Row Cutter misses an opportunity to draw the parallel between the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, with which it opens, and Michael Skinner’s ensuing decision to enter the firm his father had run. Lacking such literary devices, Skinner’s book leaves much unsaid.
Those seeking information about the technical side of tailoring will find some interesting tidbits about the courses Skinner took at the Tailor and Cutter Academy and reflections on tailoring for Dege’s various specialties, in particular military tailoring and hunting and riding clothes. Those interested in the history of Savile Row, or of Dege itself, can track Dege’s evolution over the past six decades through the allusions to strategic acquisitions of other tailoring firms (bringing their client lists, royal warrants and in one case, their Savile Row address, into Dege’s fold), to Dege’s forays into American horse country, Gulf state uniform design and, rather oddly, tailoring clothing for the wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s. But the reader shouldn’t expect a sociological study, or even a degree of self-examination from the narrator, about what this passage of time has meant for craft trades and the future of tailoring more broadly.
The Savile Row Cutter contains many images from Mr Skinner’s collection and the Dege archives of sketches, tailoring patterns, and family pictures. In fact, this book succeeds on an engaging and personal level as a family album: a family whose lives have been intertwined with the tailoring profession, but for whom the equestrian world, the Virginia hunt clubs, the sales trips and the command visits to Oman have been the meaningful scenes of a family as it grows, and evocations of a deceased sister and a late wife accompany the beginning and end of this book. Perhaps the best parallel to The Savile Row Cutter in the infelicitous world of men’s clothing books is not the dedicated histories or tell-alls about tailors, but Stanley Marcus’ rather wonderful Reflection of a Man: a collection of photographs taken over the course of a career capturing moments and images personally important to the author on a human level. It is a generous offer to share glimpses of the author’s life, and the reader can sympathetically step into his shoes.
- Réginald-Jérôme de Mans
Photo: Peter Ward