January 26, 2012

In Review: Anderson & Sheppard


This is the first post in a new series, in which I will share my thoughts and opinions on books, articles, and features that pertain to the world of men’s style and fashion that I find worth sharing.

I will be the first to admit that I am a bit of an Anglophile, so when I received Anderson & Sheppard: A Style is Born as a gift recently, I must say I was incredibly excited. I had a vague awareness of Anderson & Sheppard, but was not nearly as familiar with them as I was with some of the more publicized tenants of Savile Row, such as Gieves & Hawkes or Henry Poole & Co. This is probably due in part to an unyielding aversion for marketing and publicity. They allegedly once considered legal action against an actor who dared to publicly acknowledge them as the maker of his suit in a theatrical playbill.

Book and slipcase

Before delving into the details of the book, I feel that a (very) brief history of Anderson & Sheppard is in order. Founded in 1906, they became the standard bearers for what has become known as the ‘English Drape’ that was pioneered by Frederick Scholte and is characterized by its sloped shoulders. Once a revolutionary styling, this cut is now considered to be a classic, steeped in the history of Savile Row and bespoke tailoring.

The first thing that struck me when I took this book out of the plastic was the cloth-bound book and embossed slipcase. The book fits perfectly into the slipcase, much as a bespoke suit should. Upon opening the book, the endpaper reveals a wonderful two-page close-up of one of Anderson & Sheppard’s pinstripe flannel fabrics (the first of many fabric photos to come).

Front endpaper featuring A&S 'Special' 11 oz dark-blue flannel with white stripe

With only 14 pages of actual text (not including the testimonials, glossary, acknowledgements, and credits) and a 2 page foreword, this 296 page book relies heavily on pictures to convey the style and aesthetic that is Anderson & Sheppard. Surprisingly though, for me, those 14 pages were more than enough.

Table of Contents

What really stood out to me and resonated was the investment in quality. Regular readers know that I am a very strong advocate of clothing as an investment, but the stories related about the longevity of some of Anderson & Sheppard’s garments just blew me away. I have had bespoke tailors quote me 5-10 years as the life span of a suit. Mr. Hitchcock, the chief coat cutter, “avers that ‘a 10-year-old suit is considered a new suit’ where he and his staff are concerned.” It is a regular occurrence at Anderson & Sheppard for suits to be handed down across generations and the alterations rack is filled with garments that are decades old.

Another story that I really appreciated was the explication of what a new customer could expect from their first time through the door to receipt of their garment and everything in between. The advanced skill of Anderson & Sheppard’s cutters and tailors is clearly related when the author notes that their first fitting is akin to most bespoke tailors' second fitting, termed the ‘forward’ fitting. This whole excerpt helps to de-mystify the entire experience and, hopefully, make bespoke tailoring a bit more approachable to someone who might otherwise have shied away from it.

Front window of the old shop at No. 30 Savile Row


If I could find fault with any part of the book, it would lie in the 127 pages of photos in “The Client” section. While I fully understand the desire to boast a bit, and given the company’s historical aversion to publicity and media attention there is a lot of time to make up in this department, I could have done with maybe half of this. It was more than worth the time to peruse these images, but I would have preferred more photographs of the shop and its contents, or maybe even more historical or anecdotal text.

Wall of clients' patterns. A personal record of each garment and its owner.

“The Last Word” section of the book includes client testimonials from the likes of Manolo Blahnik and Tom Ford. While some of these are a bit generic, others, like George Hamilton’s, relate very compelling and inspiring personal experiences. One of my favorite chapters is the “Terms of Art” section, which is filled with pictures of some of the employees that help keep Anderson & Sheppard a hallmark of British tailoring. It also contains a comprehensive glossary of tailoring terminology compiled by the Savile Row Bespoke Association, of which Anderson & Sheppard is a founding member.

When I go shopping for any clothing, but particularly a suit, I will only work with a salesperson that knows how to wear a suit and has mastered fit and proportion. They can’t be expected to dress a customer if they can’t dress themselves. The gentlemen who work at Anderson & Sheppard exemplify this perfectly. You can get a little hint of each one’s personal style, with a couple of my favorites being Mr. Malone, the chief trouser cutter, and Oliver Spencer, an intern (apparently you have to earn the ‘Mr.’).

A glimpse into the salesroom of the new shop at 32
Old Burlingon Street

This book is so incredibly well written that in less than two-dozen pages I was a convert. The pictures and drawings, for me, were really just the finishing touch that rounded out an informative chronicle of a company steeped in history. Should I ever find myself in London with a spare several thousand dollars and the need for a bespoke suit (or overcoat, I really want them to make me an overcoat), Anderson & Sheppard will be my destination without thought or hesitation.

What did you think of the book?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

Anderson & Sheppard: A Style is Born edited by Graydon Carter & Cullen Murphy. First published by Quercus Publishing PLC in 2011. Hardcover with slipcase; 296 pages; MSRP $75.

2 comments:

  1. The book is as fabulous as their clothing. I've a client for only a few years, but given how nicely their suits fit, my one regret is that I didn't come to them earlier.

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    Replies
    1. They are definitely at the top of my list. Glad to hear that the book does them justice.

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