The first bespoke jacket I ever tried on was Kilgour, French & Stanbury. It was bespoken in 1971 and done in a brilliant wool/mohair in navy. Turned up sleeve cuffs, slightly angled hacking pockets, high gorge, high vents, high armhole. Trying this jacket on, I became high. It was a magnificent tailoring specimen, and that’s when I had a holy S#!%! moment. Ready to wear just doesn’t cut it. Forget about proper fit and style preferences, just the sewing and finish from a reputable tailoring firm is on a different planet.
Kilgour was technically founded in 1882, but it officially became Kilgour, French & Stanbury in 1937. Their success was immediate, and Kilgour became one of the great and legendary Savile Row firms.
Fred Astaire wore Kilgour, Cary Grant wore Kilgour… I could go on, but after these two gents, why bother. Yes, Grant wore Kilgour in “North by Northwest,” but he wore it in real life as well. One of the perks of being a Hollywood star. Sort of like when Ray Liotta was spotted in an L.A. dry cleaner wearing some of his bespoke garments from “Goodfellas,” but that’s a story for another day.
Fred Astaire’s first bespoke Savile Row tails were from Kilgour. He stumbled upon Kilgour after becoming ticked off by another legendary Savile Row firm that, shall we say, had an attitude. Those first tails Kilgour produced for King Fred looked painted on, with shoulders so sublime, there is a grace never to be seen again. But for Astaire, Kilgour was only one stop, as he eventually made his way to Anderson & Sheppard for one of the greatest collaborations between tailor and client in history.
Up until the late 1980’s, Kilgour, French & Stanbury was essentially a pure bespoke operation. Sure there was ready to wear licensing, but Kilgour’s reputation was still intact. Their suits were not stiff, nor super soft. They were very elegant, and always supple with gently padded shoulders and a contoured waist. Sadly for Kilgour, licensing became the focus. They eventually became a fashion brand where a hand sewn canvas was as foreign as some of the factories that made their duds, and they can no longer be mentioned in the same breath as Anderson & Sheppard, Henry Poole, or H. Huntsman.
So why this rant of Kilgour, French & Stanbury? Well it’s not just Kilgour, it’s Savile Row. Savile Row has gone and continues to go through changes. Firms changing addresses. Acquisitions, consolidations, branding, and less-skilled artisans have made the Row weaker. Branding is not what Savile Row is or should be about. Caraceni has never had to advertise, nor has Anderson & Sheppard for that matter. It should be about the clothing. As I continually revisit my bespoke archives, there seems to be a cut off point in terms of quality. I can honestly say that collectively the sewing and finish of Savile Row garments from decades back is far superior to what is turned out today. So many lesser names, obscure names of the Row, etc. were turning out splendid suits and sport coats that were spectacular. That’s not to say that there aren’t some fine garments being turned out today, but the golden age of tailoring has passed.