This week Grant Harris of Image Granted has blessed us with an article from his dialogue series. Today we visit Savile Row where we speak with one of England’s most prestigious miliatry outfitters; Dege and Skinner.
IG - Where did D&S get its beginnings? How has the company evolved over the years? Where is the company headed?
William Skinner - Dege & Skinner was established in England 1865. We specialise in timeless bespoke tailoring of shirts, suits and jackets, made by hand at 10 Savile Row, London, England. We hold three Royal Warrants.
For many years now, we’ve visited the US to see our American-based customers, something we do three times a year. As new customers appear in emerging countries, like Brazil and the Far East, I imagine the time will come when we add additional destinations to our annual overseas trips.
We’re at the start of a new era in Dege & Skinner’s history: four of our apprentices have just qualified, one of them winning the impressive accolade of ‘Britain’s Best Young Tailor’ along the way and we’ve just finished a programme of refurbishment in our shop premises in London’s prestigious Savile Row, expanding our presence when others involved with bespoke tailoring are having to reduce their operations in tough economic times.
Our workshops have moved into the basement, meaning that for the first time since 1989 the entire team is under the same roof. We’ll be hosting a party to mark the special occasion, so if you happen to be in London this summer, you’d be most welcome to come and celebrate with us!
IG - What signifies a D&S product? Is there specific house cut or trademark that denotes a D&S image? How would D&S customer describe their image before patronizing D&S? How would they describe their image afterwards?
WS - It’s fair to say that even before a customer takes delivery of his (or indeed her) first bespoke suit or shirt there’s most likely an inherent appreciation of timeless style and elegant tailoring. If a gentleman is truly contented with the fit and comfort of a ready-to-wear suit, he’s unlikely to see the value in choosing bespoke, but if you’ve never owned a bespoke suit or bespoke shirt, precisely made by hand to your unique measurements, you should try it, at least once.
No other tailoring feels quite the same again and customers tend to stay with us for many years, even passing a recommendation (and sometimes a much loved suit!) on to the younger generations of their family.
There’s no house style as such, we tailor to meet the individuals personal taste and preference, whether that be single breasted with a narrow lapel or double breasted with precisely specified pockets and cuffs to accommodate a particular favourite watch.
IG - What has been the most difficult part of running a family business? How has the balance of power shifted within the family and ultimately the business? What is D&S doing to stay modern not only on “The Row” but in the global scene of menswear?
WS - I hold the title of Managing Director, the third successive generation of my family to hold the position. My father, Michael, whom I took over from in 2001 is now Chairman and still has an interest in the business. Every business has its challenges, some are more apparent than others, but I think the one that stands out is to maintain the continuity that existing customers have come to expect. At the same time to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things without compromising our core product.
Like every business you have to stay true to our belief in tailoring of the highest quality, but we also have to remain relevant to appeal to a contemporary market and younger demographic.
We recently hosted an Open House in Savile Row as part of London Fashion Week’s event, ‘London Collections: Men’. We saw a great variety of people come in to see how we create our suits, shirts, jackets and military uniforms. It was refreshing to see the diversity of the people interested in the traditions of fine bespoke tailoring.
IG - What is it like to walk into the house of D&S? What can a first time customer expect from their experience? What can a long time customer expect when they return?
WS - A warm, British welcome, whatever the weather!
Initially people can be a little daunted by the choice, whether it be suit cloth or style of collar, as everything is made to the individuals specification and taste.
Over time a very personal relationship develops between a tailor and his/her customer. There’s a mutual respect and also a sharing of personal information, such as the occasion when the customer will wear the tailored outfit, what they like to do as a hobby, how they spend their time at work and during leisure time, special occasions when the clothes will be worn.
A reliance and trust develops so advice can be freely given to ensure sartorial elegance at all times.
IG - What is the D&S philosophy when it comes to fashion versus style? Is there a limit to what the company will create to stay within the bounds of classic style? Has D&S ever declined to create something for a customer because it is out of the realm of the acceptable?
WS - Fashions change, style alters all the time but elegance is timeless.
Being a bespoke tailoring house, we can create pretty much anything and have done so in the past. In the 1980′s, Chairman and Master Cutter Michael Skinner designed and produced the uniforms for H.M.Sultan Qaboos of Oman’s Royal Oman Police Camel Mounted Pipe Band, said to be the most exotic commission conferred on a Savile Row tailor. And more recently, a military jacket we made for pop legend Michael Jackson came up to auction in London. He wore it when he met the King of Bahrain in 2005. It sold at auction for in excess of £10k, considerably more than it cost at the time!
That said, we don’t follow fashion, although on occasion it tends to catch up with the bespoke tailoring of Savile Row. Take the current fashion trend for double breasted suits for instance. Always popular amongst our professional customers currently being featured in fashion magazines as the suit of the moment.
We’re focused on customer satisfaction and tailing of the highest quality, so if the two can be combined, we’ll make whatever the customer wants.