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THE H LE TRUTH square mile

MADE IN B R I TA I N

IN AN ENVIRONMENT KNOWN FOR ITS AUSTERITY, RICHARD ANDERSON IS BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS. MIKE GIBSON TRACKS HIS JOURNEY FROM NERVOUS SCHOOLBOY TO ONE OF THE MOST REVERED NAMES ON THE ROW

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PHOTOGRAPHS by Jasper Clarke

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ITTING IN RICHARD Anderson Ltd, I’m

looking around, surprised: the top line of the address reads 13 Savile Row, but something’s missing. There’s no mahogany, for a start, and no deer heads on the wall. I feel comfortable, unjudged, at ease. In fact, the sense of austerity that usually pervades a Savile Row tailoring house is overwhelmingly conspicuous by its absence. That surprise lasts for about 35 minutes – precisely the time it takes to sit down and have a coffee and a chat with the man behind the brand. The eponymous founder is not a cold, curt authoritarian, but a lively, passionate and affable character who has built a company in pretty much precisely that image but – and here’s the kicker – while still maintaining the sense of tradition that has characterised the Row for hundreds of years. For a start, although Anderson has spent his entire career across two buildings on

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Savile Row, it was something of an accident that he ended up there in the first place. “I completely fell into it,” he says. “I was a couple of months into sixth form and realised I didn’t want to sit behind a desk – I wanted to get out and do some work. My dad saw a job in the Daily Telegraph just prior to Christmas in 1981 that said ‘young, enthusiastic, hardworking boy wanted for an apprenticeship’. I ticked those boxes, and that was it.” He can recall the cold winter morning on which he interviewed for his apprenticeship as though it was yesterday. He arrived for the interview late, dishevelled and wet through. “You go in and it’s a different world. This was at Huntsman, number 11, two doors down from here – a very traditional tailor, at that time at the top of their game, probably the best tailors on Savile Row. Coming from a comprehensive school background in Watford, my visits to London were few and far between,

let alone wandering into these hallowed halls. So we did the interview. It was all very stern, but there was a great atmosphere in the place. We met the masters and I got the job.” Anderson was 17 when he started life on the Row. Abandoning dreams of becoming a footballer, he almost gave up after a hugely trying first few months at Huntsman until professional pride and a newly-discovered sense of ambition took over and he pressed on. For a young man, Savile Row was a tough place to start work. “It was an extremely disciplined apprenticeship,” he says. “Even though it was 1982, it could well have been 1952 – they really did speak to you in a certain manner, and it would be hard to do that now. But I guess at that stage I needed that discipline, and I respected it. “There was a glamour to it, there was an artistic side to it. And what I loved about it, even though I was a very small cog in the ➤

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You can’t go up and slap some Duke or Lord on the back and say: ‘How you doing?’ ➤ wheel, was that you were working for the best – I loved to be a part of that.” To cut a long story short, Anderson ended up staying at Huntsman for almost 20 years, becoming the youngest master cutter in its history, until a change of ownership at the top of the storied tailoring house forced his hand. “At that point [Richard Anderson Ltd co-founder] Brian Lishak was managing director and I was production director, so collectively we were running it. But then new owners came in and they put different people in different management roles. They looked after me very well, but I just thought that if I was going to do it, it was a great time for me to do it, to strike out on my own. I had four kids under six years old, a big mortgage, and everyone was telling me I’d be nuts to, but I thought, ‘Come on, let’s give it a crack.’ It’s proved the right thing to do.” The more I speak to Anderson, the more I understand about the distinction between his company and a lot of the other houses on the Row. He concedes that, even though tradition is still paramount, brands like his are going some way to taking the stuffiness out of the atmosphere. “That was one of the things we wanted to achieve when we opened this place 13 years ago,” he explains. “Huntsman and the more traditional tailors are great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s all dark wood with antlers, and

THE FABRIC OF SOCIETY: Richard Anderson on British suits: “Our way of producing a garment is vastly different to the Italians, the Germans or the Spanish. We have a quintessentially English look – even though the Savile Row houses all differ to a certain extent. I think you can plainly tell an English suit from an Italian one.”

it can be intimidating for a certain type of person to come into. What I wanted to do was break those barriers down but still maintain the quality of make and the quality of service – and the quality of cut.” This pride in one’s work is crucial to being a successful cutter, and Anderson’s plan was to first maintain and then exceed the quality that Huntsman was producing at the time of his departure amid concerns that new ownership would affect the quality of its output. And he concedes that setting up shop not only in Savile Row but also two doors down from his former employer was daring to say the least. “If a cutter leaves a company, normally what they’ll do is hire a little board somewhere down in Sackville Street or Conduit Street and start from there, whereas I thought ‘come on, let’s get amongst them. I might not have 200 years of heritage, but Brian and I are confident enough to give this a go, so let’s give it a go.’” It’s this unerring confidence in his own ability that has led to him dressing generations of British families, City workers from juniors to CEOs, and celebrities, with Kiefer Sutherland and Benicio del Toro among his cohort of loyal followers. He admits, though, that in his friendly, personable approach – a departure from the Savile Row blueprint – there’s a balancing act to pull off. “It’s a difficult one when you’re cutting for someone, because you can’t become too familiar. You’ve got to be professional. If some customers want to be your friend then of course you move that way, if you’re comfortable with it. But you have to maintain your professional standpoint. You can’t go up and slap some Duke or Lord on the back and say to him: “How you doing?’” At this point, it’s becoming clear to me that, for Anderson, it’s not about profits. Not primarily, anyway. As with most tailors, customers, and the suits he cuts for them, are the cornerstone of his business. “I certainly remember most of the customers. Because one puts 60 or 80 manhours into each suit, and our normal wait time is six to ten weeks, depending on the customer, the cloth and the suits are here for quite a long time before they actually go home. You have numerous fittings and you have discussions with the tailors about each piece of the suit. So the suits all become, without sounding corny, a little bit part of you.” The personal touch doesn’t just extent to his customer service, either. In 2009, his memoir Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed attempted to break down barriers in much the same way as his shop continues to, not only ushering in those already accustomed to the

All the books from Savile Row were dry company biographies; I wanted to do something different Row but also being accessible enough to give those that aren’t yet ingratiated a thorough look at this unique culture from the inside. “All of the books from Savile Row had been very dry company biographies – there hadn’t really been much life or personality in them,” he explains. “I wanted to do something a little bit different and talk about my apprenticeship – how tough it was but how great it was – and talk about what it was that led me to become the youngest cutter in Huntsman’s history, and then setting up my shop. I thought it was a good story to tell.” That it is. It’s a tale of hard work paying off and entrepreneurial spirit thriving in a peculiar world where youth and vibrancy don’t necessarily provide a helping hand – in fact, they can even be a hindrance. Anderson may not, as he says, have 200 years of heritage, but his story speaks for itself. And if that doesn’t convince you, his suits definitely will. Not that the tale ends there. A personality like Anderson’s can’t be kept in one small shop on Savile Row, no matter how airy the atmosphere may be. Ever the modernist, he says the team are looking at expansion. “We really need to start thinking about it now, especially on the ready-to-wear side,” he says. “What I’d like to do now is get a standalone ready-to-wear shop and leave [the Savile Row store] as a bespoke shop. We’re running out of room here – we’ve got a bespoke operation, a ready-to-wear operation, we’ve got an office and a workshop – so I think the time has come.” It’s a typically ambitious statement from a man who has seen and done most of what there is to see and do on the Row. After all, he didn’t become Huntsman’s youngest ever master cutter, or start an internationally renowned business of his own, by coasting. His story may be long, engaging and – dare I say it – inspiring, but I leave with the feeling that, despite all he’s achieved, it’s really only just beginning. And if his company continues in the same vein as its first 13 years, its 200 year heritage must be all but guaranteed. ■ Richard Anderson Ltd, Sherborne House, 13 Savile Row, W1S 3PH; richardandersonltd.com

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The Hole Truth - Square Mile meets Richard Anderson