From collaborations with Balenciaga to creating suits for movie actors and royalty, Huntsman’s sartorial legacy has been establishing for 171 years and counting
One of the worst things is seeing a man in suit that’s not fitted to his body. Tailored suits brings confidence and when on a man, it highlights his masculinity. As Joan Rivers once said: “diets, like clothes, should be tailored to you.” The British are known for many things, and Britain with its centuries long history and tradition has found a place as one of the leaders of tailored suits. Dating back to the late 1700s, London had burgeoning tailors, and by the early 1800s Savile Row was respected in creating suits for men. One such house is Huntsman. With 171 years of business, it is one of London’s lasting and few true bespoke Savile Row tailors that has been able to innovate to stay in tune with the times, dressing royalty and some of the sliver screen’s leading men and women, as well as collaborating with couture houses like Balenciaga, and doing the tailoring for their most recent AW21 collection.
“We believe that while fashions may change, the beauty of a bespoke garment is timeless,” says Taj Phull, Head of Retail at Huntsman. “It’s true that the craftsmanship that goes into every commission is one learned and handed down through generations of cutters and tailors, and whilst there is an undeniable elegance to the established House style, we welcome all bespoke commissions. Some Savile Row tailors might be considered elitist or prescriptive in their style; Huntsman believes the true beauty of bespoke lies in a client’s desires, whether it’s the private pleasure of a silk printed lining in an overcoat, or the vintage-reclaimed buttons on a beloved blazer, or a cotton tie-dye boiler suit made for an epic road trip (a real Huntsman commission)! We work to squash those preconceptions and invite a new audience to experience bespoke tailoring.”
It’s clear the quality that’s in the stitching, tailoring, and cuts, which allows the house’s bespoke skills to last a lifetime. Parents and grandparents pass down their Huntsman designs to children. Because of this, in 2018 they launched their ‘Inherited Alteration Service,’ which allows inherited Huntsman wear to be complimentary altered, ensuring more longevity and enjoyment.
When you walk in to the showroom at 11 Savile Row, you’re met with a wood floors, wooden shelves filled with men’s coats, suits, sweaters, and cream-colored walls. While Huntsman does create bespoke suits for women, everything about the shop is masculine. Mannequins sharply dressed show off the best tailoring money can buy. Scarves and hats hang from hooks on the walls, and loafers are tucked between shelving. It’s truly a haven for the craft of suit making, where many looking to sharpen their silhouette will find versatile styles and cuts for any client. You also notice the young staff on the showroom floor and in the atelier. “We’re proud to employ one of the largest, most diverse and indeed youngest workforces on Savile Row, with a commitment towards nurturing and developing new talent,” says Phull.
With a focus on cut, cloth and construction, the house upholds the highest standards of bespoke craftsmanship and execution, recognizing that in order to be around for another 171 years it must adapt to the times it is in. Continuing, Phull notes, “as Huntsman Chairman and Owner Pierre Lagrange says, ‘one should never be worried about breaking tradition. Tradition is simply an innovation that has lasted.’ For Huntsman, innovation has and always and will be a fundamental part of our business, so much so, we proudly describe ourselves as: ‘Contemporary since 1849.’ Our focus is to stay true to the elevated quality of our bespoke clothing, making elegant, contemporary garments to meet the exacting specifications of our clients.”
The shift from equestrian wear to bespoke suits
Some of the world’s most respected brands like Hermes started off by creating equestrian wear. The same was for Huntsman when it started in 1849, reaching the heights of obtaining a royal warrant to create leather breeches for HRH the Prince of Wales, and later King Edward VII, and then for HRH Prince Albert and his mother Queen Victoria in 1888. By the time of WWI, Huntman had become synonymous with making military uniforms, and after the war veterans turned to the House to make their everyday suits that reflected the world they were living in.
“Huntsman became a popular destination not only for equestrian wear and britches, but also for suits and leisurewear. With a significant change in style and etiquette, many young gentlemen came to Huntsman to order the terrifically modern ‘lounge-suit’, which we recognize today as a three-piece suit.”
But then came a shift as actors from Clark Gable to Katharine Hepburn and Gregory Peck to Paul Newman wanted bespoke suits, and they put the house on the world stage. “In the 1960’s under the guidance of legendary Head-Cutter and Creative Director Colin Hammick the iconic Huntsman style was defined as we know it, with a design evolution almost 100 years in the making, ushering in a golden age for the house. By combining the anatomy of a classic riding coat, with that of a dinner suit, Hammick created the Huntsman house cut; a jacket with one button fastening, high armholes, a structured chest and flared skirt. The style is one of the most difficult to cut, yet one of the most comfortable to wear, and gives the wearer an incredibly elegant silhouette. It was often said that one Huntsman client could recognize another, just by the cut of their suit.”
Famous designers who created their own luxury houses from Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy and Hardy Amies had their suits created at Huntsman. And their contemporaries from Bill Blass, Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs, all employ Huntsman to design their suits.
Alexander McQueen interned at the house, and according to Phull, “famously said he wanted to work with the best, when he collaborated with Huntsman in 2015, to produce a bespoke line, and a wardrobe for himself.”
Suits for women
While making suits for men is their largest client base, the house makes suites for women and has been doing so since 1849. Their clients have included Queen Victoria, Coco Chanel, and Nicole Kidman who wears their custom tweed. “Grace Kelly sits alongside Daphne Guiness, amid the yellow nylon pantaloons for Elizabeth Taylor and more recently the sophisticated suiting for Desirée Rogers, our ladies’ bespoke holds an important place in our history and indeed our future.”
Magdalena Handwerker, the Head Ladieswear Cutter brings a feminine touch to the house’s famous men’s tailoring. “Our ladies’ garments are cut to the body accentuating shape and enhancing lines to achieve a mystical union of comfort, glamour and style.”
They have credited innovation as the house’s key to survival. “Keeping connected and keeping a dialogue with our clients during the difficult times, meant that we were able to reopen with a full order book.” And the house has found increased busyness during the current pandemic.
“A Huntsman telepresence robot transports our cutters to your home or office without them having to leave London, overcoming the limitations of time and travel, whilst recreating the irreplaceable human interaction. It allowed us to continue seeing our clients regularly, despite lockdowns and travel restrictions. We are also fortunate to be the only Savile Row tailor to have a full-time premise in New York City. Huntsman on West 57TH is a private space for client appointments and boasts a fully functional Cutting Theatre and a Savile Row trained Cutter In Residence. Designed to better serve the needs of our American clients, the team travels nationwide on regular trunk shows. Whilst restrictions prevented travel to the United States, the Huntsman team was still able to travel and see clients for business as usual.
“Working to create new scrubs for NHS frontline works was the heart of the house during the pandemic. We employed the skills of our workforce to sew scrubs for NHS frontline workers, as well as competitions to keep us connected with our clients and alleviate the boredom of confinement. For the first year ever, the much loved ‘Design Your Own Tweed’ competition went fully online, with entities pouring in through social media around the world.”
Balenciaga + Huntsman
This year Balenciaga’s AW21 fiftieth couture collection, a collection that had taken a fifty-three-year hiatus from making high luxury fashion decided to collaborate with Huntsman by making 8 pieces for the runway show. The Savile Row tailor saw the opportunity as an innovative moment, powered by expertise that can only be cultivated by centuries-old tradition for greatness. “Couture is the highest level of garment construction that is not only relevant in today’s mass-productive industry, but even absolutely necessary for the survival and further evolution of modern fashion design,” noted Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga’s creative director.
“Over the years, we have been approached by many fashion houses to collaborate on collections. However, we chose to work with Balenciaga as there is not only an incredible synergy between the two houses, but an unbridled appreciation of our house cuts and technical expertise”, says Phull.
Launched in 2019, this private member club above the shop on Savile Row was created for clients to have events year-round. With a champagne and whiskey bar set amongst the English pub style, it offers fully functional catering for up to 60 people.
With over one-hundred years of masterful tailoring, rooted in equestrian wear, not many Savile Row tailors can compare to the history and real bespoke services that Huntsman offers. This, plus its custom tweed making makes for some of the best suits for men and women that quality and British craftsmanship can produce.