“Anything I do is based on craftsmanship. A bit of tailoring, or a bit of woodwork, or be it anything else, you know. I try to involve a lot of handcrafted things”
Alexander McQueen, 2000
9 Savile Row is the address of the first Alexander McQueen menswear store, and where Alexander McQueen first trained and worked as an apprentice tailor. Savile Row is widely regarded as the center of bespoke British men’s tailoring. It proved to be the grounding that helped earn McQueen the reputation in the fashion industry as an expert pattern cutter and tailor.
Cutting his teeth at Anderson & Sheppard, as an apprentice tailor, and after as a pattern cutter at Gieves and Hawkes, McQueen learned the discipline of cut, shape and proportion in traditional tailoring. McQueen’s skilled tailoring and innovative approach to manipulating fabric were traits that persisted throughout his career.
To celebrate this element of Alexander McQueen’s work, we have worked with the renowned drapers Merchant & Mills to produce the ‘9 Savile Row’ collection: a range of tailoring accessories and haberdashery tools specially created in celebration of the highly anticipated V&A exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.
“Tailoring is just a form of construction, it’s the rigour behind the design but at the end of the day you’re still dealing with a single or double-breasted jacket. The narrative is what makes it interesting, plus the romance behind it and the detail…” Alexander McQueen, 2006
In late 2012, the fashion house Alexander McQueen opened its flagship menswear store on Savile Row.
Creative Director, Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen said at the time, “Lee used to apprentice here on Savile Row, so it is a bit of a homecoming, and since tailoring is part of our backbone, it makes sense to be in an area that is steeped in the codes of the house.”
It is almost impossible not to be inspired by McQueen’s creations. We hope this show will increase the public’s interest in the world of fashion, British talent and the craftsmanship of tailoring itself. Despite all the theatre, drama and catwalk looks that brought his shows to life, McQueen also created beautiful and wearable clothes in which expert cut and tailoring reigned supreme.
This collection of tailoring accessories has been created by Merchant and Mills as part of a range of exclusive products specially created in celebration of the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. Through their products Merchant and Mills have helped to elevate sewing to its proper place in the creative world, showing respect to the craftsmanship that it entails.
Whether you’re a professional or novice, the ‘9 Savile Row’ range brings you the essential equipment, in a beautiful, elegant and sleek design.
Q&A with Carolyn Denham and Roderick Field founders of Merchant & Mills
Q. Could you tell us about the driving force behind setting up Merchant & Mills?
A. Merchant & Mills has a mission to bring the cut and quality in good design to the dressmaking public. The current pattern collection features real clothes, integrating simplicity of design, classic lines and well thought out construction across the range.
To complement the patterns, the company sources traditional sewing tools and accessories. Everything has been selected for usability, quality and good design. The clear and minimalist packaging makes Merchant & Mills goods instantly recognisable. The focus on graphic design reminds people to covet and complements the strong visual identity of the ‘brand’.
Q. Where did the idea to create the ‘9 Saville Row’ collection come from?
A. When the V&A approached us for a tri-branded project, the partnership with the V&A and Alexander McQueen felt like a natural one to us: strong identities, a commitment to inspire and the courage to challenge conventional thinking in fashion. 9 Savile Row takes Merchant & Mills to the dark side with its black on black identity and we hope that Alexander McQueen, the man, would approve.
Q. Has McQueen’s work ever inspired Merchants & Mills in the past? or you personally?
A. Alexander McQueen challenged our definition of beauty. Many people would think that fashion is a superficial thing but fashion designers such as McQueen take redefined what we consider beautiful. At first, seeing his vision in its purest form, we will be shocked or confused but as we peel away from the theatre, and reveal the superb tailoring, the inventive cut and brilliant detail we will begin to accept a new silhouette or the new point of inspiration. Ultimately those once terrifying ideas will be trickle down and be there for us to buy on the high street. We will be changed.
Q. What do you think attracts people to McQueen? Do you think people lose sight of McQueen’s tailoring skills in the light of his catwalk creations?
A. McQueen’s work transcends fashion – we will see its influence in advertising , product design and interior design. Traditionally, this cross pollination has been the a role of the artist. So now we are left to ponder the question: was Alexander McQueen a designer, or an artist, working on the 3 dimensional form of the body, feeding the world a new vision on the cloth-clad human form?
Whether we are aware of it or not we have all been inspired by Alexander McQueen.
Q. What qualities do you need to have to be a good sewer, pattern cutter and tailor?
A. To be a great pattern cutter demands patience, method and the discipline of an engineering brain. To see a flat piece of cloth transformed into a garment that follows the intricate curves of the body, you must be accurate in every line drawn, every cut committed to and every last stitch sewn. Some of this can be learnt, some can come with years of experience and some is just plain talent.
Q. As a haberdasher and pattern cutter, what do you consider the most treasured piece in this range?
A. Scissors. A great pair of scissors are a gift to your sewing life. Though a workman should not blame his tools, great tools do make for a better, more satisfying result and indeed a more pleasurable job. Sheffield has a worldwide reputation for the world’s finest scissors. Adapting to the global economy, it is still at the literal cutting edge of scissor making with modern needs being backed by centuries old tradition. Similarly this approach is at the heart of Merchant & Mills, its very definition – we are continuing and developing tradition, not looking back with a rheumy eye.
Q. Alexander McQueen work, lived and studied in London, there is a wealth of emerging talent out there – what would be your advise to young fashion designers? What have you learnt from setting up your own business?
A. It is immensely difficult for young designers to survive in the competitive and frenzied arena that is the fashion industry. London is still the place to be, matching the pace and creativity of the fashion world with its own endless roar – it remains the pulse to have your finger on. Our advice would be to keep you vision at the forefront, let it inform each decision, asking does this take me to where I would like to arrive? You will need to labour, you will suffer fear and disappointment alongside unimaginable satisfaction and genuine achievement. Rule number 1: Never give up. Work hard, stay focused, keep moving forwards.
You don’t need much money to start your own business but you still need to eat. Be disciplined and only ask what you must of your fledgling business. Do not ask it to support a wild and extravagant lifestyle until it has the pockets for it. At the outset, a business is just a small child needing care and nurture. Parent well and it will support you in years to come.
Q. What are your views on British manufacturing and craftsmanship and the future position of the ‘Made in Britain’ label?
A. We have high hopes for the ‘Made in Britain’ Label. We have a fantastic, unique manufacturing heritage and as long as the designers constantly work with the manufacturers to provide every aspect of their needs, British Manufacturing may well return to being the best in the world.