Angus Cundey, a past president of the Federation of Merchant Tailors, Chairman World Congress of Master Tailors 1973, President Master Tailors Benevolent Association and a founder of Savile Row Bespoke, just a few of the many accolades he has acquired throughout an illustrious career.
Unbeknown to him, Angus was not just joining the family firm, but also taking on the role as custodian of tailoring history. Henry Poole has an impressive archive, featuring sales ledgers dating back to 1846 with orders from celebrated customers such as Charles Dickens, Emperor Haile Selassie, Tsar Alexander ll of Russia, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Dr Livingstone, Buffalo Bill, the Royal Household and Winston Churchill. The latter was another customer reluctant to pay his tailor’s bill and when he became Prime Minister in 1940, a member of staff at Henry Poole, in desperation, sent the outstanding bill to Number 10 Downing Street. The bill was paid immediately, but Churchill never visited Henry Poole again!
Although Angus’s father, Samuel Cundey, made no reference to this great legacy, he did set in motion a plan that continues to reap benefits for British tailoring to this day. “I had two weeks’ holiday and was then sent to Paris,” recalled Angus. “Our Paris branch had been ransacked by the Germans in 1940 and we never opened it again, so I was sent to learn to sew at Lanvin Menswear. They showed me how to pad collars and even how to hold a needle, but more importantly for me, and for Henry Poole, they taught me French.”
After Paris and National Service – Angus drove ambulances for the RAF in East Anglia – he spent time at the Tailor and Cutter Academy, before heading through the doors of Henry Poole. However, it was not long before Angus was back in Paris.
“My father had written to all our pre-war French customers in 1963 and said I am sending my son with cloth samples and measuring tape. Business took off and so I began to take our head cutter with me. This was really the start of my career because the Paris business became quite big and we acquired some wonderful customers in Paris.
With such fond memories of Paris and possible plans to open again in the French capital, “maybe sharing with a shirt maker”, it is a surprise to learn that Angus voted to leave in the recent EU Referendum. His reasoning is simple though. “Henry Poole has always been a totally international company,” he says. “The EU is really not so busy as it once was. Switzerland is busier than Paris and America accounts for 40% of our business. The UK is 32%, while the EU accounts for 11%, but we also do 11% in Japan and we would like to extend our business in China and even more in Japan.”
Leave or not though, Angus remains in regular contact with the EU Commission thanks to his work on creating a geographical indicator (GI) for Savile Row with the Savile Row Bespoke Association (SRB), which he co-founded some 15 years ago. This pioneering work aims to protect the name Savile Row in a similar way to the existing protection for foods such as champagne and Parma ham. “As it stands at the moment you cannot protect the name Savile Row as it’s the name of a place, but we have registered Savile Row Bespoke. Despite Brexit I remain very confident of it working successfully – a wine maker in Kent is not going to suddenly produce white wine and call it champagne is he?”
An unlikely supporter of SRB’s GI campaign is the GMB union. During the annual wage negotiation for the Savile Row tailors, which Angus still oversees, there was a discussion about GI. The union was immediately behind the campaign. “They realise it will protect their workers and so have been really helpful,” said Angus. “They explained that they have a branch in Brussels and offered the services of their European officer Kathleen Walker. The upshot is that we have already addressed the 300 delegates in the European Parliament and are now in touch with a chap in Switzerland who looks after the whole of the wine and food GI and he is keen on getting involved on our behalf.”
The success of the GI campaign would be the perfect way for Angus to conclude a glittering career in Savile Row. He can take much of the credit for ensuring that Savile Row tailoring remains revered to this day, although this part of London looked very different when he first took up a needle at Henry Poole in the 1950s.
Aged 79, Angus can now start to think about time spent away from Savile Row – maybe relaxing with his wife at their Suffolk home or enjoying adventures in his cherished vintage Frazer Nash. And with the seventh generation of the Poole/Cundey family already firmly established at 15 Savile Row – son Simon is Managing Director and co-owner of Henry Poole – Angus knows that his beloved Savile Row is in safe hands and thriving.