By Robin Dutt
Within the Savile Row fraternity Malcolm Plews, pictutured, commands great respect, something of a tailors’ tailor, with long experience in and around the Row, a Royal Warrant, and now with a sitting in Sackville Street. “I work mainly from home,” he explains, “having converted my garage into a workshop. I can look out over the countryside and there are no interruptions, it’s wonderful. That’s where I make my patterns and do the cutting. I come here to see my customers and do fittings. I love it.”
He came here when he moved out of Welsh & Jefferies a year ago, preferring to be on his own, but also enjoying this facility for meeting customers in congenial surroundings with fellow craftsmen. Many master tailors, as he points out, work from home, having been priced out of the Savile Row area.
“It’s a shame,” he says firmly. “There are lots of really good cutters and businesses no longer able to stay here. When I started work in Savile Row, there were many small units. It means that youngsters today haven’t got the fantastic teaching opportunities that these small workshops provided. Savile Row used to be synonymous with good tailoring, quality and fit. Now, a lot of it is about who has the best marketing man or woman.”
He started with an apprenticeship at a tailor’s in his home town of Bexhill, taken over by Gieves & Hawkes. At the same time, he attended a tailoring course at Shoreditch College and won the College Shield in 1964. Recognising a rising talent, Gieves asked if he would like to come to their Savile Row headquarters.
“Of course I did! But it was pretty hard. I had to move from home and find a bedsit to live in London. But I loved coming to Savile Row then and still love it today. It’s not like a job – it’s just something I like doing.”
During his time at Gieves & Hawkes, he learnt all aspects of tailoring, benefitting from the firm’s speciality in military uniforms. From there, he had a stint at Nortons, and then thought it was time to start on his own.
“I took a shop on the Row, which was great. But we had to get out when the building was to be redeveloped. “
The Row then was still very much a village, peopled with “proper tailors”, he remembers, and with much camaraderie. Michael Skinner approached him to join Dege, where he was production director for a number of years, and then he went to Welsh & Jefferies.
This is where Royal recognition came, when he was granted the Royal Warrant as military tailor to the Prince of Wales, a Warrant he still retains. Clearly proud of this achievement, he maintains that code of restraint that is traditional in Savile Row when talking about any customers. Other illustrious clients remained with him when he decided to start up on his own again last year, many from the US, and he has been gratified and pleasantly surprised by the numbers of customers who have sought him out.
“There was a rumour that I was retiring. Well, I’m clearly not. I’m still a student of the craft, and I’m keen to pass on my knowledge to the next generation of students. I have some young cutters come to my home for training. I love the trade and enjoy tailoring today as much as I did when I started. I’m happy.”
And he looks it, a relaxed and affable man, the quintessential Savile Row craftsman, a Master tailor, and, as one of his peers put it, “a really nice bloke”. There’s no greater compliment for an Englishman.
By Robin Dutt Within the Savile Row fraternity