“Over the years we have had all sorts of dramas and we’ve got through it,” said Angus Cundey, chairman of Savile Row’s founding tailor, as he explained why he sees Brexit as an opportunity for UK manufacturing and British brands.
Angus Cundey, chairman of Henry Poole & Co, and his son Simon, managing director
Henry Poole on Savile Row from 1846-1961
Cundey is the sixth generation to run the prestigious tailoring business Henry Poole & Co, alongside his son, Simon, who is managing director. The firm was founded by James Poole, who opened a linen drapers in Brunswick Square in 1806. Following Poole’s death in 1846, his son, Henry, inherited the family business and started the long tradition of London bespoke tailoring on London’s Savile Row.
In 1876, Henry’s cousin, Samuel Cundey, took over and by the early 1900s, Henry Poole was the largest tailoring establishment of its type in the world. In 1982 Henry Poole occupied its premises at 15 Savile Row, where it remains to this day.
Cundey told Drapers that the company has always had an international customer base, dressing the tsars of Russia, emperors of Japan and maharajas of India.
The US is the biggest market for us today, and we do more business in Japan than the EU now
However, despite previously having a sizeable business in Europe, the company’s biggest market today is the US while Europe has slipped away, with the exception of Switzerland.
“The US is the biggest market for us today, and we do more business in Japan than the EU now,” he told Drapers.
Savile Row during World War 2
“We’re building a nice trade in China and Hong Kong, and we’re looking to go into India. Before the war we used to have many maharajas wearing our suits and we’ve just done an exhibition in Mumbai and Delhi.”
Henry Poole has a store on Savile Row in London, complete with two workshops in the basement of its store, where the bespoke suits are made. It also sells via a series of trunk shows in Germany, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland in Europe, the US, and Japan and China in Asia. Customers often make an initial order at a trunk show around the world and then come and pick up the suit on Savile Row or vice versa.
The Henry Poole & Co store on Savile Row today
He said the company is currently benefitting from the weak pound, which makes its suits more competitive.
“We are seeing record figures at the moment, particularly from the US,” he said. “Our prices at the moment mean it can be under $5,000 for a bespoke suit, which is very attractive.”
However he is concerned about the prospect of changes to tariffs, which may make some prices more expensive and could affect the cost of cloth.
Henry Poole uses predominantly UK cloth, woven in Huddersfield, Somerset or Scotland.
“95% of our cloth comes from the UK, which our customers appreciate,” he said.
“My son did part of his apprenticeship at a mill in Huddersfield and I am envious that he knows so much about cloth. I believe the best cloth in the world is woven here.”
He is confident that the UK will be able to secure good trading relationships with EU partners, which will mean tariffs remain competitive.
He is also upbeat about the future prospects of the business, thanks to the wave of young talent being introduced into tailoring through apprenticeships.
Today the firm employs 45 people – compared with around 300 tailors and cutters in its heyday of 1890 – but it has been instrumental in attracting fresh blood back into the industry.
My feeling on Brexit is that I welcome it
Henry Poole was one of the founding members of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, which aims to safeguard the street’s unique bespoke standards and protect its future through training new craftsmen and women in the skills of a master tailor.
“My feeling on Brexit is that I welcome it,” he concluded. “We have been established for more than 200 years and we’ve always had an international customer base – long may it last.”