The 1960s-influenced brand has opened a men’s tailoring store in the rarefied surroundings of Savile Row in a bid to grab a slice of the bespoke action.
Think of Ben Sherman and the picture conjured up for many is of a brand populated by Vespa-riding types with a penchant for all things mod - the kind of image embodied by cult movie Quadrophenia. In fairness, there is a different, and much older, generation for whom Ben Sherman is largely associated with one product: a particular type of shirt, frequently with a button-down collar.
And although the Ben Sherman flagship on London’s Carnaby Street carries a range of men’s suits, it would be a stretch to imagine the brand touching down in the heady confines of Savile Row. It’s just not that sort of brand. But it is now. The Baird Group, which has the licence for Ben Sherman tailoring within its stable of brands, has opened a Ben Sherman store on the street that is a bastion of British bespoke suiting.
Which is probably why the most cursory examination of the blogs that have been commenting on this arriviste, populist brand, reveals that quite a few feathers have been ruffled. It’s worth remarking, however, that this is not a mod-led offer, at least from the outside, although inside there are many references to the brand’s heritage. Equally, with some styles priced just north of £1,000, this is still quite a way from high street off-the-peg norms.
This democratisation of Savile Row may seem inevitable, as the increasing quality of the mid-market’s top end means the differential between bespoke and ready-to-wear continues to be eroded. And as store manager Andy Allemand points out, there is a none-too-subtle, in price terms, difference between the east side of the street and the west. The west is cheaper, and this is where the Ben Sherman store is.
Key looks and merchandise mix
This store is first and foremost about suits, and two blocks are on offer. The Camden is aimed at those seeking a sharp, 1960s mod-like profile with skinny lapels and narrow trousers. It comes in six styles with a £350 entry price, a mid-range at £550 and £1,000 for a semi-bespoke suit where the shopper has some control over accessories and linings. The same price structure is employed for the more conservative Kings range, which has eight styles with more generous trousers and longer-length jackets. Sizes run from 36in to 46in and a shirt range also forms part of the offer, with a plain white shirt at £95, rising to £125 for the bulk of the styles, including two with high collar stands and floral patterns. Completing the look are ties at £45 in plain, club and brocade styles, and £75 cufflinks featuring, among other things, images of naked women - a feature that is picked up in the store’s fitting rooms.
There are also a couple of coats, both priced at £350, which wouldn’t look out of place if you had been asked, back in the day, to be an extra in gangland film classic The Long Good Friday.
You expect standards to be high in this part of London and this store does not disappoint. Whether it’s the Vespa scooter positioned, with a certain inevitability, in the lobby just inside the entrance, or the washing line display in two windows, this is a store that sets out to turn Savile Row norms on their head. Across the street there is a swish bespoke tailoring premises where the windows are filled with mannequins sporting partially constructed suits. The Ben Sherman store may exercise the same upscale restraint in terms of its fascia, but is nonetheless markedly different from its neighbours thanks to its use of visual merchandising and the absence of mannequins.
Internally, the simple device of silver coat hooks attached to the cupboard doors around the perimeter makes showing off jacket, shirt and tie combos a straightforward matter and also helps maintain the store’s clean lines.
The two members of staff were clad in black single-button two-piece suits with matching ties and white shirts - a sharp, monochrome vision which treads the delicate line between contemporary and Savile Row’s innate conservatism.
Equally encouragingly, the staff knew their stuff and when Drapers made a rash impulse waistcoat purchase they gave the same level of care and attention as they presumably would have done had a top of the range suit been on the shopping list. Savile Row is about personal service and the Ben Sherman store delivers.
The division of the space is not quite what you might expect in a store of this modest size. For a start, there’s the lobby, which is a fairly cavalier exercise when it is considered that it probably occupies about a quarter of the total floor space and does not function as a selling area, serving instead as a mood-setter with the Vespa and a series of shots of mods.
Wander through the grand double doors beyond the lobby and you’re into the shop proper - a tribute to all things British. Whether it’s the cups and saucers, complete with regal insignia, that are fastened to the ceiling, or the brown wood marquetry forming a Union Jack on the floor, there is little doubting the brand’s provenance. Add to this the military-looking panels in high-gloss black paint that form the left-hand perimeter wall, and which double up as wardrobes for the suits, and this is an impressive piece of store design.
Mention should also be made of the two fitting rooms, covered with wallpaper on which sepia ladies from the late 19th century recline on chaises longues and such like. A gentlemen’s club aura executed in a distinctly tongue-in-cheek manner.
Would I buy?
I did, in spite of what, from the perspective of one enjoying a journalist’s modest stipend, appeared ambitious pricing. The combination of slick, contemporary tailoring, aimed mostly at over-30s men, and a comfortable-feeling store, made a purchase almost compulsory. Savile Row was conspicuously quiet on the day of visiting, and like everywhere else Ben Sherman was devoid of shoppers. That said, at these prices, not many customers are required to make it work.
Ben Sherman slips quietly into the preserve of an altogether different sort of retailing and does so with panache. This is one of the better stores visited by Drapers and it deserves to do well. However, opening in these cash-strapped times might still prove tricky.