LONDON — Until a few weeks ago, few had heard of the London bespoke tailor and shirtmaker Henry Herbert.
The company that once used to sit on Savile Row doesn’t have a well-known name like fellow tailors Huntsman, Anderson & Sheppard or Kilgour, and has recently relocated to a more discreet space opposite a Korean restaurant and a British pub, not far from The British Museum.
But on July 21, the tailor hit the headlines after the Daily Mail reported that Rishi Sunak, 42, Britain’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer who is in the race to become the next Conservative prime minister, was wearing a two-piece suit by Henry Herbert that cost 3,500 pounds.
Sunak, an Oxford graduate and Fulbright Scholar with an MBA from Stanford, had paired the suit with Prada shoes costing 490 pounds, and the paper wrote about his luxury wardrobe choices as if they were something to be ashamed of.
One of Sunak’s detractors, and a fellow Conservative member of parliament, Nadine Dorries, 65, quickly pounced on the report, and pointed out that Sunak’s rival Liz Truss would be campaigning around the country wearing earrings that cost cost 4.50 pounds from Claire Accessories, a high street chain.
Sunak, a former banker with Goldman Sachs, has frequently been criticized for his education, and his wealth. According to The Sunday Times Rich List he and his wife Akshata Murthy are worth 730 million pounds. Murthy’s family are self-made millionaires and she holds shares in her father’s technology firm Infosys; Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria and Jamie’s Italian; Wendy’s outlets in India; the nanny agency Koru Kids, and the gym operator Digme Fitness.
However, amid the mud-slinging, Sunak has been a great supporter of British tailoring.
He wouldn’t be the first British leader to wear a bespoke suit, either. Winston Churchill started visiting Savile Row from the age of 19, endorsing the likes of Henry Poole & Co and Turnbull & Asser in wartime and peacetime; John Major and Gordon Brown turned to Gieves & Hawkes, while Tony Blair stepped off Savile Row and gambled on a fashion brand, Paul Smith.
Sunak, with his squeaky-clean, teetotal lifestyle, has never tried to be a man of the people. With his regular 6 am Peloton workouts and breakfast of Greek yogurt and blueberries, he’s showing the nation a leadership option who is ready to look good while shouldering the burdens of inflation, and a cost-of-living crisis.
For Sunak to eschew Savile Row and opt for a young, low-key tailor such as Henry Herbert is telling.
The company was founded in 2009, compared with the Savile Row giants, some of which are more than 200 years old.
In October 2020, during the midst of the pandemic, Charlie Baker-Collingwood, the founder and owner of the tailoring company, died, and Alexander Dickinson, 30, took on the small business that he’d joined in 2014.
Although lockdown was difficult, he’s back making bespoke clothing, and not just suits, for professional clients — lawyers, bankers, tech workers and politicians.
“The same people that would be getting three-piece suits from us were now coming back to us wanting chinos, jackets and casual shirts,” said Dickinson of the incoming requests post pandemic.
“The British gentleman is getting more savvy, and realizing that he doesn’t actually have to pay 5,000 pounds [for a suit],” said Dickinson.
“You can come off the beaten track and pay 2,500 pounds for a more personal service with the same fabrics made by the same people where you have a lot more control on your own garments. On Savile Row you’re probably buying into the house style ,” he added.
Although Dickinson declined to comment on Sunak, it’s possible that the politician’s four-figure suit wasn’t new.
“It might cost more than the average suit, but bespoke is built to last and our fabric is British and sustainable with no plastics within it,” said Dickinson. “You’re only buying one suit rather than two or three a year. It’s the most sustainable garment you can get.”