Savile Row and its Mayfair environs have been synonymous with style, quality and taste for over two centuries, led primarily by the bespoke tailors of the district who set the international standard for gentleman’s dress throughout that time.
During the 18th century, Paris had been the dominant cultural force in Europe, with the decadently flamboyant court dress of silk stockings, delicately embroidered coats and powdered wigs influencing men’s style across the Continent.
King Louis XVI succeeded to the French throne in 1774 when he was only 19 years of age. The government was deeply in debt at the time and he oversaw a period of economic decline that together with growing discontent of the country’s population towards absolute monarchy were contributing factors to the French Revolution in 1789. The King and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, were removed from the Palace of Versailles and imprisoned in Paris pending their death by guillotine in 1793.
King Louis XVI in full court attire
The French Revolution marked the end of the ancien regime and the influence of Parisian courtiers on the world of male fashion. The responsibility of instructing gentlemen how to dress now fell into the hands of another royal confidant, the English dandy, George Bryan Brummell, commonly known as “Beau” Brummell.
Brummell was an iconic figure in Regency England. An arbiter of men’s style and taste, he was a close friend and sartorial advisor to the Prince Regent the future King George IV. He established the modern way of dressing, rejecting the overly ornate look popularised by the French in favour of understated, but perfectly fitted, tailored clothing.
Brightly coloured silken robes, knee breeches and stockings were replaced with dark coats and full length trousers worn over immaculate shirt linen and elaborately knotted cravats. It is claimed that he took five hours to dress and often had a coterie of admirers present to witness the marvel. To complete his pristine appearance he would demand that his boots be polished with Champagne.
“Beau” Brummell – the original dandy
In the late 18th century an Austrian tailor, Jonathan Meyer, established a tailoring business at 36 Conduit Street. By 1800, Meyer was making clothes for both Brummell and the Prince Regent. It is believed that around this time Meyer and Brummell collaborated to produce what was to become the contemporary trouser – a garment that Beau Brummell subsequently introduced to London society and something that has remained standard gentleman’s attire ever since.
In the 1830s the Meyer family joined forces with Edinburgh tailor John Mortimer to establish a new company Meyer & Mortimer. The company was bombed out of it’s Conduit Street premises during the Second World War and relocated to nearby Sackville Street to share headquarters with another tailoring firm, Jones, Chalk & Dawson. The practice of sharing premises is common amongst West End tailors, and that custom continues today as indeed the Anthony Sinclair business resided temporarily with these two historic firms at no.6, Sackville Street in 2012.
In the years after the Second World War, bespoke tailoring businesses began to return to Conduit Street, and by the 1950’s Cyril Castle and Anthony Sinclair were in residence. Following the prolonged Post War period of rationing and austerity, demand for tailored suits had begun to increase, and in turn there was a need for skilled hands to produce the work. They arrived in good number from a former British colony, Cyprus – a small island country renowned for the tailoring skills of its inhabitants.
At the beginning of the Second World War there were around 8,000 Cypriots in London. Immigration began to increase as a result of inter-communal violence on the island during the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters campaign for independence from Britain which started in 1955. Migration peaked following independence in 1960, with around 25,000 Cypriots migrating in the year that followed. Amongst them was a young tailor called Peter Meliniotis whose talent was spotted by Anthony Sinclair who immediately recruited him as a coat maker.
Peter Meliniotis at his “board”
Peter worked for Sinclair both during, and subsequent to, the Bond years, going on to make work cut by Richard Paine when he took over the business from his former master in 1986. He continues to produce a limited number of superlative garments for the company today, and was naturally the only craftsman considered when the time came to reconstruct the classic pieces that had originally been made for Sean Connery during those early days.
Experience and expertise are the defining characteristics of a skilled artisan, and Peter has an abundance of both. He is one of a significant number of tailors who have arrived in London from other parts of the world eager to employ and develop their talents alongside fellow craftsman who have spent a lifetime honing their skills.
The historic tailoring houses of Mayfair are supported by coat, vest and trouser makers representing a host of nationalities, from Greek Cypriots, Italians and East Europeans to Chinese, Indian and African citizens, each benefitting from the knowledge that has been handed down from one generation to the next throughout the extraordinary 200 year history of the home of British tailoring – from Brummell to Bond and beyond.
Read more: Recreating a Masterpiece (Part 007) The Show