Q&A: Savile Row Cutter & Royal Warrant Holder, Malcolm Plews

With over 50 years on Savile Row, Malcolm Plews is the epitome of Savile Row tailoring. His experience and skill set is vast and Malcolm is the person a lot of other tailors turn to when presented with a particularly tricky problem. He has seen a good few changes to the industry during his time on Savile Row and caught the odd historic event or two; including a certain Beatles rooftop concert in 1969. Malcolm is also proud to be Royal Warrant holder to HRH The Prince of Wales.

How did you get into tailoring?

Well, when I was about to leave school, my father said you need a trade. Luckily I chose tailoring and fell in love with it straight away.

How old were you?

I was 15 so I’ve been in the business 54 years.  I still love it the same way as when I started.

So which house did you start with?

It was a family business in Bexhill-on-Sea called Frederick Gower.

Are they still going?

No, they’re not. The governor there died and then Gieves & Hawkes bought the business. I was two years into my apprenticeship and the new owners offered me a place in London when they were at 27 Old Bond Street.

What was the apprenticeship in, cutting?

It was making and cutting. I was also going to Shoreditch College (of the Garment Trades, which is now the London College of fashion) to learn cutting and textiles.

Was there an early inspiration for you?

My Dad’s brother was a tailor up in Bradford who had his own business called Baden-Plews. Also, my eldest sister learned tailoring in Bexhill at a company called Hamptons and she ended up with her own business in Hastings. I used to watch her as she used to bring work home and I found it interesting.bso I would say my family.

What was the first suit you bought?

I would have made my own as I was tailoring, making coats and things like that.

True Savile Row legend: Malcolm Plews

Can you remember what it looked like?

Back then it was a fancy blue stripe, Italian style which was a boxy short jacket with a half belt across the coat waist at the back.

You don’t see many half-belts around now these days do you?

No, that style didn’t last very long really.

When I mentioned to Oliver Cross that I was interviewing you, he said I should ask you about the legendary Beatles gig at No. 3 Savile Row; you weren’t there were you?

I was, Oliver is right. At that time (Jan 1969) I was working at Gieves. They’d moved from Old Bond Street to No.1 Savile Row. So we went up on to the roof and was watching them on the next roof, next door to us.

That’s incredible! What was it like?

I wasn’t a huge Beatles fan at the time but it was amazing to see them there on the next roof. The police came after about 20 minutes or half an hour and they didn’t really know what to do as they hadn’t faced this kind of situation before. Traffic on Savile Row came to a standstill and crowds had gathered. The Beatles were good about it though and understood the concerns of the police.

 Up on the roof; The Beatles at No.3 Savile Row

Over your years of working in and around Savile Row have you noticed any changes to the area and how it works?

Well, the trade has got a lot smaller; and there’s more made to measure suits - which are basically factory made suits. They’ve got nothing to do with what made Savile Row famous.

Made-to-Measure can and has been described or associated to ‘bespoke’ hasn’t it?

Yes, we (and other members of the Savile Row Bespoke Association) tried to protect the word bespoke in court but unfortunately in went against us. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that mass market retailers could use the word to describe machine-made garments which meant the word has been diluted. A 'bespoke’ suit may not actually be bespoke at all.  So it’s even more important to advertise now that a true Savile Row bespoke suit is as individual as its owner and is hand-made to the highest standards.

Editor’s Note (E.N):
Oxford Dictionary’s definition of bespoke: 
(Of goods, especially clothing) made to order: a bespoke suit
(Of a trader) making bespoke items of clothing: the bespoke tailors of Savile Row.

So what about the future of Savile Row Malcolm?

I’m afraid to say that we may see a continuation of big companies (venture capitalists), who’ve not contributed to Savile Row’s histories and traditions, buying up more tailoring houses. We’re small craft businesses so it’s difficult to compete with them on this front.

We’ve asked this question to everyone Malcolm during their Q&A; who would play you in the (fictional) film Savile Row?

E.N: Before Malcolm could even attempt to answer, shirtmaker Sean O’Flynn and cutter Stuart Lamprell opted for, on Mr Plews behalf: Michael Douglas - to play the younger Plews and Kirk Douglas to play the older. When Malcolm was allowed to answer eventually, he said…

Well, I really like Peter Wyngarde who was in a late 60s show called Department S. His character’s name was Jason King.

Peter Wyngarde aka Jason King

I’m named after him (being born in 1970) and I believe you named your son Jason too after the sartorially suave detective?

Yes, I did. He would play me. Definitely. I loved his dressing in those days. I did use to copy his style to a large extent.

E.N: Sean O’Flynn, again involves himself in the discussion! “It’s probably worth mentioning that he dressed himself in those shows and wasn’t supplied by the wardrobe department. He had them specifically made for him”.

How do you relax Malcolm, of an evening?

I’m a big fan of Homeland. I don’t usually watch TV but my wife got me into it and now I’m well and truly hooked.

I hear you like your music too?

I love all music. If you look on here [his iPhone] I’ve got everything on here from Classical to rock.

E.N: We scroll through his music library and see The Sidewinder by jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan; Jerry Lee Lewis, Sinatra with Jessie J and Taylor Swift making it on there.

I do love Mark Knopfler. I’ve got a lot of his later stuff after Dire Straits which is great, Eric Clapton too.

Do you have a favourite item of clothing or suit?

There’s not so much need now but my favourite is the white tie (aka full evening dress). I still think it’s the most elegant dress.

Well, Malcolm, that was truly fascinating. Thank you very much for your time.

Thank you.

The White Tie aka Full Evening Dress