The royally favoured, finely tailored history of Henry Poole
The Savile Row tailor invented the dinner jacket, dressed everyone from Napoleon to Winston Churchill and has been thriving for 200 years. Here's its story.
We owe it all to Beau Brummell. Savile Row. Henry Poole. The whole idea behind, and inimitable style of, modern gentleman’s dressing. It all comes from Brummell. A close friend of the British monarchy, the Regency dandy strutted about late 18th century London with the swagger and gravitas of today’s influencers; deciding what would constitute fashion and who should wear it.
And, after flouncy, foppish silks fell from favour after the French Revolution of 1789, Brummell decreed that honest English wool was the way to go.
Thankfully, also at this time, James Poole was setting up shop as a draper at No. 7 Everett Street in Bloomsbury. He was wide-eyed, optimistic and nifty with a pair of tailoring shears. He dressed all high-society types — from surgeons to solicitors — and soon began creating some of the first typically British suits in history. By 1815, and the Battle of Waterloo, he was also crafting military uniforms and apparel — a side-line the brand is still famous for to this day.
1822 saw the brand open an emporium at 181 Regent Street and — business booming — subsequent headquarters at 4 Old Burlington Street. These headquarters were particularly important, as they adjoined the most sartorial street in the world: Savile Row.
The business expands across the world
By 1846 — the year of James Poole’s death — his son Henry had taken the reigns (and cutting shears) of the business. Endlessly charismatic and innovative, the younger Poole attracted the custom of aristocracy — from Emperor Napoleon to Queen Victoria. But it wasn’t until King Edward VII became a customer that Henry Poole became a social hub; a palatial showroom opening on Savile Row. Even after Henry’s death, his cousin Samuel Cundy led the business to new heights — opening branches in Paris, Vienna and Berlin, and dressing every major head of state in Europe.
In 1865 came the brand’s most famous invention; the dinner jacket. The then-Prince of Wales asked his tailor to cut a short celestial-blue evening coat to be worn for informal dinners at Sandringham. A guest at one such royal dinner, US financier James Brown Potter, asked Poole to create him his own dinner jacket — and he wore it religiously when he crossed the Atlantic home, even taking it to his favourite Manhattan haunt: the Tuxedo Club. So the tuxedo was born, and so Henry Poole’s global appeal grew.
Among the worldly patrons was Emperor Alexander of Russia. The penultimate emperor of Russia spent the equivalent of £55,280 at Henry Poole over eight years — starting with an 1873 order of a grey Angola pea coat lined with silk, two white imperial drill lounge vests, a black twill Angola frock coat lined with silk and a double-breasted Angola pea coat for the Royal Regatta at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. It was a rarefied customer base — and one that only swelled more magnificently as the brand approached a new century.
Henry Poole goes to war
But with the new century came trouble. Despite becoming the largest tailor in the world by the early 1900s, with over 300 tailors on the payroll, world wars raged through the first half of the 20th century — and Henry Poole was on the front line. As a brand with roots in military fashion, customers preparing for battle turned to their trusted tailor with some odd, outlandish requests.
The 9th Duke of Marlborough, for instance, ordered a khaki whipcord service jacket lined with fleece and a fur-lined camel great coat as World War I began. Count Larisch, an extravagant nobleman and one of Henry Poole’s best customers, ordered the firm to send him a stock of Floris perfume and Briggs hats to Austria — just one example of how the business transcended tailoring and went above and beyond for its customers. And, in 1915, it even provided the 5th Earl of Onslow with a revolver — folded up inside his made-to-order khaki service jacket.
The tailor forges forward into the modern day
Unlike many businesses, Henry Poole survived the wars. But, by 1961, redevelopment had forced the brand to vacate Savile Row and decamp to nearby Cork Street. There it stayed until 1982 when, returning triumphantly to ‘the Row’, it set up shop in a beautiful Victorian building at No. 15.
During these intervening years, Henry Poole also became the first Savile Row tailor to crack Japan. Sold in luxury department stores across the country, the tailor even expanded into China, opening stores in Beijing and Hangjou. Trunk shows travelled the world; flitting from France to Japan, Germany to the US — and the garments offered diversified from simple suiting to top coats, overcoats, blazer, sports jackets and shirts.
The materials and fabrics used were refined even further — down to a modest 6,000 — ranging from luxury worsted cashmere from mills in Yorkshire and pure cashmere to rich flannels from the West Country and fine tweeds from the islands of the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish Borders. And the brand didn’t stop there…
Collaborations define the modern Henry Poole
Today, Henry Poole remains a bastion of British style and tradition — but that doesn’t mean it is afraid to venture outside its coddled comfort zone of classic suiting. Far from it. In fact, in recent years alone, the brand has embarked on several collaborations to shake up the style world.
Two years ago, the business joined forces with sportswear titan Adidas to create a pair of Primeknit NMD sneakers. Crafted from either a midnight blue ‘Tuxedo’ fabric or specially created ‘three-chalkstripe’ material, they are striking, modern and thoroughly unique. Henry Poole’s partnership with Canada Goose also pushed the outerwear envelope; creating a new down-filled blazer for the global traveller and urban adventurer. It was an unexpected treat. And the collaboration with Aston Martin, creating perfectly trimmed seats for the carmaker’s Vision Concept, was a masterclass in British brand partnerships.
Henry Poole remain the gold standard in British suiting — and British business in general. So, next time you take a stroll down Savile Row, take a look for yourself…
You’ve got your suit, but what about a shirt? Read our guide to buying the perfect white button-down here…
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