by: Geoff Ficke

One of the most illuminating professional experiences of my life was my first visit to the elegant center of British Bespoke male haberdashery, Saville Row in London’s exclusive Mayfair district. I was a young man, just starting my career in the international cosmetic business and, while knowing of the worldwide reputation for excellence of English hand tailored gentleman’s clothing, I had never experienced this level of quality and artisan craftsmanship. I was building my wardrobe from off the rack suits purchased from American department stores.

On my very first visit to London in the early 1970’s, I was most anxious to window shop the famous little alley known worldwide as Saville Row. Tucked inauspiciously behind the much more commercial and busy Regent Street, the languid pace and understated elegance of the short street was a shock. It seemed almost as if the tailors and shop proprietors were trying to avoid successful commercialization.

The shops were small, signage was petite and inauspicious and window displays were presented as simply as possible. The full focus was on the vast array bolts of cloth in endless colors, patterns and weights, classic tailoring and quality bespoke customization.

I was mesmerized but dared not enter a single establishment. The next day, at breakfast, my English distributor asked what I had done and seen during my free day in London. I described my walking tour of the amazing cities streets and my fascination, in particular, with Saville Row. My agent asked if I was going to make an appointment for a fitting with one of the tailor’s. “Of course not”, I replied “Saville Row level of bespoke tailoring is a little out of my range”.

For the next hour my agent became my tutor on the fine points of owning a quality British gentleman’s suit of clothing. He insisted that it was not a daunting experience or pretentious for a young American to enjoy what English gentlemen took for granted when assembling their wardrobes. More importantly, while the bespoke suit may cost more initially, it will provide much better value because the superior custom fit, quality fabric and hand craftsmanship will insure that the suit will wear much longer and provide a much better fit than any off the rack garment ever could. He suggested we make an appointment with his Saville Row tailor, and so we did.

The term “bespoke” is so very British. It simply means “to be spoken for”. In other words a bespoke suit is built solely for a specific client’s unique body shape and personal preferences. Saville Row tailors keep meticulous records of every client’s sizes, styling preferences, cloth and color choices and accessories. Each fitting is treated as the most important fitting the tailor will ever perform, because it actually is!

My first bespoke suit was tailored for me at No. 1 Saville Row, the famous address of Gieves & Hawkes. This, most famous, and typically British institution traces its origins to the late 1700’s. The firm is the holder of numerous royal warrants and has served customers ranging from Napoleon Bonaparte, to Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, to David Beckham. After 250 years in business in London, Gieves & Hawkes still tailors less than 1000 suits each year.

The shop has had many offers to mass produce a line of suits and sportswear that could be sold internationally in huge volumes. The owners have stringently avoided taking this route. The Gieves & Hawkes brand, so assiduously and painstakingly nurtured and harvested for generations, is not to be tinkered with.

We live in a world where millions of consumers can, and do, enjoy the fruits of mass production, economies of scale and international distribution logistics that make these products affordable and readily available. This is a blessing for all of us. However, it is a comforting thought, that old world, hand crafted, prideful products, such as the bespoke tailored gentleman’s clothing lovingly sewn by Gieves & Hawkes, and other Saville Row firms are still on offer to those who wish to choose quality over quantity.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.