Aug. 7, 2013 at 11:30 AM ET
Tailors who have been making bespoke suits for Britain's upper crust -- from Lord Nelson to Winston Churchill -- for more than two centuries, are in a huff ... over an American chain store.
Plans by Abercrombie & Fitch to open a children's store on London's Savile Row have come under fire from local tailors determined to keep the historic street free of chain stores.
The U.S. fashion retailer had earmarked No. 3 Savile Row - a street which has given its name to bespoke, or hand-made tailoring – as a possible site for its first children's store in Britain. But Mark Henderson, chairman of heritage tailor Gieves & Hawkes, told CNBC that an Abercrombie shop would be out-of-keeping with the rest of the street.
"Opening a kids store on Savile Row is a somewhat bizarre thing to do. It's a fairly narrow street, it's got its own atmosphere to it," said Henderson, who also heads lobbying group Savile Row Bespoke. "It's just fundamentally a mistake from Abercrombie - they don't get everything right."
Last year, Savile Row was the scene of a protest organized by The Chap magazine against Abercrombie's plans to move into No. 3. The famous street, located in London's pricey Mayfair district, is currently home to 12 bespoke tailoring businesses, who fear being pushed out if chain stores arrive.
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John Hitchcock, managing director of bespoke tailor Anderson & Sheppard, said that if big names like Abercrombie moved to Savile Row, rents would likely rise.
"One or two of the tailors are concerned it might put the rents up, and it will do, I suppose," he told CNBC. "There's only so much rent we can pay. Our costs are already high as we make every suit by hand – unlike the big chains which don't make their products on the premises."
Tailors would be forced to move, he said and "it would be a shame. It's always been nice to have just tailors on the street because it means we're all in one place – that's what Savile Row is: a collective."
Indeed, Savile Row has been the center for London's high-end tailors since the end of the 18th century. One of the early tailors there was Henry Poole, credited as the creator of the dinner jacket or tuxedo.
But oddly, the street's posh image was also challenged 45 years ago at the height of the "Swinging London" scene when the Beatles moved their business Apple Records into 3 Savile Row. The Beatles' final live performance, known as the "Rooftop Concert", was held on the roof of the building in 1969.
In a written statement, an Abercrombie spokesperson said: "We respect the [planning] process and are excited we are now moving forward with planning and construction of the store."
The chain already knows the area: its London flagship is located in Old Burlington Street, just one street away from Savile Row.
Abercrombie's stores are known for their dimly-lit shop floors and loud music, and the chain has already proposed a number of changes to No. 3 Savile Row, which has protected status because of its historic origins. However, the local council, Westminster City Council, rejected a number of proposals from Abercrombie in March, ruling that the store could not have blacked-out windows, strip-lighting in the windows, or a flagpole.
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Alastair Moss, the council's chairman of planning, welcomed the decision. "Some of their proposals were utterly unacceptable," he said at the time. "The conditions will ensure the special character of the world-renowned Savile Row will be preserved."
The council has also clashed with Abercrombie over plans to host a launch event for the children's store, arguing that loud music could upset Savile Row traders and shoppers, and may cause disturbance to nearby residents.
Westminster City Council told CNBC on Tuesday that it had heard nothing from Abercrombie since March, when the planning inquiry concluded.
Joseph Morgan, director of Savile Row tailor Chittleborough & Morgan, said it would be nice if the street could be preserved as the home of bespoke tailoring.
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"The street is known for providing quality and bespoke clothes to the world," he told CNBC. "Ready-to-wear chains want to say they're in Savile Row to boost their profile - but it won't work unless they're providing bespoke suits."
Morgan, however, did say that traditional tailors could reap some benefits from having Abercrombie as a neighbor.
"It would bring a new, young atmosphere to the street," he said. "And might open-up bespoke tailoring to a younger audience."
—By CNBC's Katrina Bishop. Follow her on Twitter @KatrinaBishop
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