women on savile row
Image: David Parry/PA Wire

Meet the women leading the charge on London’s Savile Row

10 Apr 2024 | Updated on: 11 Apr 2024 |By Annie Lewis

We speak to six of the pioneering women working at the forefront and behind the scenes of the world’s most famous sartorial street

They say that behind every great man there is a great woman – and, it turns out, the same can be said about London’s epicentre of tailoring, Savile Row. While the street is synonymous with menswear – having created suits for everyone from kings and prime ministers, to actors and rock-stars, to politicians and sports personalities – the thoroughfare was, in fact, named after a woman. 

Lady Dorothy Savile, the wife of the 3rd Earl of Burlington and a luminary in London’s 18th-century art circles, was a fashion icon for both men and women. She was known for wanting the gentlemen in her life to be “distinctively attired”, thereby funding their bespoke three-piece suits, shoes and hats. Soon, artisanal tailors flocked to Savile Row – built in the 1730s as part of the illustrious Burlington Estate – to serve not only Lady Savile’s circle, but other well-heeled denizens of Mayfair, The City and surrounding areas.  

For a destination historically championed by a woman, it’s a little ironic that the street wasn’t always welcoming to female talent. In the 21st century, however, Savile Row’s workforce comprises several female bespoke cutters, heads of department, and even brand founders. Here, we catch up with six of the women at the forefront of the Row to discuss how they got into the industry and why a female presence on the sartorial street is more important than ever. 

Sarah Wilkinson, military tailoring specialist at Dege & Skinner

sarah wilkinson dege & skinner

Having been in the tailoring game for more than 40 years, Sarah Wilkinson started her career as part of a youth training scheme and has since made extraordinary outfits for some of the most high-profile people in the world. From Prince Harry’s wedding day frock coat to Prince Louis’ much-admired doeskin tunic worn at the 2023 Coronation of King Charles III (Dege & Skinner holds the Royal Warrant for specific and historic uniforms), she’s no stranger to working on some of the most striking pieces of military tailoring in the UK. 

How did you get into tailoring? 

When I did my O levels [now GCSE’s] one of my practical pieces was a linen jacket. I enjoyed the more structured approach to this type of garment, and decided that I would like to pursue a career in tailoring. I wrote to all the tailoring houses on Savile Row at the time and was lucky enough to get offered some work experience with Dege & Skinner (then J. Dege and Sons). They must have seen some potential in me, and offered me an apprenticeship. Alongside this, I gained my qualifications in tailoring at the London College of Fashion.

What is the best part of your job? 

The sheer variety! I can’t begin to say how many different types of garment I have made over the years, varying between uniforms and ceremonial wear for heads of state, to a simple softly tailored jacket for a female customer. As you can imagine there are many things in between; I am also sometimes asked to help with the design of one-off pieces, and making something unique is very special. This is why I am still enjoying my incredible job after 40 years!

What is your personal style mantra?

Wear clothes that make you feel good.

What is the most important feature of any tailored suit?

There isn’t one feature that is more important than any other – all the features, and processes involved in tailoring a garment are equally important. It is how everything is put together that is important, the skill and passion for our craft, makes each garment special.

Why is it so important to have female representation on Savile Row? 

[It’s important] to have that feminine perspective. Although I feel men and women should have equal presence, we are all important for our individual skills.

10 Savile Row, W1S 3PF, visit dege-skinner.co.uk

Daisy Knatchbull, founder of The Deck London

daisy knatchbull the deck london

Starting the very first women-only tailoring house on Savile Row is no mean feat – but one Daisy Knatchbull is very proud to have achieved. Back in 2016, she reportedly became the first woman in history to wear a tailored morning dress to Royal Ascot – a dress code previously reserved only for men. The opening of The Deck London on 32 Savile Row followed in 2019. Since then, Knatchbull has received glowing reviews in the likes of Vogue and the Financial Times, and has dressed some of the most influential female actors, entrepreneurs and creatives working today, from businesswoman and model Elle McPherson to actress Gillian Anderson.

How did you get into tailoring?

I was lucky enough to be privy to the incredible world of Savile Row from a young age working in the PR department at Huntsman and eventually become their Communications Director nearly six years later. It was working there that gave me unique access and exposure to the craft, eventually leading me to see a huge gap in the womenswear market through the lens of tailoring.

What's the best part about your job?

There are so many incredible parts. I think for me it’s the moment a client tries on their finished suit, particularly a woman who has struggled their whole life to find trousers or a jacket that has ever fitted them because of their size, height or shape. We have had many clients burst into tears, and women who cannot stop staring at themselves. It’s the most rewarding feeling. Making women feel more confident, strong and empowered in themselves – that’s what gets me out of bed each day!

What's your personal style mantra?

From a young age I always felt more comfortable in trousers than a dress and that developed over the years into quite an androgynous style, but with a feminine twist. I love simple but elevated [looks] and, of course, I live in suits – dressed up or down. A structured jacket with tailored cigarette trousers or elegant flares paired with a combination of silk shirts and T-shirts, trainers or stilettos. I love nothing more than a beautifully tailored three-piece suit.

What's the most important feature of any tailored suit?

Versatility is key. When having something made, it’s always best to invest in something timeless that will take you from day into night – usually plain navy is best. Clothes you love last longer and when investing in a suit, it is really important you adore the finished design and can find a number of ways and excuses to wear it.

Why is it so important to have female representation on Savile Row?

Savile Row is the bastion of British tailoring and is steeped in history and heritage. A place inhabited by some of the most talented artisans in the world, it’s also a street [famous] for its tailoring for men. To be able to open Savile Row’s first shopfront for women is a huge privilege and my team and I feel honoured to be able to carve out that space for women and join the many other amazing women on Savile Row making it more inclusive.

32 Savile Row, W1S 3PT, visit thedecklondon.com

Jules Walker, head of military at Gieves & Hawkes

jules walker gieves & hawkes

Jules Walker has worked for Gieves and Hawkes – a brand which was founded in 1771 and is rooted in military tailoring, having held Royal Warrants for decades – for 12 years. She has worked her way from the shop floor to head of the military department via an apprenticeship, and is responsible for the uniforms of His Majesty’s Bodyguard The Honourable Corps of Gentlemen At Arms and was awarded the King’s Coronation Medal in 2023 for her work behind the scenes on the royal occasion.

How did you get into tailoring?

I wanted to learn a skill rather than doing a degree and made a choice to pursue tailoring. I moved to London at 19 and spent my spare time trying to find a way into the industry until I finally got a job on the shop floor of Gieves & Hawkes, where I still work 12 years later. I completed an apprenticeship in Military Finishing and now run the 253-year-old military department, which is responsible for the company’s Royal Warrants.

What's the best part about your job?

The interesting people I get to meet and work with, no two days are the same.

What's your personal style mantra? 

I don’t really do mantras but I like the styles of the 1930s-1960s with a bit of a modern twist. Plenty of colour!

What's the most important feature of any tailored suit? 

The way it makes the wearer feel.

Why is it so important to have female representation on Savile Row?

One of the reasons I like working on Savile Row is the mixture of people. We have all ages, nationalities etc and that diversity of life experience makes for an interesting environment and stronger collaboration.

1 Savile Row, W1S 3PB, visit gievesandhawkes.com

Nina Penlington, bespoke cutter at Edward Sexton

nina pennington edward sexton

Having studied at London College of Fashion, as well as Parsons School of Design, Nina Penlington won the 2011 Golden Shears Award (known as the Oscars of the tailoring world) and has since gone on to create hundreds of bespoke suits. Her career has seen her work at Dege & Skinner and Gieves & Hawkes, where she stayed for eight years, before she became bespoke cutter at Edward Sexton. 

How did you get into tailoring? 

My mum taught me to sew when I was a child, and we always made clothes together. After graduating I worked as a civil servant until I felt so constricted by the office environment I had to escape. I found the London College of Fashion tailoring course, took out a loan and made sure I got as much out of it as I could. I then walked into a cutting apprenticeship 16 odd years ago at Savile Row and I’m still here!

What's the best part about your job? 

I love meeting people and helping them to visualise what tailoring they have in their head. Developing a relationship over the course of the fittings is so important to making a great end product – and that’s the bit I really enjoy.

What's your personal style mantra? 

I absolutely love the late 1960s and early 1970s style, and so I seem to be building my wardrobe around that but in a way that I can mix and match so that I have a versatile wardrobe. If we make a truly versatile garment you’ll never not want to wear it, and you’ll find more opportunity to as it will fit into your existing wardrobe.

What's the most important feature of any tailored suit? 

The fit through the shoulders – this is the first thing that people notice when you walk into a room. If you get that initial impact correct, everything else will follow.

Why is it so important to have female representation on Savile Row? 

When I first started in the Row there were very few, if any, female cutters. I’m glad to see that this has changed, however slowly. Our gender does not prevent us from having the skills to do the job –  in fact, it’s so much better to have diversity [as] this is how we grow and develop ideas.

35 Savile Row, W1S 3DQ, visit edwardsexton.co.uk

Parv Matharu, co-founder of clothsurgeon

parv matharu clothsurgeon
Image: Sach Dhanjal

Parv Matharu started her career in corporate real estate before turning to tailoring. She co-founded clothsurgeon with her partner and now-creative director, Rav, in 2012 and opened the brand’s Savile Row store in 2022. On a day-to-day basis, Matharu manages the operations of clothsurgeon, from strategic planning for scaling growth, to overseeing the marketing and press directives which have resulted in partnerships with Nike, Harrods, and celebrities including Manchester City football manager Pep Guardiola and rapper A$AP Rocky. 

How did you get into tailoring?

I became co-founder of clothsurgeon 12 years ago [but] my background is from corporate real estate. I help develop and drive the business strategy forward. It’s important to have a mix of both creative and business energy to ensure growth and success.

What's the best part about your job?

Motivating and leading a team with a clear vision and strategy. I love being involved and demonstrating a proactive approach, figuring out solutions to daily challenges of a growing business, and having the freedom to make my own decisions is both scary and rewarding. Watching the company grow and building the right team is continuously very satisfying.

What's your personal style mantra?

Comfortable quality. I have a minimal wardrobe I have curated and designed around my daily routine, [featuring] mostly business suits. I like to wear clothes that have been made for me and stand the test of time. I’m happy to spend a little more for longevity, quality fabrics and top level production which I am also able to trace to ensure it is ethical.

What's the most important feature of any tailored suit?

A double-breasted suit is my go to power! It’s authoritative and gives me that extra confidence, especially working in a male-dominated environment.

Why is it so important to have female representation on Savile Row?

I didn’t release how many women contributed to the Row until I attended the International Women’s Day shoot. It was fantastic to see so many talented tailors and business female owners in one place. I hope they will continue to push themselves forward to the forefront of Savile Row and share their stories for the next generation of female leaders to aspire to. Having role models and mentors is so very important – something I wish I had more of at a younger age.

40 Savile Row, W1S 3QG, visit clothsurgeon.com

Molly Anderson, head of women’s bespoke tailoring at Richard Anderson

molly anderson

Molly Anderson joined Richard Anderson in 2019, working her way up from leading the front-of-house to now being trained by Richard in cutting, measuring and fitting suits. Now, when you walk into 13 Savile Row, you’ll spot Anderson working on the cutting table day to day. Taking on the house style, she leads on designing the women’s bespoke, using inspiration from 70s and 80s style trends that also reflect the brand’s sartorial history. You’ll also find her representing the brand internationally at trunk shows throughout the year, bringing in new clients while showcasing the finest British craftsmanship. Anderson is also on the board of Women in Tailoring: an organisation which aims to champion women in the industry, further strengthening Savile Row as a close-knit community of talented tailors, cutters, designers and creatives.

How did you get into tailoring?  

I knew for a long time that I wanted to work in a creative industry; I grew up surrounded by creatives and saw the passion that came with it. I started working with the front of house team pre-pandemic, learning about the Richard Anderson customer, their style, shopping habits and the intricacies of the bespoke process. Then, during the pandemic, I began striking and cutting suits from Richard’s patterns on a daily basis and I continue to hone my skill to this day.

What's the best part about your job?  

Building close relationships with existing clients. I have been trusted to lead the trunk shows in the USA and Japan, to crucially fit customers for their bespoke orders and showcase our latest pieces. Representing the brand on my own, across the other side of the world, was daunting at first but after a successful trip last year with many orders made, I couldn’t wait to do it all again.

What's the most important feature of any tailored suit?  

Over the years, I’ve seen first-hand just how many hours go into making a bespoke suit. I think every part of the process is absolutely crucial, from the initial consultation with cloth choices, to measuring, to cutting the pattern, to the actual make of the garment – there are lots of steps which all have to work in harmony!

I’m currently learning the importance of each fitting stage; it allows you to see how a person stands, how their body moves and be able to take measurements that will create a piece that hides their insecurities, accentuates certain parts of their bodies and gives them the desired look and feel they are after. We [work] to make a piece for our clients that makes them feel confident and proud in their appearance.

Why is it so important to have female representation on Savile Row?  

It’s important to show the Row is moving forward, from the once outwardly perceived Gentleman’s Club to a space that welcomes everyone. The position we are in now wouldn’t have been possible without the talented women working in the tailoring houses since before my time – they have built a better understanding of women’s tailoring needs. Also, women look fabulous in tailoring! If I can be a part of making women look and feel good in their clothes, I’ve done my job.

13 Savile Row, W1S 3PH, visit richardandersonltd.com

Visit onsavilerow.com

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