By Archie Mitchell
The world’s most famous street for tailor-made suits, Savile Row, which has measured up Prince Harry and David Bowie, will reopen for businesses on Monday but as never before.
The U.K. government is relaxing lockdown restrictions after a sustained decline in the number of new coronavirus cases and London-based Savile Row, dating back to the 19th century, is one of a host of retailer hubs having to adjust to social distancing.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in May that all nonessential retailers can reopen on June 15 with strict hygiene measures in place to control the spread of coronavirus. On June 1 England took its first steps out of lockdown with the opening of some schools and markets.
Customers are eager to get back in, with slots filling up and men reporting a need to have their trouser waistbands extended after piling on the pounds since the U.K. entered lockdown in March.
Some U.S. states have already lifted restrictions on nonessential retail and Gap said its open stores are already generating 70% or more of last year’s sales.
Retailers reopening, such as Associated British Foods /zigman2/quotes/204493701/delayed UK:ABF +0.91% owned Primark, will use fewer checkouts but equip them with protective screens, limit the number of customers in-store, and quarantine clothes that are returned or tried on, in line with the U.K. government guidance .
Retailers across England and the U.S. are making huge adaptations to operate after coronavirus lockdowns, including Savile Row’s bespoke suit makers, who charge upward of £5,000 ($6,300) per suit.
Fittings will now be behind locked doors by appointment only, with tailors kitted out in a mix of custom-made, and industrial standard, personal protective equipment.
Tailors spoken to by MarketWatch say customers are eager to get back in, with slots filling up and men reporting a need to have their trouser waistbands extended after piling on the pounds since the U.K. entered lockdown in March.
Taj Phull, brand development manager at Huntsman, said its most common inquiry at the moment was, “‘Guys, I need to get my trousers let out.’”
Savile Row, the street where the Beatles performed their last concert, will see its tailors wear masks, gloves and visors for the first time in its 200-year history.
Doors along the street will be locked to prevent passersby walking in and tailors will only see one client at a time.
William Skinner is managing director at Dege & Skinner, who made Prince Harry’s wedding uniform. “We will see customers individually by appointment, will have two members of staff working, and the door will be in effect locked,” he told MarketWatch.
Maintaining the street’s prestigious image, many will offer customers and staff masks made of in-house materials.
“If we can do something personalized and make it a little bit more Savile Row, we’ll come up with something,” said Sean Dixon, co-founder of Richard James.
The tailors said that, while visors and other protective gear were a step away from the street’s typical high fashion, it was essential to make customers feel comfortable returning to some kind of normality.
The reopening of nonessential retail will be welcomed by high street shops that have struggled through the lockdown as customers stay home and move purchases online.
Figures released on Tuesday by retail trade body the British Retail Consortium show that in the three months to May, in-store sales excluding food declined -50.3%, while in May, online sales excluding food rose by 60.2%.