Mark Henderson epitomises the quintessential English gentleman. In his office at 1 Savile Row, the Ampleforth-educated chief executive of centuries-old tailor Gieves & Hawkes admits to being a lover not only of all things luxurious, but more importantly, all things British.
Dressed head to toe in Gieves & Hawkes he looks the part – although he does admit to wearing the odd pair of Levi’s at the weekend.
“I love London and I love the UK. Without being overly jingoistic, I’m proud of being British. There are so many wonderful brands, wonderful shopping environments, fantastic retailers and real craftsmanship in the UK, from jewellery to cashmere to weaving – its cloth is some of the best in the world,” he enthuses.
Even his CV is packed full of archetypal English brands, including Mary Quant, Dunhill and luxury bathroom business Czech and Speake just around the corner on Jermyn Street.
Henderson – who is also chairman of Savile Row Bespoke, the association for tailors on the famous street – believes traditional English tailoring is unrivalled. To him, this is what luxury is all about, even when pitted against the likes of Dior and Armani. “Our business model is totally different to theirs. We’re a high-service business and we offer expertise and tailoring. We make garments that fit people and we style them appropriately,” he says.
Working in this artisan industry is not without its challenges, however. Gieves & Hawkes was for years synonymous with tradition. He joined the company in 1996, when the dotcom explosion and dress-down fashions of that decade meant difficult times. But thebusiness has since turned a corner. “Now there’s a real interest in the concept of uniquely made and personally tailored garments,” he says.
Henderson has had to work hard over the years to appeal to a wider demographic and overcome the stuffy and overly formal impression that some consumers might have had about the brand “When I joined Gieves & Hawkes, it was a somewhat military-based, classic outfitting-type business,” he explains.
Reaching out to younger consumers has been important and the brand’s now-frequent appearances in glossy men’s fashion magazines are proof that the approach has worked. “We used to get one or two press calls a month, generally because they wanted to dress someone in a bow tie. Now we have 40 or 50 a week,” he says. “It’s been about finding that comfortable area between fashion and classic and I think we’ve managed that.” While the brand has expanded its range to suit a broader range of customers, it still offers the classic cuts.
Henderson is particularly enthusiastic about Savile Row’s growing international recognition, something he has worked hard to achieve at Gieves & Hawkes. In addition, Savile Row Bespoke tailors are now in demand all over the world and the association has been invited by Pitti Uomo to showcase in Florence, by Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to exhibit in Paris, as well as being asked to present its work at the British Ambassador’s reception in Tokyo.
But there is still a long way to go. “I don’t think the quality of English tailoring has been fully articulated on an international basis,” he says. “But the sky’s the limit for Savile Row. The dust has been shaken off it and we have an incredibly precious asset that is regaining recognition around the world.”
Much as he loves the craftsmanship of bespoke tailoring, he admires the efficiency of the high street, too. “First and foremost, they run their stock very well,” he points out. “Getting the right product in the right place at the right time can be a challenge for us. There’s certainly a thing or two we could learn from them.” But, in terms of service levels, he says there is no competition.
In fact, Henderson – a beekeeper in his spare time – is such a fan of bespoke that he names his bees’ produce Beespoke Honey. Only two weeks ago, his two hives fell victim to a bee disease. Happily, though, he says it looks as though Beespoke Honey will, like Savile Row, experience a revival.
Lives: London and DorsetFamily: married with two sonsInterests: travel, reading, theatre, music, going to the gym and bee keeping
2004-present: chairman, Savile Row Bespoke
1996-present: chief executive, Gieves & Hawkes
1993-95: managing director, Czech & Speake
1985-93: various roles at Alfred Dunhill, including general manager of marketing
1979-85: various roles at Mary Quant, rising to area manager of Europe, US and Asia