LONDON // For more than two centuries, Savile Row has been the place to turn to when the well-heeled wished to be well dressed.
From Admiral Nelson to Frank Sinatra, Napoleon III to Prince Charles, the tailors of Savile Row in the heart of London's Mayfair district have produced some of the finest - and most expensive - suits in the world.
But now, the tranquillity of this bastion of British craftsmanship is being rocked by talk of legal action in a row over who is entitled to use the term "bespoke" when it comes to making suits to order.
Last Wednesday, the Savile Row tailors lost their exclusive right to the term after a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority, Britain's advertising watchdog.
The row started this year when a new Sartoriani menswear store opened in Old Bond Street, just around the corner from Savile Row's remaining 17 tailors.
Sartoriani then ran a newspaper advertisement offering "bespoke" suits at £495 (Dh3,600) - a snip compared to the starting price of a Savile Row bespoke suit of more than £3,000.
A member of the public complained to the advertising board, saying that bespoke indicated that suits were made from start to finish by hand, while the Sartoriani suits were cut by machine abroad and then adjusted by hand in the United Kingdom. The latter, he claimed, were merely made to measure, not bespoke.
But, to the horror of Savile Row, the authority rejected the complaint that the advertising was misleading.
In its ruling, it said it took on board Sartoriani's argument that the term bespoke could refer to "made to order" or "made to measure" and that the comparatively low price of such suits were sufficient to avoid confusion with a Savile Row suit.
"We considered that both fully bespoke and made-to-measure suits were 'made to order' in that they were made to the customer's precise measurements and specifications, unlike off-the-peg suits," the standards authority ruled.
"We considered that customers would expect bespoke suits to be tailored to their measurements and specifications. We considered that the majority of people, however, would not expect that suit to be fully handmade with the pattern cut from scratch. We concluded that the word 'bespoke' to describe the advertised suits was unlikely to mislead."
The adjudication infuriated the Savile Row tailors, who have increasingly complained that they are under threat in an era of cheap imports and off-the-peg suits.
"A bespoke suit is cut by an individual and made by highly skilled individual craftsmen. The pattern is made specifically for the customer and the finished suit will take a minimum of 50 hours of hand work and require a series of fittings," said a spokesman for the Savile Row Bespoke Association.
Now, the association is considering legal action to try to get legal protection for the term "bespoke", which originated in the 17th century when a customer went to a tailor and ordered a piece of cloth, which was then said to "be spoken for".
"We'd like see whether courts might like to stand behind Savile Row bespoke, in the same way as the French courts have consistently protected the French champagne industry, for instance," said Mark Henderson, the association chairman.
"Our point is that it [Sartoriani's suit] is not a bespoke suit. It's actually a made-to-measure suit. Frankly, if people want to save money, the best thing they could do is go to an Asda supermarket and buy a £90, machine washable [suit]."
However, Charlotte Brewer, a spokesman for Sartoriani, described the ruling as "a victory for individuality and affordable luxury". She said she believed the terms "made to measure" and "bespoke" were synonymous.
Such sentiments send shudders through Savile Row, where a decent pinstripe can cost £5,000 or more and where some of today's smartest men, including such Hollywood heartthrobs as Jude Law and Daniel Craig, choose to buy their finery.