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When Function Defines Beauty

Step into 11 Savile Row and wherever you look, the past catches your eye. Those stag heads above the fireplace, left behind when a customer popped out for lunch in the 1920s, still waiting to be picked up. The paper patterns hanging from ceiling and hook, ‘Miss Katherine Hepburn’, ‘G Peck’ and ‘P Sellers’ lightly inscribed on them in pencil. Yet nothing quite so intrigues as the saddled chair standing quietly beside the rolls of bespoke tweed in the centre of the shop.

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THE STAGS HEADS, LEFT BEHIND BY A CUSTOMER IN 1921.

While it looks like it belongs in a gymnasium, the clue to the chair’s purpose is to be found in the leather breeches encased in glass near the front door. Made and worn by the original Henry Huntsman in the mid-1800s, they’re a rare survival from a time when the tailor dressed Europe’s aristocracy for all their equestrian pursuits.

Accurately measuring and fitting a riding outfit meant understanding the rider’s bearing – impossible to do if they’re standing. So Huntsman used a horse fitting chair instead. The tailor still has photographs of customers sitting in the saddle, chest forward, arms raised as though holding a horse’s reins. Another chair, mounted with a lady’s side saddle, is also to be found in the shop.

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HUNTSMAN’S HORSE FITTING CHAIR, WITH SADDLE AND LIVERY.

It’s these subtleties of posture that led to the creation of the hacking jacket. Close fitting, high waisted, with a skirt that flares to accommodate the saddle, the jacket includes half an inch or so of fullness at the shoulder and is cut high and close to the arm, making it easy to move. Many of the early hacking jackets were made of heavy tweed and had the sleeves pitched far forward as well, elbows bent, to guarantee that the wearer looked good and felt comfortable in the saddle. As in many men’s clothes, the function defined the beauty.

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THE PAPER PATTERNS OF WELL-KNOWN CUSTOMERS HANG AROUND THE STORE.

This is the style that formed the basis of Huntsman’s iconic cut: high armhole, waisted silhouette and longer flared skirt. Further refined by legendary head cutter Colin Hammick in the 1950s, these features mean the jacket is tight through the chest, tapers into the waist and pulls back with a little kick to create a tall, slim line. “It’s very flattering,” says Huntsman’s creative director Campbell Carey. “It makes you feel taller when you put the jacket on. You walk with a straighter back. That’s what people fall in love with: they get it as soon as they put it on.”

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LEGENDARY CUTTER COLIN HAMMICK FITS A HUNTSMAN CUSTOMER.

While the fitting chair hasn’t been used for some years, Huntsman’s equestrian connections are going strong. In recent years the brand has sponsored several polo initiatives including a team led by HRH Prince Harry, designing both the players’ kit and liveries for ponies and grooms.

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THE ICONIC HUNTSMAN SILHOUETTE: SLIM LINE, SINGLE BUTTON, SLIGHT WAIST

They also now have stables in Berkshire, offering livery spaces and training, as well as importing warmblood horses from Germany, PREs from Spain and Lusitanos from Portugal. As chairman Pierre Lagrange has it, “Huntsman heritage is in the equestrian world, and that lifestyle is as relevant as ever.”

Watch Treasures from Chatsworth, Presented by Huntsman at www.sothebys.com/Chatsworth

For more information, visit www.huntsmansavilerow.com

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