Bold, bespoke and sexy, Richard James's Savile Row fragrance is as perfectly tailored as its clothes, says Kathleen Baird-Murray. Taken from the in-store and online now Richard James book.
How do you encapsulate the scent of a street when that street is as storied as Savile Row? Such grand ambition was not the prime objective behind Richard James and Sean Dixon’s desire to launch their first fragrance in 2003, named after the famous Row, but 15 years on it’s arguable that's exactly what they achieved.
“We saw fragrance as another way into a man’s wardrobe,” says Dixon, typically insouciant about the way it all happened. “It was a time of growth for the house generally, and a natural extension of what we were already doing, but our experience of fragrance was negligible.”
As easy as he makes it sound, in fact Savile Row was several years in the making; the result of a long and enjoyable collaboration between Richard James and perfumer Yves Cassar. Following a period in the 1990s when men’s fragrances were all about being sporty and fresh – unisex rather than overtly sexy – it was important to both James and Dixon that they created something unashamedly sensual, for a man in full, that felt both bold and bespoke. “I wanted something that perfectly captured the Richard James ethos of respecting tradition, but at the same time pushed the boundaries,” says James.
The process of creation began in earnest. “We flew out to New York to meet Yves” recalls Dixon, “and a discussion began about what we liked. Each time we suggested something, a man in a white lab coat would immediately run out of the room and return in minutes with each smell in a phial. Richard said he liked the smell of shirts being pressed. They found that smell very quickly!”
Eighteen months of testing on staff, trusted clients, and themselves followed before the final version – a punchy, provocative masculine-floral with an air of permanence about it – was decided upon. The now famous “starched shirt” accord made it into the final cut, opening the fragrance alongside zingy notes of ginger zest, bergamot and mandarin peel, a touch of cardamom oil from Ceylon, a sprinkling of black pepper and aromatic herbs; a pulchritudinous call to arms for men who care about the finer details.
Yves Cassar – known for his love of working with natural ingredients – built the sensuality within the fragrance around an overdose of tuberose, a sweet, heavy, night blooming flower that is rarely used to this degree in a male fragrance. Potent even in the smallest amounts, this key note would be a defining pillar of the fragrance, supported by white hyacinth, patchouli and a soft suede accord, in keeping with the sartorial essence of Richard James. Woody notes – birchwood, sandalwood and cashmere wood; and vetiver, amber and musk – give the fragrance a solid, overtly masculine underpinning.
The dimpled-glass bottle, inspired by the classic Dimple whisky bottle, was designed in Paris at the renowned Ateliers Dinand. “We wanted it to be tactile and weighty, really solid,” explains Dixon. Using the creative team of Chris Stevenson and Murray Partridge, it was launched with a cinema ad that was as provocative as the fragrance itself – a woman is so intoxicated by the way her boyfriend smells that even though she’s angry with him, she still beds him.
Despite a disappearance for a while when the original manufacturer ceased production (it returned in 2015 with the same original formula), the fragrance has remained a hit with the Richard James clientele and established a wider fan-base among fragrance enthusiasts. As GQ’s editor-in-chief Dylan Jones wrote at the time, “Some companies launch a fragrance every year… Superstar designer Richard James has taken a decade to launch his first… Guess what? It was worth the wait.”
Today Savile Row remains resolutely male and unapologetically sexy – perfectly in sync with a new generation of wearers who are comfortable with the timeless rendition of a floral yet masculine fragrance.