Why bespoke no longer suits you, sir
Tailors win sympathy from others who have fought legal battle to protect the integrity of their products' label, writes SHÂN ROSS
WHEN Tom Cruise powers his Porsche 911 Turbo into Savile Row during his frequent stopovers in London, his mission is the purchase of a new handmade suit from one of the exclusive tailoring shops in the heart of Mayfair.
But he and other wealthy celebrities will soon be able to make their purchases anywhere they please, after the tailors of Savile Row lost a fiercely contested battle for the right to use the word "bespoke" to refer exclusively to their own handmade suits.
It is a battlefield already visited by producers of everything from Scotch whisky and champagne to Arbroath smokies and Melton Mowbray pies. But unlike a fight over a geographical area, such as the row over Parma ham, this has also been a debate over the propriety of everyday words in our language.
The word "bespoke" is believed to have originated in Savile Row over 200 years ago, when cloth for a suit was said to be spoken for by individual customers. To justify the 5,000 price tag for a Savile Row suit, tailors must offer a choice of more than 2,000 fabrics, with at least 50 hours of hand-stitching involved.
However, the Advertising Standards Agency ruling released yesterday means mass-market retailers operating from factory units will be able to use the traditional craftsman's terms to sell machine-cut suits at a fraction of the normal cost.
The ASA upheld a claim by the Sartoriani menswear retailer that "bespoke" had moved on from meaning a fully handmade suit to simply a garment cut to a customer's measurements.
The Savile Row Bespoke Association has criticised the ASA ruling, likening "bespoke" to the legally-protected term Champagne. Mark Henderson, the association's chairman and chief executive of Gieves & Hawkes, said: "You are looking at the difference between a fine painting and a print."
But while the travails of gentlemen's tailors might seem a million miles away from the hard graft and dangers inherent in Scotland's fishing industry, there was sympathy last night for the way they had been treated.
Just over four years ago, the town of Arbroath in Angus fought its own legal battle to protect the use of the name "Arbroath smokies", referring to the smoked haddock product, which must be produced within a five-mile radius of the town and is exported worldwide.
Arbroath smokies had been under threat from mass-produced factory versions made in places such as Hull and Grimsby and sold on cheaply to major supermarkets. However, in 2004 the European Commission awarded the Arbroath smokie Protected Geographical Interest status, giving it the same official protection as Scotch whisky, Parma ham and Champagne, and indeed less glamorous produce, such as Melton Mowbray pork pies and Whitstable oysters.
The Scotch Whisky Association is involved in 70 legal actions worldwide to protect the name "Scotch whisky", which is recognised legally by UK, European and World Trade Organisation legislation.
Iain Spink, whose family has produced Arbroath smokies for five generations, said: "I certainly don't know much about tailoring, but any attempt at deception is unfair. There are some companies out there who are only too happy to capitalise on a name.
"Doing this to a town or area which has produced a product for perhaps hundreds of years is very underhand. We are so proud of our traditions – I'm up at 4:30am every day to get to the fish market, and the haddock is smoked over whisky barrels – there is nothing mass-produced about us."
Mr Spink said he remembered the day he and his father discovered that someone was attempting to "hijack" the Arbroath smokie. "We were trying to get our Arbroath smokies into a certain national supermarket chain when they told us they already had some and would send us up a sample.
"We were absolutely devastated that someone had done this to us. They sent us up a sample which had been produced in a factory in somewhere like Grimsby, rather than the golden Arbroath smokies produced in our smokehouses. To be honest, I wouldn't have given it to my dog.
"The quality was nothing like ours, but by using our name they were doing our product's integrity serious harm. We then became very angry and before long there was a legal battle to get our name back, which I'm please to say we won."
Rob Murray, of the SNP, who was leader of Angus Council during the dispute, said: "One of the main reasons we put up a fight was to protect jobs. If others were producing Arbroath smokies elsewhere, then there was a clear risk to jobs associated with it.
"The second reason was that our smoke houses are part of the heritage of this area and attract many visitors, and we could not stand back and allow this to happen."
Matthew O'Callaghan, the chairman of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association, which fought a ten-year battle for its distinctive uncured pork pies to be awarded Protected Geographical Status, said: "I was told it would take around two years to settle the matter, but it ended up being ten. But if I'd known then what I know now, I'd still have done the same thing because we are worth protecting. We felt it was wrong for customers to be deceived into buying pies with the same names but which were inferior. We also had to protect the heritage and jobs in our area."
Professor Paul Freathy, of the University of Stirling's Institute of Retail Studies, said a regional product's name was an important "branding exercise", which could have economic repercussions if tampered with.
"I would use Champagne as a good example of what could happen without protecting the regional name. If Champagne was not protected, it could be produced all over the world and prices would drop to around 5 a bottle. Eventually, a number of small producers would go out of business.
"Protecting the name protects the supplier and customers recognise it almost like a kitemark. It also creates an element of uniqueness.
"In Scotland, the whisky trails based on a protected product – Scotch whisky – are an important part of the local economy. It is also a revenue earner of overseas income."
A spokesman for VisitScotland, said: "Visitors to Scotland spend approximately 4 billion a year and people are undoubtedly attracted to an area because of its reputation for certain produce. This applies as much to the Arbroath smokies as to the distilleries on the whisky trails.
"These things are key elements which make us unique, and we certainly don't want these products, which have a great deal of history, taken away from us as it would most certainly lead to a downturn in tourism."
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