In Dr. No, Felix Leiter asks James Bond at their first proper meeting in the film series, ‘Where were you measured for this, bud?’ Bond replies, ‘My tailor, Savile Row.’ From this line, we can assume that James Bond frequents a tailor in Savile Row in London’s Mayfair district. Savile Row is a street, not the name of the tailoring shop. There is a brand called The Savile Row Company, but Bond was using the term in the local sense. The real-life tailor who measured Sean Connery for the role of James Bond in Dr. No was Anthony Sinclair, who operated in Conduit Street and not Savile Row. Conduit Street intersects Savile Row at its northern end, and Sinclair was located roughly two blocks from the corner of Savile Row.
So Bond’s real-life tailor was not in Savile Row, and none of the tailors who made Bond’s suits for the series were located in Savile Row. Savile Row has long been the world’s most famous street of tailors, which is why it was mentioned in the script. If Bond were to say, ‘My tailor, Conduit Street’, or simply mention London, it would not have had the same ring to it.
Bond may have said ‘Savile Row’ to make his tailor sound more important, knowing full well that his tailor was in a less prestigious street. However, this is unlikely considering that Bond is not ostentatious regarding his fine tastes and would think it vulgar of someone to say such a thing that wasn’t true. Savile Row tailors are understood to be the best of London’s best. Bond appreciates the best in life, so his Anthony Sinclair suits may very well be standing in for Savile Row suits.
Sinclair’s customers nicknamed his suits the ‘Conduit Cut’, after the street where his shop was located. The cut itself was specific to Sinclair and not something associated with Conduit Street, which used to have many tailors like Savile Row still does. Sinclair said in a 1966 interview with GQ, ‘I make clothes in the classic English tradition. I won’t make exaggerated, flamboyant clothes. I make only a Savile Row style.’ Sinclair’s style came out of the same tradition as that of his neighbours in Savile Row, and the suits he made were in every way comparable to those made in Savile Row.
Whilst Sinclair’s style does not have the structured look of famous Savile Row tailors like H. Huntsman and Gieves & Hawkes, or the drape cut of the legendary Anderson & Sheppard, Sinclair primarily followed Savile Row customs in making his suits without copying the exaggerated styles of the most famous tailoring houses. Ultimately, Bond is not lying when he says his tailor was in Savile Row but is rather merely stretching the truth so he’d be better understood by someone who isn’t familiar with Mayfair. Sinclair was part of the greater Savile Row community.
Considering the Row’s culture, is it appropriate to say that Bond’s tailor was in Savile Row? Like Connery, Ian Fleming used a tailor outside of Savile Row elsewhere in Mayfair. His tailor was Benson, Perry & Whitley of Cork Street, which runs parallel to Savile Row two blocks away. Fleming may have been against using a Savile Row tailor, either because of their higher prices or because they may have been too snobby. To an outsider, there’s not much difference in using a tailor in Savile Row versus another street in Mayfair, but there’s a certain cachet that comes from a tailor in Savile Row proper.
Bond may appreciate the finest things in life, but he also understands that the finest things don’t have to come from the biggest names. He may prefer the lower prices of a non-Savile Row tailor, while a Bond villain may prefer the prestige that comes from using a proper Savile Row tailor. Gustav Graves would be the classic Savile Row type, even if the characters’ costumes were made elsewhere.
When Felix asks Bond where he was ‘measured for this’, he’s holding Bond’s Walther PP—not a PPK as earlier dialogue suggests. This implies he was asking Bond where he was measured for his gun rather than his suit, as Bond snarkily replies. I asked Ray Kromphold of The Bond Armory what it means to be measured for a gun, and he confirmed, ‘That’s not a thing at all.’
As for the true meaning of their words, Kromphold believes, ‘I took it as Felix referring to the Walther PP, like saying “Who issued you this?” Bond replying “Savile Row” was kind of a coded way of saying he was British Intelligence, same as when Felix replies about his was a guy in Washington.’
Perhaps this was a sign and countersign type of interaction that Bond and Felix would have used to identify each other under any circumstances, and that ‘Savile Row’ was only part of the countersign and never meant to give insight into where Bond’s wardrobe was tailored. Or it could be both literal and part of a sign.