“I get it all the time: ‘I’m not a leather jacket kind of guy,’” says Savannah Yarborough. “I’m like, ‘Come hang out with me for 10 minutes, and you’re going to convert.’”
She should know a thing or two about the subject matter—and the likelihood of conversion. The creative force behind Savas, the Alabama-born designer lives and breathes leather jackets. She studied menswear at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins school before moving back home to work for Billy Reid in 2010, and designed one of the brand’s most popular leather jackets during her tenure there. By 2015, she decided to strike out on her own, crafting bespoke leathers with a small team in an atelier in Nashville. After branching out into made-to-measure, Savas just launched a ready-to-wear collection this past fall, bringing its cool-guy approved style to a bigger audience than ever.
Considering that level of specialization, one might assume that Yarborough has been rocking motos and bombers all her life. As it happens, one would be wrong. In fact, it was the process of designing her first—for Billy Reid, in 2011—that led to her decision to open up shop at Savas.
“I had never owned a leather jacket before,” she says. “I trained in menswear design, but that was something that I didn’t really learn in school.” When she got her hands on that very first one she created, she decided it felt a little too flat. Not quite right, at least for her.
The next step might sound a little crazy, unless you’ve played around with shrink-to-fit denim: “I wore it in a bathtub, and I wore it while it dried on me,” she explains. “I learned a whole lot, through that, about the kind of feeling a leather jacket gives you. It was something I had never experienced before.”
A seed had been planted in Yarborough’s mind. “Me learning what that feeling was like is what triggered this whole idea, of being able to provide that feeling for other people and make this leather jacket of their dreams,” she says. Savas launched officially in 2015 as a bespoke operation, catering to regular-guy leather jacket-enthusiasts and celebrities alike.
One famous client in particular, Jack White, provided an especially interesting project. Though there’s a strict policy of not copying existing garments at Savas, White arrived with a request that Yarborough couldn’t pass up. “The closest thing to that, that we did, was actually for Jack. It was this 1930s Detroit Tigers baseball—like, letterman—jacket,” she says, noting that reimagining an archival piece doesn’t raise the same ethical issues as redoing another designer’s work in leather. “We did it with a cashmere body and leather sleeves. It was a very elevated version of the one from the ‘30s. That’s just a fun project.”
Working with White “really is a collaboration,” Yarborough says. “He’s such a creative, but he also sees and understands that in other people. He comes to me because I know about this thing that he has sort of a vision of what he wants, but he then leans on me and trusts me in terms of materials, and the cut, and the fine details.” In that, he’s a lot like all of Yarborough’s bespoke clients, who work in tandem with her to create something that realizes their shared vision.
Still, after a while, she realized she’d like to see just a little more of herself in her work. “There’s a whole lot of things I want to see happen, and different styles I want to exist,” she says. To make those things a reality, Savas launched a made-to-measure program. “You can pick the styles I like, and we’ll make it to fit you.”
Of course, she was still tweaking things here and there: doing a style up in a different leather, or changing out the lining or other details. Plus, each piece was custom made for a specific customer, meaning longer lead times and higher costs. Those aren’t necessarily bad things—Yarborough is adamant about quality, and about preserving the craft of making leather jackets in the States—but they don’t offer the ease of buying something off the rack. Naturally, a ready-to-wear offering was the next step.
“It took me a while to get there,” Yarborough admits. “It took me going through the bespoke process for that many years, and then the made-to-measure stuff, to really have the confidence to say, ‘This is my perspective, and this is what I want.’” What was the final push she needed? “People kept ordering the same thing” from the made-to-measure collection, she says. “I was like, ‘OK, there’s something there.’”
So, in fall 2019, Yarborough released a lineup of leather jackets you can buy ready-made, no consultations or fittings required. She included some of the greatest hits from her made-to-measure selection, like the trucker-inspired Denham and the Lowry shirt jacket, plus a few new ideas. The fit is informed by real-world experience working with guys in the Nashville atelier, as is everything from the details to the leathers used. The idea, at its core, is simply to offer an easy way into a great leather jacket for all.
Despite this democratic goal, it should be noted that a Savas piece doesn’t come cheap. You’re looking at $1,900 for the Lowry, and $2,500 to $2,700 for the Denham. That’s an investment, to be sure. But quality doesn’t come cheap. Savas only uses high-end leathers—post-food industry sourcing, non-chrome tanning—from a select few tanneries that Yarborough trusts. And everything is made right there in Nashville, which means higher production costs. “One of the most important things to me is maintaining this craft in the U.S., because it hardly still exists,” Yarborough says. “And that comes with its challenges.”
But here’s the thing about Savas: It’s supposed to be an investment, and ideally a lifelong one. “My biggest fear is that the jackets that we make are hanging in a closet,” Yarborough says. “I want to see them on a coat hook by the front door, because they’re being worn all the time.”
When I ask her about her own “desert-island” leather jacket—the one she’d want to wear all the time—she can’t quite decide. First, she motions to the one she’s wearing; it’s been with her for years, and it’s got many a story to tell. But that first one, the one she wore in the tub, might also qualify. It is, after all, what sparked the kind of reaction she wants to pass on to her customers. “It’s a visceral feeling,” she says. “And people are surprised by it—even though I tell them it’s going to happen.”
Source : Esquire