by Rima Suqi
In a suburban London warehouse, a man is massaging horsehair. Not just any horsehair, but hair from the tails of Argentinian horses which is apparently the best hair to use to make some of the most expensive mattresses in the world. The warehouse (once a Carlsberg brewery) is now one of two factories where Savoir mattresses are made. There are 14 stations set on oak trestles here, each helmed by a person who individually crafts the box spring, mattress or headboard from start to finish. Each craftsman had to apprentice for at least a year to learn to make a box spring; two years for mattresses and headboards. It might seem excessive, but considering that it takes anywhere from 30 to 120 hours to make these luxury beds—which cost upward of $12k—it seems warranted.
These mattresses were first created for London’s Savoy hotel in 1905. Some 25 years later, the hotel bought the company that had been making the mattresses, partially to maintain the exclusivity of their ever-popular beds, but also to make them available to the general public. In the late 1990s, they sold the company to the current owners, who were not the highest bidders, but were the only ones who promised to continue making the beds the way they had been made for over 100 years (although they did add headboards and complete beds to the line in 2001).
It’s a lengthy process—and one that doesn’t start until they have a client, as every single mattress is made to order, and signed by the person who made it. During our tour, it’s clear that two ingredients set these mattresses apart from their ever-growing competition: springs and the aforementioned horse hair.
“Big springs, that’s the key,” explains Alistair Hughes, co-owner of Savoir. “It will return to its shape time and time again. Epoxy springs, over time, will stop to come back, your mattress will start to sag, and it’s disaster all around.” Springs or “coils” here come in different thicknesses, and each one is encased in fabric, which lets them move independently when they’re set side by side (this is done by hand, and the springs are then lashed into place, also by hand). The types of springs used and their positioning varies based on a client’s preferences, and ensures their body is optimally supported. This is also a bonus for anyone sharing the bed, as a body that is properly supported during sleep moves around less, and when it does move, is cradled in a way as to cause minimal disruption to anyone else in the bed.
Then there’s the horse hair. Savoir uses the longest hair available—and the longer the hair, the more curls, and the more curls, the more bounce. Horsehair is not naturally curly; it’s steam-cleaned, twisted into a rope and held that way for at least three months to get the proper texture. Since the tail hairs are longer, they have more surface area to wick away moisture, helping to keep the body cool while at rest. Each mattress has millions of these horsehair curls, “hand-teased” onto the mattress or box spring, as part of a customized natural fiber sandwich of sorts, that also includes (depending on the model) wool, cow hair, cotton and cashmere.
On the outside is the hand-sewn case—also made on the premises—that is seamed shut and tufted by hand by the same individual who made the rest of the piece. “Every other manufacturer will use a machine to sew up the seams, but we can’t do that, there’s too much in there. We have to hand stitch,” says Hughes.
Savoir mattresses range in price from $12,850 (beds that take 30+ hours to make) to $87,350 (120+ hours). The original Savoy bed starts at $31,650, takes 80+ hours to make and is still the company’s bestseller. Next month, the company will open its second New York showroom, at 223 East 59th Street.
Images courtesy of Savoir