By and  on January 8, 2009

MILAN — Don’t expect men to compromise on made-to-measure.

According to experts here, the category, which registered bullish growth in 2008, will continue to blossom — albeit at a slower rate — despite the bleak economic outlook, because men see bespoke tailoring as a mid- to long-term investment and not just a seasonal thrill. Although made-to-measure may be priced up to 20 to 30 percent higher than ready-to-wear, executives maintain that consumers get more bang for their buck.

“[Made-to-measure] corresponds to the trend of individuality, something that is valuable and durable, but above all unique. It is a status symbol. It has a strong tradition and will be very important going forward,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, a Milan-based partner at Bain & Co.

While made-to-measure traditionally catered to a more recession-proof consumer, men’s wear executives said the customer profile has broadened due to a growing desire for traditional and quality-driven products.

“We’ve noted increasing demand from younger consumers, especially in China, India and Russia,” said Kiton chief executive officer Antonio de Matteis. He expects revenues from made-to-measure, which includes coats, suits, shirts, knits, ties and shoes, to increase in 2009, as they have done for the past 30 years. He estimated last year the service grew 10 percent to 80 million euros, or nearly $118 million at average exchange — about 20 percent of overall sales.

“Customers are searching for real quality. They are still buying, but they want to see it backed up with extraordinary craftsmanship,” he said.

Brioni co-ceo Andrea Perrone agreed. “Handcraft is perceived as true luxury by a growing clientele,” he said. Made-to-measure also represents 20 percent of Brioni sales. Perrone expects the category to remain flat in 2009.

Corneliani sales and strategic marketing director Maurizio Corneliani said despite the economy, “people want customized things” and shopping habits were changing.

“After the crisis, there will be a tendency to shop in a different way, buying things with more value than just a brand,” he said, adding Corneliani is planning to broaden its made-to-measure offering to include shirts. The category currently accounts for 15 percent of sales.

Isaia ceo Giovanni Mannucci said consumers needed educating, adding that he planned a new communications strategy to address this.

“Customers are not fully aware of the process,” Mannucci said. Bespoke services account for 10 percent of Isaia sales.

Given the growth prospects, high-end fashion labels are also upping their made-to-measure offerings.

In September, Lanvin revamped the made-to-measure floor at its Paris flagship and sent its semibespoke service overseas to its new London store on Savile Row. Meanwhile, Gianfranco Ferré launched “a unique custom service” for suits, shirts, coats and shoe-making in its directly operated stores.

“At times like these, the consumer certainly is thinking more carefully about spending his money in the luxury segment,” said John Hooks, Armani’s commercial and marketing director. “Nevertheless, with our ‘su Misura’ business, sales have remained as strong as in the previous year.”

Italian shirtmakers believe made-to-measure shirts will be resistant to the retail crisis.

Del Siena, an Arezzo-based manufacturer, recently expanded its made-to-measure service by upping the fabric selection to 500 swatches to cater to a new, younger clientele. Marco Del Siena, president, said the average age of Del Siena’s made-to-measure clients has fallen dramatically in the past 10 years. “Now we are seeing men aged 25 to 38 caring enough about their style that they want a shirt they have specially chosen. Made-to-measure has evolved from when the client came to us for shirts because of a size issue, to personalizing a shirt. The client becomes the designer,” Del Siena said.

Neapolitan shirt maker Luigi Borrelli reported a slight drop in made-to-measure demand in the U.S. over the past few months, which it correlated to customers who worked in the banking industry, but overall the business is expected to hold its own during the recession. Antonella Ricevuti, commercial director for Luigi Borrelli, said the firm recently reorganized its made-to-measure service so deliveries are made strictly within three weeks. “We are also aware that now and in the immediate future, prices cannot vary,” added Ricevuti. Made-to-measure shirts represent 15 percent of annual sales for both companies.

Retailers are also looking to get in on the act. For example, Barneys New York devoted a floor to made-to-measure at its Madison Avenue flagship in Manhattan, while London’s Harrods is revamping its men’s department with more space for bespoke services.

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