With the men’s luxury market growing at double-digit speed, men around the globe are opting for more emancipated style options, and made-to-measure seems to be quenching their sartorial hankerings.
“There is an upward trend among clients for individuality, and bespoke tailoring in its own right is individual — it fits you and no one else,” said William Skinner, master tailor at London’s Dege & Skinner, a founding member of the Savile Row Bespoke Association. The fifth-generation tailor just extended his lease by another 15 years and took on additional space, which upped his workshop space by 15 percent, with “three to four new people” on board. “We invest in our company because we wholly believe in bespoke tailoring.”
Although no general figures are available for the craft, bespoke tailors queried by WWD in London and Paris cite double-digit momentum, triggered by a general change in men’s attitudes that began to positively impact businesses about 10 years ago.
“Tailoring was very strong in the Fifties and Sixties; then with the advent of ready-to-wear in the Seventies and Eighties it became very difficult for tailors to compete with large chains and chase after their price range,” said Julien de Luca, one of Paris’ most coveted masters. “But it picked up again at end of the Nineties, beginning of 2000.”
Not all is rosy, however. In Italy, where the tailoring business employs 30,000 people, “over the last few years, the number of ateliers has decreased,” said Sebastiano di Rienzo, president of the Rome-based Accademia Nazionale dei Sartori (or National Tailoring Academy). “But while the small activities had to shut down because of the general crisis, the big tailoring companies offering high-end quality are flourishing.
“The Italian tailoring industry is living a very positive moment; there has never been so much buzz around the sector,” said di Rienzo, citing an uptick in demand both in Italy and abroad — the U.S., France, U.K. and China in particular.
Skinner added: “We go to the U.S. three times a year, where we visit 10 cities at a time.” He cited the region as his strongest market. And while 50 percent of his clientele is French, Camps de Luca said: “the difference is, while a French [man] will buy one suit, a foreigner will buy three.”
To satisfy the demand, many tailors are investing in the next generation. “The numbers of young tailors are increasing,” said Skinner, who runs an active in-house apprenticeship program. In Italy, many big tailoring companies have their own schools to train people in their particular technique. Kiton, for example, offers a two-year program for about 25 students.
The National Tailoring Academy is gearing up to “inaugurate a new three-year school program, where about 15 students will learn how to cut and sew, in September,” revealed di Rienzo. “We are receiving many requests from international young people who want to take on this career.”
In Paris, Yasna Guillerme Guilson, director of formation at the tailoring school founded in 2005 by the Fédération Nationale des Maîtres Tailleurs, the French master tailors’ governing body, said although the school trains 20 tailors a year, very few dare opening their own workshops. “It’s a very slow profession,” she said. “It takes years of training before one can call himself a proper tailor.”
Here, a look at the bespoke scenes in each of Europe’s major tailoring capitals:
Thirty years ago, Savile Row — the London thoroughfare synonymous with British bespoke tailoring — was a street filled with opaque windows, snobbish shop assistants and silver-haired clients who treated their tailors’ shops much like private gentleman’s clubs. It was no wonder: The street has been a center for upscale tradesmen — including tailors and whip makers — since the mid-18th century, and a men’s clothing hub since the early 19th century. Change was not exactly in the street’s DNA.
After witnessing some ups and downs — the rise of lower-priced designer ready-to-wear in the Eighties and Nineties was a particular bad patch — Savile Row is flourishing again thanks to a variety of traditional tailors, designer brands doing bespoke, and entrepreneurs such as Richard James, one of the first designers to open a shop selling rtw on the famed street, as well as Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons and Carlo Brandelli of Kilgour breathing new life into old names. Of late, the Row has also benefitted from foreign investment, from companies such as Hong Kong’s Fung Capital and its sister company Trinity Ltd. Today, the international rich continue to have their suits made on the Row, along with the British royal family and top members of the country’s armed forces.
The tailors themselves have also created a united front, and have begun presenting regularly during London Collections: Men with a collective showcase known as The English Gentleman. Past venues have included Spencer House, Lord’s Cricket Ground and the Cabinet War Rooms, with models dressing as soldiers or gentlemen preparing for a day of shooting or for a white-tie event. Although that showcase will not be taking place later this month, organizers said The English Gentleman will be back in January. — SAMANTHA CONTI
TOP PICKS (in alphabetical order):
Richard Anderson Anderson & Sheppard Chittleborough & Morgan Gieves & Hawkes H. Huntsman & Sons Richard James Kent Haste & Lachter Henry Poole & Co. Edward Sexton Thom Sweeney
History: Richard James, who opened his Savile Row shop with business partner Sean Dixon in 1992, has dressed celebrities and musicians including Prince William, David Beckham, Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and Mick Jagger in both his bespoke and extensive rtw collections.
Aesthetic: “We’re known for what the style press quickly called our ‘modern classic’ tailoring: one- or two-button jackets with deep side vents and a slightly higher armhole for a slim, pronounced silhouette,” James told WWD. “But — and this is a big but — with our bespoke tailoring, the client naturally becomes the focal point of the design process and is actively encouraged to express himself and say what he wants. The essence of a bespoke Richard James suit is that it is a wholly unique garment that, while always flattering, will naturally reveal something of the character of its owner.”
Price Point: $6,733 for a bespoke suit; $1,343 for rtw.
X-Factor: James uses bold colors to create an updated version of classic British tailoring. The designer said he founded the business with a clear philosophy: “To produce classic, refined clothing of unsurpassable quality and push the boundaries through design, color and cut. Our service is also something that defines us: We set out to make Savile Row exciting, relevant and accessible, and to do that we have always selected our staff on their understanding and appreciation of the product and their ability to relate to the customer.”
History: The tailor was launched in 2007 by Thom Whiddett and Luke Sweeney, who both served apprenticeships under Savile Row cutters and tailors before moving to Timothy Everest, and eventually launching their own label.
Aesthetic: Known for its modern tailoring and young clientele — men in their 20s and 30s — Thom Sweeney has a reputation as fabric experts. Their signature silhouette is a waisted jacket, natural but roped shoulder, high armhole, slim sleeve and minimal canvassing.
Price Point: $4,279 for a bespoke suit; $2,174 for rtw.
X-Factor: Whiddett and Sweeney love nothing more than giving traditional Savile Row tailoring a younger feel and putting a modern spin on a vintage fabric. They work closely with Italy’s Barbera mill and, for spring, have created separates out of some of Barbera’s vintage seersucker fabrics — all in muted colors. They like to think of themselves as “grown-up, but modern,” not in fashion, per se, but timeless and classic.
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