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The Nuances of Bespoke Tailoring

Men around the globe are opting for more emancipated style options, and made-to-measure seems to be quenching their sartorial hankerings.

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Bespoke is having a moment.

This story first appeared in the June 12, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

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:

LONDON

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

RICHARD JAMES

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.”

NEXT: Thom Sweeney >>

THOM SWEENEY

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.

NEXT: Gieves & Hawkes >>

GIEVES & HAWKES

History: The 18th century companies Gieves, supplier to the British Royal Navy, and Hawkes, who equipped the Royal Army, merged in 1974, but that didn’t stop the British royals from continuing their patronage. From King George III to Queen Elizabeth II and Princes William and Harry, the brand has suited about 10 generations of British royals.

Aesthetic: This is one of the great multitasking Savile Row brands: It does bespoke, made-to-measure and rtw in addition to making ceremonial dress and uniforms for the British royals and for the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

Price Point: $7,788 for a bespoke suit; $1,502 to $4,692 for rtw.

X-Factor: A Savile Row stalwart, Gieves & Hawkes sits at No. 1 on the Row and is undergoing a rebirth under the ownership of Trinity Ltd., including a new management and design team. “Gieves & Hawkes have been making suits by hand for men of distinction around the world since the late 18th century,” said Jason Basmajian, creative director of Gieves & Hawkes. “It exemplifies the finest of all bespoke traditions, maintaining to this day a working bespoke military department.” — LORELEI MARFIL

NEXT: Naples >>

 

NAPLES

It may be the breeze of the deep blue sea that speaks of freedom, or the bright sun warming the city almost year-round. No matter, since the Thirties, Neapolitan men have found their own way to be elegant while showing an easy, effortless look. In a country dominated by an incurable obsession for everything associated with fashion and style, Naples has specialized in creating the most comfortable tailored jackets for the most sophisticated men.

The so-called “Giacca napoletana” — “Neapolitan jacket” in English — seems to originate from the stick of a stylish magician. Roomy, yet fitted thanks to hand stitching, the Neapolitan jacket features unique trademarks. These include shirred soft shoulders, which Neapolitans call “shirt shoulders”; a wider lapel combined with a shorter collar, along with the “taschino a barchetta,” an upper pocket which is curved to create balance on the chest and allow the wearer to easily store eyeglasses inside.

Ignatious Joseph, founder of the Ignatious Joseph luxury shirt company, said Italian bespoke tailoring “was really motivated by the demands of the English tourists. Just as Naples’ Grand Hotel Parker was created by an English gentleman, it was the English taste that first created the market for Italian sartorial artisans that we take for granted today. The Italian tailor rendered English style in the delicate format of silks and cottons, which had been the original terrain of the Itali an merchant city-states and their craftsmen.”

Although the whole effect is relaxed and natural, the procedures necessary to manufacture a Neapolitan jacket are sophisticated and complicated — more than 30 hours are necessary to produce a single piece. — ALESSANDRA TURRA

TOP PICKS:
Cesare Attolini
Isaia
Kiton
Nino de Nicola
Rubinacci
Sartoria Albino
Sartoria Davide Tofani
Sartoria Tullio Ciardulli

RUBINACCI

History: A chic art collector with a passion for high-end clothes, Gennaro Rubinacci opened his tailoring shop in Naples in 1932. Described by his grandson Luca Rubinacci, who currently runs the family business, as a “bespoke designer,” Gennaro Rubinacci never learned how to cut a suit but enlisted the best tailors in Naples to give shape to his creativity. “We are considered the best tailoring label in the world,” Luca Rubinacci boasted, explaining that the company offers exclusively bespoke products handmade by 45 tailors in Naples, Milan and London. These three ateliers produce a maximum of 1,000 suits a year.

Aesthetic: In order to meet the needs of its customers, Rubinacci updated its Neapolitan style with a more international flavor. “We give directions to our customers, but the goal is to create something ad hoc fitting their unique style,” said Luca Rubinacci, who added that the company’s jackets feature an “imperfect look,” reflecting the real craftsmanship behind every single piece. In addition, Rubinacci pieces don’t show any label — they only have a tag in the pocket with the name of the garment’s owner, the date of production and a code to identify the fabric.

Price Point: Prices range from $6,547 for a two-piece suit, to $40,830, for a vicunha coat.

X-Factor: Rubinacci is the most digitally connected of the niche tailoring companies. “Rubinacci Club,” the blog curated by Luca Rubinacci where he posts images of his most stylish looks, is visited by 4,000 people every day. “I put my pictures online and my customers around the world can see what I wear and be inspired,” Luca Rubinacci said. “The new way to sell is bringing the store into people’s houses.”

NEXT: Kiton >>

KITON

History: Loyal to traditions and a classic idea of elegance, Ciro Paone was inspired by the Ancient Greek culture to find a name for the tailoring business he established in 1968. In fact, the name Kiton comes from “Chitone,” the tunic worn by ancient Greeks praying on mount Olympus. Kiton, which employes 350 tailors in Naples, is one of the largest Italian tailoring labels with 46 flagships around the world, an in-house tailoring school and sales of around $150 million worldwide, including men’s and women’s rtw and accessories. In addition, last year the tailoring company bought Palazzo Ferré, the more than 47,000-square-foot building on Milan’s Via Pontaccio that housed the Gianfranco Ferré label for 14 years.

Aesthetic: “Kiton is the least Neapolitan of the Neapolitan tailoring companies,” said Kiton chief executive officer Antonio De Matteis, explaining that his uncle Paone’s goal has always been to create an “international, less-recognizable jacket.” Kiton’s second-skin, fluid jackets, which show the company’s signature convex curve on the front, are handmade using luxury fabrics. Some of them come from the Carlo Barbera mill, which Kiton acquired in 2011. The bright colors of Naples, including yellow, red, sky blue and navy blue, are also staples of Kiton looks.

Price Point: Bespoke suits range from $5,444 to $40,830. Rtw sells for $8,500.

X-Factor: With the mantra “You don’t have to be the best, you have to be the best of the best plus one” in mind, Paone wanted his company to produce everything in-house, from Kiton’s signature jackets and double-breasted suits, to shirts, outdoor apparel, knitwear and shoes.

NEXT: Cesare Attolini >>

CESARE ATTOLINI

History: Vincenzo Attolini can definitely be listed among those who shook up the men’s wear business, creating in 1930 a deconstructed jacket that is now the emblem of the Neapolitan sartorial style. Proud of the brand’s origins, his son Cesare Attolini and his grandchildren Giuseppe and Massimiliano Attolini, who now run the business, transformed a small tailor shop into a luxury, niche international brand, which currently counts 140 tailors and ateliers in Naples and New York. “We feel responsible for remaining true to our grandfather and our father’s philosophy,” said Massimiliano Attolini, explaining that, in addition to the rtw line, the company offers a high-end bespoke service. This currently accounts for 40 percent of the business and customers need to wait about three months for their suits.

Aesthetic: In keeping with its roots, Cesare Attolini offers the best of the Neapolitan tailoring tradition. “The secret is in the perfect proportion among shoulders, sleeves and collar,” said Giuseppe Attolini, who explained that the company offers only hand-stitched pieces guaranteeing maximum comfort and slim volumes at the same time. “Our best clients are quite sober businessmen,” said Massimiliano Attolini, which is the reason the company uses only British, classic men’s fabrics. “We use colors, but we always want to stick to our sober, kind of low-profile style, that is what we like,” noted Massimiliano Attolini.

Price Point: From $7,500 for a two-piece bespoke suit and $6,500 to $7,200 for rtw.

X-Factor: Exclusivity is the key word at Cesare Attolini. “Our clothes are not for everybody,” said Giuseppe Attolini. “Also in golden years, such as 2006 and 2007, we chose to limit our production in order to guarantee our customers the maximum quality possible. Potentially, we could hire 400 tailors, but we want to protect our label and our credibility on the international markets.”

NEXT: Paris >>

 

PARIS

French bespoke tailors are a small and exclusive bunch. Long overshadowed by Paris’ powerful rtw industry and haute couture business, the city’s men’s tailors have almost become extinct in the past decades, as their number dropped from about 7,000 in the Sixties to about 30 today, according to the Fédération Nationale des Maîtres Tailleurs, the French master tailors’ governing body.

But the few who have survived have forged a distinct style, with an attention to detail based on the city’s couture tradition. “No other tailoring is as refined as the French,” claimed Vincent Smith, an Englishman who set up a bespoke workshop-cum-luxury-men’s-wear line in Paris. “The French put a lot of effort into the detail, into every piece.”

French tailoring combines the rigid structure of the English and the suppleness of the Italians with the high-end manual skills imported by Polish, Lebanese, Greek, Armenian and other immigrants, who settled in Paris, drawn by the city’s couture tradition. Overall, the final product boasts an athletic silhouette with distinct individual features. Count 70 to 80 hours of work for a two-piece suit. — PAULINA SZMYDKE

TOP PICKS:
Berluti
Camps de Luca
Cifonelli
Guilson
Lanvin
Smalto
Tailored by Mr. Smith

CAMPS DE LUCA

History: Originally a joint venture between Mario de Luca, a tailor from a small village near Montecassino, Italy, and Joseph Camps, from Catalonia, the company is billed as the founding father of “French” bespoke tailoring. A great number of tailors have apprenticed at the atelier since it set up shop on Place de la Madeleine in 1969, including names such as Francesco Smalto, Claude Rousseau, Gabriel Gonzales and Urban, most of whom have either been swallowed up by bigger houses or gone out of business. Today, Marco de Luca and his son Julien keep the old tradition intact and prosperous.

Aesthetic: The fish-mouth lapel and teardrop pocket are essentially theirs. Camps de Luca has mastered a masculine and very classic silhouette via a slightly roped shoulder, an athletic cut that fits close to the body, and broken vents flattering the bottom.

Price Point: $8,865 for a two-piece suit.

X-Factor: The de Lucas pay extreme attention to their clients. “Sometimes we don’t need to see them anymore. They just tell us, now I’m 85 kilos, and we know where those extra two — or minus two — have gone,” said Julien de Lucas, while his father added: “We have no interest in making uniforms but clothing that adjusts to the customer’s anatomy without him feeling dressed-up.”

NEXT: Lanvin >>

LANVIN

History: Founded in 1926 by Jeanne Lanvin across the street from her iconic boutique on Rue Saint-Honoré, this bespoke workshop is the historical predecessor to Lanvin’s rtw line for men, which today is in the hands of Lucas Ossendrijver and Alber Elbaz. The bespoke department is divided into two parts: suits and shirts.

Aesthetic: The house’s tailoring style is synonymous with “la French touch.” Sporting a sober silhouette, simple fluid lines and a discreetly elegant yet fitted cut, Lanvin suits are never gaudy. Shirts feature an extra-supple collar and a squared sleeve placket. This inherently Parisian tailor’s signature hue is a relaxed navy-blue tone.

Price Point: From $8,592 for a two-piece suit and from $941 for a shirt. Rtw averages $2,705.

X-Factor: Minimalist Parisian chic with an attention to detail stemming from couture. “We are aiming at natural luxury without any frippery,” explained master tailor Patrick Nogueira, while the house’s bespoke shirtmaker Marc Lauwers added: “When the client forgets he’s wearing a shirt, it’s a win.”

NEXT: Cifonelli >>

CIFONELLI

History: Starting in 1880, the Cifonelli name has traveled from Rome to London, before making its final stop in Paris in 1926. Now in its fourth generation, the tony atelier on Rue Marbeuf is managed by cousins Lorenzo and Massimo Cifonelli, who have forged a unique style based on Italian suppleness, English rigor and French couture, which their ancestors picked up along the way. Cifonelli is in expansion mode, too: It plans to launch rtw.

Aesthetic: The house’s strength lies in bridging historic savoir-faire with a contemporary aesthetic, the pinnacle of which is the tailors’ distinctive “cigarette” shoulder. In combination with a cupolalike chest piece and exceptionally high armhole, it allows maximum liberty of movement and a particularly flattering silhouette.

Price Point: From $7,501 for a two-piece suit.

X-Factor: The Cifonellis have an open spirit; they like to experiment with bespoke and unexpected fabrics such as Tibetan yak — handmade and dyed on demand — while finding perpetual inspiration in Paris’ flourishing fashion scene. Contemporary is the top mantra here: “I don’t want to see a client who is 30 dressed like his grandfather,” said Lorenzo. “The worst thing is to be boring. We can’t stand it when a jacket does not evoke any emotion.”

 

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