Anderson & Sheppard and Turnbull & Asser in London; Cifonelli and Charvet in Paris, and Caraceni and Rubinacci in Italy are among the leaders of the elite world of men’s bespoke tailors. But these houses no longer have the realm to themselves: Now the megamen’s luxury brands are rushing in to grab a piece of the territory.
From Hermès to Ermenegildo Zegna, Lanvin to Berluti, men’s fashion houses are launching — or expanding — their bespoke services to further entice male shoppers and boost their in-store experiences. Such services don’t come cheap — a bespoke suit can cost well over $5,000 — but they differentiate these storied houses from the rest of the pack at a time when brick-and-mortar retailers generally are struggling. And what could be more luxurious than having a tailor measure you and cut a shirt or suit to your exact specifications? As the tailors say, bespoke is really “couture for men.”
Whereas made-to-measure is now “very common” in men’s wear, the concept of brands like Zegna — a house that presents fashion shows, and “moves with the fashion tides” — entering the bespoke market is “pretty novel,” noted fashion writer Angelo Flaccavento, who curated the “Two or Three Things I Know About Ciro” exhibition that ran during the recent Pitti Uomo fair in Florence, honoring the life and career of Kiton founder Ciro Paone, known as the “patron saint of Neapolitan tailoring.”
“It’s interesting. The thing a man really looks for in a bespoke suit is the shoulder and the lapel…. For me, bespoke is really timeless, it’s meant to last a lifetime, like a couture piece. You might hand it down to your son or nephew,” said Flaccavento. “In Italy the tailoring is quite soft, so you usually get suits with a very soft shoulder, and it follows the shape of the body, whereas the English, Savile Row school of tailoring is very militaristic; the jacket and shoulder are very sharp and defined, it’s almost like you gain a second body with the clothing,” he added.
The key is the fuss these houses make over the customer. The dedicated Atelier in Milan that Zegna opened on Tuesday is truly like a club. As reported, the service is offered out of a 1,155-square-foot space in a historical palazzo in Milan on central Via Bigli, with a separate entrance that ensures privacy, but that is also connected to the men’s wear brand’s Via Montenapoleone flagship. Six tailors work at the atelier, but they are set to travel around the world by appointment.
Zegna’s bespoke service includes four fittings, 200 steps and 75 hours of work. The garment is delivered after three months. There are 1,000 variations on the fabrics, mostly from the company’s state-of-the-art mill and plant Lanificio Zegna in Trivero, Italy, and 230 different kinds of materials for the shirts.
Prices range from 5,000 to 10,000 euros, or $5,339 to $10,677 at current exchange rate, for a suit. A shirt is priced at between 500 and 700 euros, or $534 and $747. Shoes, which were first presented in November at London’s newly refurbished Bond Street flagship, are priced upward of 5,500 euros, or $5,872. The shoes are made by Gaziano and Girling, the decade-old British shoemakers who have a shop on Savile Row. The Zegna shoes, which take more than six months to make, come in nine styles, including a double monk, a dress oxford and a jodhpur boot.
“In the end, this is a service,” observed Gildo Zegna, the company’s chief executive officer. “This is an incredible market, there are so many people who can’t find their size and also, we offer style advice. Alessandro [Sartori, the brand’s artistic director] himself is available to offer suggestions.”
Hermès currently dedicates a window of its Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré flagship in Paris to its men’s bespoke service — dubbed “Commandes particulières.” The elegant installation showcases a selection of shirt cuffs and collars alongside a half-finished suit on a mannequin dotted with basting stitches. The fashion house introduced “Commandes particulières” in 1991, starting with the shirt, with suits added in 1994. But the house has also branched out into bespoke casual garments, with leather, knitwear and informalwear available since 2009.
Véronique Nichanian, artistic director for the Hermès men’s universe, in a house statement describes the process. “Our custom-made service first and foremost allows you time to make your choices….In the intimate privacy of our salons, the tailor listens, advises and commits to paper the garment-to-be. You can finally forget about time, and concentrate on the joy of the process: imagining perfection, before eventually wearing it,” she said. “A bespoke garment is one that has always been waiting for the wearer to want it. One that will find its place in someone’s life, and go through it with them: for a long time, or forever.”
Brioni’s bespoke service “is the core of [its] DNA and today continues to be the driving force for the company,” said a spokesman for the Italian men’s wear company.
Brioni tailors, who are able to make a formal garment by hand in all its steps, total about 130.
Asked about the trends, the spokesman said “requests continuously change according to the season and are also influenced in part by our offering.” To face the customers’ needs, Brioni has created a Bespoke Collection of 20 looks to cover “all the fundamental needs of a man’s wardrobe. Within this collection we also offer a number of [deconstructed] and leisurewear items.”
Each Brioni boutique offers the bespoke service. The contribution of the company’s master tailors “is significant to build an authentic relationship” with customers. “The artisanal tradition is a cultural legacy that takes decades to transmit from a seasoned master to a young talent and despite common thoughts, a large number of young people continue to express their desire and will to learn the secrets of those crafts,” the spokesman said.
Brioni has a tailoring school — The Scuola di Alta Sartoria — that “continues to represent an important tool aimed at passing down the torch of know-how and skills to the future tailors of the company,” he added.
Antonio De Matteis, ceo of Kiton, emphasized the need for the company to have “the utmost availability toward customers, which has always characterized us since the beginning.”
De Matteis said that the formal offer has not changed, but the company has seen “great changes” in the requests from customers. “A more mature customer tends to ask for less formal outfits, while the younger ones tend to select much more formal and precise looks.”
The demand for bespoke has grown in general over the past decades. “It is not a recent phenomenon only of the past few years,” he said.
De Matteis added that he’s noticed a younger public is approaching the bespoke service in “building their wardrobe in a more formal way and with more attention, as our parents used to do.”
Since 2008, Kiton has decided to produce no more than 20,000 outerwear pieces a year, so the number of tailors has not changed. “But the average age of tailors has changed, thanks to the work of our high sartorial school, which in the past 15 years allowed to lower the age to 36 to 37 from 55.”
Jason Basmajian, chief creative officer of Cerruti 1881 — which is in the process of revamping its made-to-measure program based on customized suiting primarily using fabrics from Cerruti mills — cautioned that the term “bespoke” should be treated with respect.
“Bespoke is so specific. Bespoke literally means haute couture: you come in, you get measured, and a toile is made just for you. It’s a long process — usually three months of fittings, like you do for couture — and it’s actually sewn by hand by a tailor. People today call anything customized, bespoke,” said Basmajian, who before joining Cerruti was creative director at famed Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes for over three years, and before that the creative director at Brioni for six-and-a-half years.
“Having my background on Savile Row, I’m very cautious about using the word bespoke as it is so overused, just as the word luxury is overused,” he said. “To me, a lot of what I’m seeing with the fashion brands goes into the category of personalization, where you can get it monogrammed or you can change the color, or get your fit done, or can have your initials put on it. But bespoke is where you’re really creating a block pattern from the ground up for the client…. It’s a laborious and amazing process. You’re talking about a suit that costs 5,000 pounds [$6,100 at the current exchange]; it is the ultimate sartorial experience.”
Flaccavento said he was a bit skeptical about the idea of luxury brands moving in on the bespoke arena.
“For me, bespoke is a bit of a charmingly dusty, timeless spot in the world of style. It is a thing for connoisseurs who have the patience to wait for their things to be made. Bringing it so close to the world of designer fashion, to me, has the risk of making it too readily available for the nouveaux riches, of [diluting] that magic.”
Among pioneers of the bespoke trend among the luxury brands, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 2012 acquired French men’s firm Arnys with a view to harness the firm’s tailoring expertise to propel the expansion drive of its Berluti brand — whose expertise is traditionally rooted in bespoke footwear.
Founded in 1895, Berluti added ready-to-wear in the Sixties, but when Antoine Arnault took over as ceo in 2012, with Sartori then at its creative helm, he set about transforming the brand into a hyper-luxurious lifestyle label for men, extending the bespoke service to tailoring. A spike in demand for bespoke since the takeover has seen the house’s staff of tailors grow from eight to 20.
Arnys, a father-and-son-style Left Bank institution — with beleaguered French presidential candidate François Fillon, François Mitterrand, Andy Warhol, François Truffaut and Marcello Mastroianni among clients past and present — now lives through the Berluti Grande Mesure workshop — with the label on the garments produced there reading: “Berluti par les ateliers Arnys” (“Berluti made by the Arnys ateliers,” in English).
While suits represented a big majority of the bespoke business at Arnys, they now represent a small part of the orders, said Rémi Fritsch-Fontanges, director of bespoke at Berluti, which has opened the service up to a “younger, less classic and more international clientele,” many of whom gravitate to the brand autonomously out of curiosity, as opposed to belonging to some kind of club. “People don’t do bespoke only for businesswear now, denim is very strong for us, too. We also do chinos, casual pants, as well as unlined sports jackets and sport coats, like the Forestiere,” he said.
“People are ready to pay more to have something unique and made by hand. They’re maybe less likely to pay for a logo….The dynamic we’re seeing is that, as soon as people see what goes into it, there is absolutely no hesitation about the price,” he added.
“When we have a store opening and bring in the tailors to do demonstrations, cutting a suit, say, they can’t resist. There is a very strong trend for craft. They see the rolls of fabric, and that everything is done in-house in Paris, under the same roof. They really understand that it’s something special, that’s the draw.”
A pair of bespoke Berluti jeans comes with a price tag of around 1,300, or about $1,380 at current exchange rates, with bespoke suits starting at 6,500 euros, or $6,915. The house presents a selection of sample garments, along with a digital catalog for clients to peruse, but “as long as you respect the brand and the craft, you can do whatever you want with bespoke clothing.” Since 2015, Berluti, which is known for its custom patinas, has even added bespoke furniture to the service, based on emblematic items in its stores.
The Berluti tailors have also been racking up air miles, said Fritsch-Fontanges. “The characteristic of the bespoke client is that they are very mobile. They have businesses and occupations that take them around the world, and it’s important for us to be able to follow them. A good share of the appointments take place at their residences or even in their office. It’s important to be flexible.”
The bespoke service is offered in six out of the brand’s 50 stores — in New York, London, Paris, Dubai, Hong Kong and Tokyo, where Arnys had an atelier — but the production capacity is limited. “We have a lot of requests around the world to have tailors come to the store, but this is a business where we are limited by production capacity. We want that the craftsman who sees the client makes the garment, which means they can’t be traveling all the time as they need the time to make it. We need to find a balance: 20 percent with the client and 80 percent in the workshop.”
When asked if Berluti’s new creative director Haider Ackermann has any input in the house’s bespoke service, Fritsch-Fontanges replied: “Right now, he’s been so busy with his first ready-to-wear collection that he has not designed a collection for bespoke but, as you can imagine, we have something in mind.”
Marking a more prosaic take on the tradition, department stores are also edging into the arena. Take Printemps’ new five-floor men’s department at 64 Boulevard Haussmann in Paris — dubbed Printemps de l’Homme — which boasts a sprawling by-appointment personal-shopper lounge for men, Le Salon, also housing Lanvin’s “grande mesure” service, where customers can order hand-finished bespoke suits by the house. The space boasts spacious changing rooms and a private entrance leading to the back of the store.
“Bespoke equates with ultimate comfort, which is extremely important for the male shopper. They are also very attached to having a wardrobe that is exclusive to them, that nobody else has,” said Karen Vernet, Printemps’ general merchandise manager of men’s apparel, homewares and private label. “Men are different from women in that bespoke is a luxury in itself, and the fact that it may not be noticeable to others is of no importance.”
As “the ultimate expression of the personalization trend,” made-to-measure is also back in demand in a big way, as “a trend that touches all ages and nationalities,” she said, citing double-digit growth on sales on made-to-measure product in the past year, and “very strong potential.”
Among services, the store boasts a made-to-measure Levi’s space — marking a worldwide department store exclusive — with a service geared to customizable and made-to-measure shirts due to be introduced this winter. “Some clients become addicted, a Belgian customer ordered 10 pairs of made-to-measure jeans just for himself.”
The bespoke tradition takes the concept to the next level.
“The thing with bespoke is, once you own a bespoke garment, it’s very hard to go back to ready-to-wear. Once clients experience the comfort of bespoke shoes and suits, they’re like, ‘Okay, do my denim,’” said Berluti’s Fritsch-Fontanges. “I often say to them: ‘Be careful, it’s a one-way street.’ Once you try it, you realize that everything else you’ve been wearing up to now was actually designed for somebody else.”