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Men's Fashion

For good measure

Some call it “poor man’s bespoke”, but made-to-measure tailoring is on a roll, combining sartorial verve with speedy delivery. Tom Stubbs pays a fitting tribute

April 28 2013
Tom Stubbs

When the luxury retail mother ship Harrods calls for reinforcements in its Made to Measure department, something interesting is definitely going on. “We have seen made to measure surge in popularity. It’s an increasingly important part of our business and something we can’t turn a blind eye to,” explains head of menswear Jason Broderick. Alongside an already heavily populated specialist tailoring roster that includes Brioni, Ermenegildo Zegna and Tom Ford are new arrivals Isaia and Stefano Ricci. “They joined the business last year and are renowned for their more personal made-to-measure service, and this is something we want to offer in London, too,” says Broderick.

Isaia offers a modernised take on Neapolitan style, with suits in window-pane checks, pinstripes or mineral and earth colours. It is best known for its three-piece suits and six-button double-breasted jackets (suits from £2,535). Stefano Ricci purveys luxe elegance in light wool/silks or vicuña. Imagine Marcello Mastroianni in and you’re close. This season, its resort suits come in ivory, khaki or myriad sea-blues (£5,000-£30,000), and they can be made in whichever fabric you wish.

Made-to-measure tailoring has become one of the most exciting areas of menswear. It essentially denotes alterations made to an existing pattern (often known as a block) to fit the individual. People can be sniffy about it, calling it “poor man’s bespoke” (bespoke refers to a unique pattern which is cut from a client’s measurements). But it has a major advantage: speed on delivery. While a bespoke suit typically takes three months to be made by hand, a made-to-measure suit, which is mostly machine made, can be delivered in as little as four weeks.

Ermenegildo Zegna’s mighty Lanificio Zegna Mill produces 2 million metres of fabric per year. Wool/silk mixes with a lustrous sheen or linen/wool blended to be super soft are part of a new special collection of 30 precious fabrics available for made-to-measure suits, with the customer’s name and the date it was produced woven into the selvedge of the fabric. Further customisation includes initialled silver, gold or horn buttons. Suits start at £1,500 and the sheer scale of Zegna’s production ensures a swift four-to-five-week turnaround.

This year Hugo Boss has opened a new Boss made-to-measure programme based in its Bond Street store. Suits range from £1,395 to £4,000. Boss has streamlined its service using iPads, sending information directly to the tailoring suite at the company’s head office in Germany. Its “fit” jackets are made using a chequered, graph-paper-like material to aid accuracy. The first fitting takes a suggested hour and a half, but this can be reduced to 30 minutes if requested. Boss tailors can visit the client directly for the second fitting, and the finished suit is delivered within four to six weeks – which can be expedited in certain circumstances. Customers can opt for a more tactile, low-tech approach, using mood-boards with fabrics, linings and buttons. Look out for handsome, recently upgraded fabrics such as Loro Piana’s Tasmanian (a blended merino with remarkable breathability and thermal adaptation), Extasy and Emotion, all made in a mill in Piacenza.

Meanwhile, Clive Darby, founder and creative director of tailoring brand Rake, is to open a new store this month in Duke Street. Rake is one of the success stories from the wave of new British ready-to-wear brands. Its work has the look of traditional Savile Row tailoring around the set of the sleeve head (the arm/shoulder seam), melded with subtle contemporary finishes such as a “lap-seam” line of raised cloth down the outside trouser seams, shorter jackets and inspired fabric selections. Rake’s fabric book is full of examples of gutsy silk/linen blends and cool basket-weave cloths more typical of bespoke offerings. During fittings, 10 to 16 different measurements are taken while customers wear a “fit” jacket, for a delivery date four to six weeks later, direct from an Italian factory. Prices for the brand’s made-to-measure two-piece suits start at £1,950.

East London’s ultra-hip Redchurch Street is the unlikely venue for a sublime made-to-measure tailoring experience at Hostem. In the designer retailer’s basement hangs a rail with six excellent suit styles cut in identical sober grey herringbone (prices start at £1,250) by father-and-son label Casely-Hayford. The brand’s design ethos fuses contemporary fashion and classic tailoring; clients include actors such as Michael Fassbender and Robert Downey Jr. Joe Casely-Hayford has worked in the business for 25 years, including four years as creative director at Gieves & Hawkes. Son Charlie, 26, explains, “We are a fashion brand, but people are aware of my father’s experience. Taking Savile Row elements and making them more modern and streamlined is our appeal.” Casely-Hayford offers 70 variables of measurements and another 40 customisations, including a stack of sophisticated and rare fabrics such as Lumb’s Golden Bale, which handles like mink but keeps its strength and resilience. “We work with well-known mills,” says Joe, “but also Ariston in Naples and Harrisons in Edinburgh. Smaller mills can offer you something special – the pick of the flock.”

Meanwhile, at Mayfair’s A Sauvage, made to measure has grown to a surprising 80 per cent of its tailoring business in just three years (prices start from £1,800). Founder and designer Adrien Sauvage explains why he thinks this is: “You’re just not able to go into most of the stores on Bond Street and request a different lapel, or ask for a shoulder to be changed by a couple of inches, nor can you specify fabric.” When I visit, a music industry client, James Lavelle, is picking up an understated black fresco wool suit with a peak lapel. He likes it so much that he orders black and white cotton-drill versions on the spot. Both fabrics are important elements of the spring/summer 2013 collections. “Our ready to wear sets the mood each season,” explains Sauvage, referring to details in finish and fabric that are inspirational, eye-catching and help define the label. Customers can then use these collections as a stylistic springboard, extracting elements that work for them. There seems to be a parallel with old-style 1930s salon shows for women, where custom orders were placed with personalised preferences, such as: “If only it came without sleeves and in teal, I’d buy it.”

Even on Savile Row, the spiritual home of the bespoke order, all is not quiet on the made-to-measure front. Chester Barrie’s reputation was built in the 1970s, taking bespoke Savile Row style and putting what values it could into machine-produced ready-to-wear suits. It used the technology of the era to deliver extremely clean-cut, accurately finished suits. Now the brand has enlisted the prowess of the legendary Edward Sexton, original cutter and business partner of Tommy Nutter, the famed tailors who made Savile Row sexy and groovy on everyone from Mick Jagger and John Lennon to Elton John.

Sexton has created tempered versions of his signature style for both ready-to-wear (from £695) and made-to-measure suits (from £1,850). His approach is constructed with a square, boldly roped shoulder and leaf-shaped lapels. His formula is about the balance of shoulders, waist and longer jacket length, all pivoting around the central button – a dashing, modernised 1920s look. He has distilled this formula into Chester Barrie’s made-to-measure blocks. Orders take between four to six weeks and only one or two fittings are required. The brand also offers a handmade version of its classic Burlington Block two-piece suit (£1,850).

Ten doors down, Alexander McQueen’s flagship menswear store opened last year on Savile Row, where, fittingly, the late Lee McQueen began his career. From April the house will offer made-to-measure suiting alongside its ready-to-wear collection. Signature McQueen suits are available in a range of “master” styles to try on. The one to catch my eye was an early-1960s-style three-piece in striking powder blue, from the spring collection. There are 25 fabrics to choose from: classic herringbones, pinstripes and Prince of Wales checks, all making for a thoroughly dapper look. Produced in an Italian factory, the made-to-measure suits take eight weeks to make and are about 30 per cent more expensive than the ready-to-wear versions, starting at £1,660 for a two-piece suit.

Currently, made to measure is generating a sartorial verve and spirit that is giving bespoke a run for its money. Rather than starting from a blank canvas, the designers have already done the creative thinking, bringing together all the critical elements, nuances and motifs. The customer need only romp through the highlights, choose his favourite elements, then have them rolled into one suit that is made to fit him.

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Suits