I’ve been sitting for five minutes in the lobby of a Mayfair hotel when a tailor emerges from a side door with a man dressed rather nattily in navy chalkstripes. They shake hands and chat briefly beneath the chandelier before the chalkstripes exit to the street. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” the Italian tailor says, striding over and shaking my hand. “This way, please.” I’m ushered through to a suite on the ground floor, where the tailor’s assistant is waiting. There are a dozen half-made jackets laid out on the bed, a handful of shirts and a long row of cloth books. The fitting is quick: this is my third suit and we have an established pattern. Twenty minutes later it is my turn to say goodbye. As I leave, I notice the next customer sitting on the lobby sofa – in a beautiful double-breasted camel overcoat.
Having bespoke suits made by a tailor visiting from another country is familiar to a sartorial elite – particularly in major cities in the US, as well as London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Savile Row houses such as Anderson & Sheppard, Henry Poole and Huntsman have been making trips to New York for over 70 years. On the continent, Liverano & Liverano from Florence has been travelling to Tokyo and Toyama for 15 years, while Paris’s Cifonelli has been going to Tokyo, New York, London and Geneva for more than 20 years. The pattern has been to make two or three trips a year, stay a few days and see anywhere from a dozen to several dozen clients.
But in the past five years a new tranche of significant European tailors has begun flying between cities – and more frequently than is traditional. Among the new travellers are notable names including Sartoria Solito in Naples, which now comes to London every five weeks and started visiting New York last year, and Camps de Luca in Paris, which has recently begun making trips to New York and Dubai.
And those who already travelled have stepped up their game – both in terms of reach and regularity. Neapolitan tailor Sartoria Dalcuore (from €3,000), for example, already visited Tokyo, but in the past five years has significantly expanded, and in the past year has added Paris, London and Moscow. Cifonelli has started travelling to Moscow, Singapore and Hong Kong, is now in London every month and has doubled yearly visits to New York. Liverano & Liverano now visits London, New York and Hong Kong, as well as Japan.
From the UK, Savile Row tailors Henry Poole (from £4,387), Huntsman (from £4,995) and Richard James (from $4,000) now travel to Hong Kong, while Anderson & Sheppard (from £4,428) recently undertook its first non-US trip for 30 years – to Frankfurt and Hamburg.
This increase in travelling tailors has created a new bespoke clientele by widening the breadth of styles on offer. Tailoring houses from a single city tend to make suits in a broadly similar style, as traditions are passed down from master to apprentice. So there are, for example, differences between ateliers along Savile Row, but their suits are more similar to each other than to the styles of Paris or Milan.
English suits have more shoulder padding and heavier lining than anything on the continent. The biggest contrast is with Naples: “The Neapolitan style is very different to English, very soft and unstructured,” says Luigi Solito of Sartoria Solito (from €2,500). “A jacket made in Naples is something you can wear any time, with jeans or at the weekend, while an English jacket will often be more formal.”
Neapolitan style has gained in popularity through ready-to-wear clothing brands – Kiton and Cesare Attolini, for example, have been selling the city’s suits across Europe and the US for decades – but bespoke has inevitably been much harder to access, as the tailors themselves have to travel. So it is only recently that men around the world have become familiar with the finesse of bespoke versions – often by seeing friends or colleagues dressed by the new traveller tailors.
“I like how relaxed and soft the Neapolitan style is,” says Andrew Borda, managing partner at GGH in London and a customer of Solito. “In the finance industry a lot of people still wear suits, or jackets at least, but things are a lot less formal than they used to be. This laid-back form of tailoring is perfectly suited to that.”
In the north of Italy, Liverano & Liverano (from €5,460) is set apart from tailors in Naples, London, New York and Tokyo by wide lapels, jacket fronts that have a more pronounced curve as they fall away from the buttons, and a shorter jacket length. The effect is youthful but powerful.
Milanese style is different again, but most of the big names – such as A Caraceni and Ferdinando Caraceni – don’t travel. Instead, it’s left to less well-known tailors, such as Musella Dembech (from €4,500), to visit Hong Kong and New York.
The style of Parisian tailors – primarily Cifonelli, Camps de Luca and Francesco Smalto (from €7,000) – is also very distinct. They use a lot less padding and structure than their English counterparts, but achieve a similar sense of masculinity by “roping” the end of the shoulder – raising it up to add breadth. “I was introduced to Cifonelli about five years ago by one of my most stylish friends, a European prince,” says writer Jay McInerney, a Cifonelli customer in New York. “Its suits are sleek, flattering and instantly recognisable to those in the know. I get compliments whenever I wear one.”
Parisians are also set apart by their delicate finishing, which is partly down to the pool of couture talent in the city. Cifonelli (from €6,000), for example, has become known for its ultra-fine buttonholes and Camps de Luca (from €6,500) for its distinctive teardrop-shaped pockets.
As a bespoke suit can require two to five appointments, frequency of visits is hugely important. If the tailor starts coming six times a year rather than three – as Cifonelli now does in New York – then the suit can be ready in half the time. “We used to come just to see a few clients, who would often visit Paris as well,” says Lorenzo Cifonelli. “But now our American customer base is growing year on year, there’s an incentive to come more often.”
If the time between visits can be reduced to four to six weeks, then the tailor can effectively recreate the experience of seeing a local bespoke house. That’s the service Neapolitan tailor Solito and shirtmaker Luca Avitabile (shirts from €240) are trying to replicate in London. They started visiting three years ago, and now come every six weeks, seeing 30-40 clients each time. Increased frequency “not only speeds up the process considerably, but is important in order to develop a rapport with your tailor,” says McInerney.
Antonio Liverano, of Liverano & Liverano, is a good example of a master tailor who engenders a lot of love and loyalty in his customers. Short with wide black glasses, he beams broadly at regulars, drawing them quickly into a tour of vintage cloth. Liverano’s taste is something clients value highly – whether it’s a decision on the weave of overcoat, or which trousers to pair with a summer jacket. “To be able to build a relationship with the artisan is the most important thing for me,” says finance professional Wei Heng Shen, based in Hong Kong. “To learn how they develop their style, and understand what they view as beautiful and elegant. So I only use Liverano & Liverano.”
Until recently, the tradition was for tailors to work from hotel rooms – but from personal experience this can feel a little odd, given the presence of the bed the tailor slept in the night before and his toothbrush in the bathroom. Partly in reaction to this, some tailors have started using alternative premises. In Hong Kong and New York, Liverano benefits from holding appointments in gentlemen’s outfitters The Armoury, which is staffed by menswear experts and has ample room for consultations and fittings. Neapolitans Solito and Avitabile now make use of rooms in The Travellers Club on Pall Mall. And Sartoria Dalcuore hires a chic, spacious Airbnb apartment in London.
But perhaps the most interesting choice of venue is Cifonelli’s decision this year to work with Mark’s Club in Mayfair, which was stylishly revamped in 2015. When I visited Cifonelli there in February, it was striking how different the experience was to a hotel visit. Lorenzo Cifonelli had taken a richly decorated circular room on the first floor, where partly made suits and books of cloth swatches were arranged around the walls. Outside was a small private bar – a highly enjoyable place to wait – and the attentive staff knew exactly who was coming and kept an eye on appointment times.
“We feel it’s the kind of experience that fits with the tailoring we offer,” says Cifonelli. In other words, if you’re going to buy the finest suits in the world, you should do so in some of the finest rooms.
Meanwhile, Savile Row tailors Huntsman has established more private premises in New York, by opening a small showroom earlier this year on West 57th Street. This gives it a permanent base that not only accommodates visits by the tailor but also allows for a permanent salesman on site who can help clients select cloth. That way, when the next visit comes around, there is a first fitting ready and waiting. “By coming every six weeks, we replicate the experience of being in London – given it would usually be that long between fittings,” says Huntsman chief operating officer Philippe Brenninkmeijer.
For the tailoring client, however, the real story is choice. As one corporate lawyer in London puts it: “For the first time in my career, I can now choose from the best tailors in the world – not just Savile Row, but the hidden gems of Italy and the masters of Paris.”