Armani, Givenchy, Paul Smith... how personalisation is reinvigorating the tailored suit

Designer brands are now vying for clients seeking individuality, from customised details to elaborate elements of haute couture. Simon Crompton reports

Giorgio Armani wool and silk suit, from £3,500
Giorgio Armani wool and silk suit, from £3,500

Customisation in the world of luxury is continually evolving. Whether it’s a watch, pair of trainers or car, lifestyle brands are finding ever more innovative ways to create products with a unique touch. Within tailoring, however, fashion houses are looking to traditional techniques – the kind you’d find on Savile Row and haute couture – to bring a sense of individuality to suits, heralding a renewed focus on fit and personalisation.

From left: Givenchy silk jacket and trousers, price on request. Givenchy cotton shirt, wool belt-waistcoat and trousers, price on request. Dolce & Gabbana moiré suit, price on request
From left: Givenchy silk jacket and trousers, price on request. Givenchy cotton shirt, wool belt-waistcoat and trousers, price on request. Dolce & Gabbana moiré suit, price on request

Paul Smith has offered a bespoke service since 1998, but in March he introduced made-to-measure tailoring (from £1,300) for the first time. “We all come in different shapes and sizes, so the made-to-measure service lets people choose from our exclusive fabrics and design details in a suit that fits them properly – whether tall or short, large or slim,” explains Smith. Customers can select from the Soho fit or an evening option – as well as separate jackets, trousers and waistcoats with a choice of 30 cloths, eight linings and three types of horn buttons. The process, from the initial measurement to the final fitting, takes six to eight weeks.

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At the end of last year, Hackett relaunched its premium tailoring offering to include three tiers: bespoke, made-to-measure and personal tailoring. For the bespoke service (from £4,000), which started in 1992, clients have their measurements taken by the brand’s Savile Row-trained tailor, who then hand-cuts and stitches the suit to their specifications. Typically, clients have three fittings, with delivery times of around six weeks. “Bespoke is the ultimate luxury for me – one I became addicted to early and am endlessly introducing friends and customers to,” says Jeremy Hackett. “I recently sat down with a customer who had never had a bespoke suit made before, and after 10 minutes he was completely into it, buried in the choices and details.” Hackett’s made-to-measure service (from £1,700) starts with a traditional English-style pattern, which is altered to fit the client. Each suit is hand-cut and hand-stitched in England, with full canvassing for structure, and delivered in eight to 10 weeks. The personal tailoring service (from £795) gives a choice of four designs and 3,000 cloths, plus numerous lining and button options. The suits have half canvassing and are machine-made, with a six- to eight-week turnaround.

 Anderson & Sheppard wool-flannel two-piece suit under construction, £4,932
Anderson & Sheppard wool-flannel two-piece suit under construction, £4,932

Giorgio Armani, meanwhile, had made-to-measure tailoring at the centre of its plans when it opened its new store on London’s Sloane Street last year. Within the 1,000sq m space that houses both fashion and interiors, there’s a dedicated area for the Fatto a Mano service (from £3,500). Armani’s two key silhouettes are the starting point: Wall Street, which is a strong, classic cut, and Soho, which is more relaxed and contemporary. Customers are then presented with a variety of lapel, pocket and button combinations, and can choose from a range of fabrics exclusive to the house, including wool, silk and vicuña. Each suit is handmade and fully canvassed by one tailor in Milan, with pick stitching around the front edge and chest pocket for reinforcement, and delivery can be expected within five or six weeks. “I think personalisation is one of the main factors contributing to fashion’s success today,” says Giorgio Armani. “Those who buy luxury products are attracted to the idea of having something special to them, even more so if it’s a tailored suit.” Armani adds that he wants customers to think of him as their personal tailor. “The original lines are mine, but there is a high level of personalisation that allows for changes.”

Paul Smith wool Soho-style suit, from £1,300
Paul Smith wool Soho-style suit, from £1,300

When Givenchy creative director Clare Waight Keller revamped the French house’s couture collection for spring/summer 2018, men’s looks were a key part of the show. For her current collection (prices on request), the men’s pieces include a sharp black jacket with a sweeping single-button fastening; a long black silk appliqué jacket worn with a black silk shirt, satin waistcoat and trousers; a flowing tuxedo shirt worn with a black buttoned cummerbund; and a classic-cut double-breasted suit rendered in pearly white. As with the women’s couture, these pieces are all one-offs and are customised to clients’ requests over a series of fittings.

Michael Browne twill coat, from £7,250
Michael Browne twill coat, from £7,250 | Image: Michelle Helena Janssen

Dolce & Gabbana launched its men’s couture line – called Alta Sartoria – in 2015 because of customer demand. “The husbands of our couture clients expressed the desire to own unique, custom-made items to wear on special occasions,” says Domenico Dolce. This season’s collection (prices on request), shown in Milan in December, includes black single- and double-breasted peaked lapel jackets with jacquard detailing, a sleek black tailored coat with contrasting satin lapels, and decorative smoking jackets with button or tie closures. The collection, Dolce says, pays tribute to the Milanese Renaissance, with some of the more elaborate tailoring featuring paintings from the era. As with Givenchy, the designs can be altered to suit each client’s requirements.

The Michael Browne couture service in progress
The Michael Browne couture service in progress | Image: Kane Hulse

At Maison Margiela, creative director John Galliano made his first foray into men’s couture for spring/summer 2019, focusing on one-of-a-kind pieces (prices on request). Among the looks is a single-breasted windowpane-check suit, which is cut on the bias for a relaxed look, a white satin double-breasted suit and double-breasted coats and jackets with strong roped shoulders and contrasting collars. Each piece is customised to the client’s requirements, and delivery times vary dependent on the look.

Hackett worsted-flannel personal tailoring service suit, from £795
Hackett worsted-flannel personal tailoring service suit, from £795

Not surprisingly, the desire for personalisation is also increasing the popularity of traditional Savile Row tailors, both within Britain and internationally. That’s certainly the impression gained by Anderson & Sheppard owner Anda Rowland, who has seen a rise in the desire for “personalisation, craft and a real feeling of something special”.

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Interestingly, Michael Browne – who worked at Chittleborough & Morgan on Savile Row before opening his own operation on Berkeley Square – actually describes his pieces as couture rather than bespoke. “Traditional bespoke is great, but it’s normally starting from a very specific idea of style or house cut,” says Browne. He begins with more of a blank slate. There are no avant-garde details, as is often seen in the couture shows, but the way each coat is made – its structure, line and proportions – varies considerably. An example is what Browne calls the “body coat” (from £7,250) – it’s made to fit close to the body, more like a long jacket than a traditional coat, with sharp shoulders and sweeping lines. It is intended to be shrugged on in warmer weather, worn with a shirt and close-cut trousers. “This way of working takes longer, but the relationship is more personal and the clothing more individual,” says Browne. The house’s standard turnaround time is about six months.

The services these brands are now offering also signal a return to handcraft. While the end results differ vastly – whether a traditional two-piece suit from Hackett or a more elaborate jacket from Givenchy – they utilise specialised skills that can’t be easily replicated by machines. “As soon as customers realise the amount of work that goes into a bespoke suit, and see that work in their jacket at a fitting, they completely understand the value,” says Hackett. Similarly, Maison Margiela named its couture collection Artisanal to reflect the skilled work behind each piece.

Armani sums up the mood of the moment: “We live in a time in which a sense of individuality is very strong, and personalisation creates a new, more intimate relationship between the client and the suit.”

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