Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Is expensive tailoring doomed?

I saw in the Times over the weekend - which had published the men's style page in its Magazine, we often get chopped - that yet another low-budget tailor had opened up. I say "low budget"; if you fit a Marks and Sparks suit for £120 you're going to think these others are very costly.

But they're proliferating. The handful I know of include:

A Suit that Fits
King and Allen
Cad and the Dandy

(Usual routine, the first of those links is my usual people and I get loyalty points if anyone clicks through - I mention this purely in the interests of full disclosure).

You can now add October House, the newest and perhaps understandably the one with the least informative website as yet. No doubt these guys will all debate the merits and demerits of their ranges and methods, but what you get is a well fitted suit (which may take more than one go to get right), in the material and cut of your own choosing, made by hand in most cases. You'll usually get change from (or can opt to get change from) £500 - if you go for something with polyester in it you can get it for less than £300 from some of them, although why you'd go out of your way to have tailored polyester is beyond me.

Or you can go to Savile Row and spend thousands.

I had to ask: why would anyone do so when the alternative is to spend...er...loads less? So I mailed four Savile Row tailors yesterday and asked why it was worth spending all that cash.

I should stress that they've only had a day to respond. So the fact that only one of them has done so is no reflection on the others. Nonetheless I'm grateful to Tom Mahon of English Cut: Bespoke Savile Row who is no longer based on the Row full time but he's experienced there, for taking the time to reply.

He's not down on the cheaper stuff. He's quick to state that if you spend around £800 with some of the budget people you'll get a pretty decent suit. "True bespoke is at least twice that and although our prices are pretty reasonable you'll have very little change out of £3000," he adds. He suggests that many of the lower cost items use basically the same factory production methods as High Street ready to wear clothes (in my experience they're more likely to offshore the cutting and making, which is what brings the cost down). The extra range of fabrics can make it worth doing, he's keen to stress, but the experience is different.

"I can't put into words the difference of true bespoke," he says. There are a couple of things that suggest his clients, at least, are happy with it at the price. First he's about to blog that he's not taking on any new clients for a few months. "The reason is because of my existing clients re-ordering which is what is keeping us so busy.

"Bearing in mind these are successful, educated people I very much doubt that they'd be prepared to pay three times as much, wait three times as long for something that wasn't really in a class of its own. I'd love to say that it was down to my sparkling personality but in reality it's the artisans who make these that create something special."

Returning customers are a compelling argument and I'm grateful for the response but still no wiser as to what makes a Savile Row suit worth several times the price of the competition. Some of the answers are in my entry on floating canvases last month - but not all.

I'll update this entry with comments from the other tailors as and when they respond. And of course I'd be delighted to hear on the comments section from anyone who's used an upmarket service and can shed any light.

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