As we have frequently marvelled at on PG, the “made-to-measure” wave that many are surfing on is far from having delivered its last lies or its last excesses.
Today, pretty much anything can be made-to-measure: cars (the success of the Fiat 500 is mainly due to the almost unlimited choice of colour, pattern and accessories), bikes (the latest trend with Parisian hipsters), furnitures ,jewellery, luggages, soap bars, candies and even your sneakers (neither Nike nor Adidas could resist this trend going against their essentially collective “tribe” marketing business model. Not their first trend induced contradiction)…
Like a tsunami, this new 21st century marketing paradigm is sweeping everything and everyone in its way. It redefines terms by hackneying them and, as always, by taking away their substance.
And if one area is at the frontline of the new “me” marketing (as opposed to the obsolete “us” marketing), it’s men’s fashion. Besides, it is interesting that women’s fashion is totally immune against this trend and not affected at all by the bespoke invasion. There are many reasons for this: ladies are playing in a much wider creative field than gents, and simply do not have the time (and do not need) to build a long lasting personal style. For women, versatility is a very highly valued asset.
Thus, in a time of semantic usurpation and wild word creation (a Newspeak of the marketing kind), we thought urgent to redefine the designations of our field of interest - unregulated thus far - and, more importantly, unveil what lies beneath them in terms of craftsmanship and quality - or lack thereof.
Frankly, it is becoming harder and harder to find one’s way in the designation imbroglio (lucky French wine producers, with their “protected designations”!) aiming at giving to all, including the most industrial garments, a sheen of "costumization": bespoke, made-to-order, made-to-measure, custom fit, custom-made, industrial measure, tailor made by appointment , handcrafted by order, Hand-tailored, but also Fatto a mano su misura, Sartorial etc.
As Priscille de Lassus recently wrote in “Métiers d’Arts” magazine, whose last edition focused on sartorial culture, today, everyone claims a traditional tailoring heritage and fills their communication materials with visuals of dusty old workshops and big heavy scissors. Meanwhile, the true nature of the product is often very different. Most have nothing to do with either scissors or stitches: machine produced clothing is made in a few minutes and simply altered with a few so-called “custom details”.
To shed some light on the matter, let’s go back to the basics and draw the first line between two ideas that are often purposely interchanged to add, through advertising, yet another layer of confusion in the consumers mind, very sensitive to (unrealistic) promises of personal style. There is indeed a difference between construction technique (that is, hand or machine sewn) and pattern drafting ( a pattern will be unique in bespoke and standard in industrial measure).
Claiming to offer garments entirely made by hand is the quasi-exclusive prerogative of Bespoke. Nevertheless, some Italian labels (like Kiton, Brioni) add another layer of confusion by claiming that they make, entirely by hand in their transalpine factories, high tradition suits that are still strictly ready-to-wear. While indeed high-level ready-to-wear (and expensive : 6,000 euros on average at Kiton), the patterns are drafted by stylists, but are not the product of a “tailor-client” partnership.
Personally I must confess to not understanding this type of offer. In this price range, the yellow brick road – to true Bespoke – is wide open and often less pricey (starting at 3,500 euros in some fabrics) than these products. Though they are made with supremely exclusive fabrics and often beautifully cut , they remain nonetheless "only" RTW. The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is the chronic inability of some wealthy gents to simply wait. Many feel like they need to get the best immediately, as they can in most any other aspects of life because of their social status. Would impatience be a side effect of social success?
And yet, when one has tasted the joys of bespoke, patience becomes an integral part of the ultimate pleasure of taking possession of a truly well-made suit, designed and crafted for you by dozen of expert hands after 4 or 5 fittings and several months of wait.
The question of legibility hinges on the issue of pattern. On the top of the made-to-measure pyramid is obviously Bespoke, based on a simple principle: each suit is constructed from a unique pattern drafted with -- and for a client after discussions with the tailor.
At the bottom of the pyramid is industrial measure, based on factory construction (which are machine-sewn in a few minutes) of a suit from a basic model, but adjusted by the seller to the customer’s measures. The result doesn't even compare to bespoke, but that doesn't prevent marketing from coming up with more blurry concepts and designations, to the sole benefit of lower quality makers.
The marketing of masculine elegance is getting blurrier because it eagerly mixes different data. Said data are more often than not unverifiable without enough precise knowledge on how to recognize a beautiful attire, or without first hand account on what a hand-made jacket should feel like to the touch, or on what makes a quality shoulder construction.
Without getting into all the details (which would require an entire book…), here is a first simple draft of a lexicon that we are taking full responsibility for...
- Unique pattern for a unique garment
- Nearly unlimited fabric selection (8,000 different references with top makers) and a complete freedom on all possible details, from the smallest - like the shape and make of the buttonholes - to the structure of the shoulders.
- Garment is entirely made by hand. Between 70 and 90 hours of work.
- at least 3 fittings (sometimes more). Wait time: 6 weeks to 6 months.
- Price: from 3,500 euros.
(or custom fit, custom made)
- Base pattern adapted by the tailor (not a salesman or consultant) to the client’s measurements. Many patterns to choose from with different drops (chest to waist ratio).
- Very wide array of fabric choice (several hundreds generally). Several detail options: buttons, contrasted buttonholes, lining colour, pockets, etc.
- Mostly handcrafted with at least half processes by hand.
- Measurement and delivery included (alterations are possible).
- Price: from 1,800 euros.
- Pre-existing pattern adapted by a sales consultant (not a tailor) to the client’s measurements. Most of the time, basic measurements are taken with a model in the boutique.
- Limited choice of patterns (generally 4 or 5), fabrics (a few dozens), details (buttons, linings, pockets).
- Industrial machine construction with possible hand crafted finishes.
- Price: from 600 euros.
Of course, this classification is not perfect. Some quality labels offer products that sit on the gap between made-to-measure and industrial measure (with more hand made processes or more finishing choices).
Use these categories to ask the right questions to your sales points, whether to your consultants or your tailor. Trust your senses - examine the piece, feel the fabric. And most importantly, never forget the golden rule: if you have to compromise on one aspect of a suit, compromise on finish, even on fabric, but NEVER -- EVER on the cut.