Upper Class Cut – Bespoking Your Suit
Then Number 7, the home of Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg and further past Nutters at Number 12, the iconic tailors synonymous with Mick Jagger, John Lennon and a myriad of musical heroes. This quiet road nestled between London’s Bond Street and Regent Street has attracted some of the world’s wealthiest and most stylish people for generations ever since Beau Brummel first drew admiring glances for his the subtle dress sense and the fitting of his clothes. In a time when what we wear is more disposable than ever and a shirt can be bought for the price of a Starbucks latte, it’s reassuring to know that the demand for bespoke tailoring remains high.
At a recent party, I found myself chatting to another guest and I politely asked where he bought his suits, since it looked incredibly good on him (yes, ladies, we men do notice these things). He rather sheepishly mumbled the name of his tailor on Savile Row and I’m still not sure whether he was uncomfortable about admitting he’d spent a sizeable sum on his wardrobe during these supposedly austere times. Maybe he simply didn’t want to share his secret. I suspect the latter. A few weeks later the party hosts emailed a selection of snaps from the day and, most notably, one in particular caught me eye. It was a photograph of me chatting to the well-dressed guest.
Now, I’ve always thought I looked just fine in a suit. I don’t buy cheap suits, although I do buy off the peg and have always felt they fitted my perfectly average figure pretty well. Here was the downer – I didn’t look half as good as he did. My belt was a little lopsided, the jacket looked a tiny bit long on the sleeve and these imperfections seemed magnified infinitely in context. I wanted what he had.
Some weeks later, at a loose end for an hour in Piccadilly, I decide to take a stroll up to Savile Row and check out these hallowed tailors. I popped in to three, all of whom were very affable and helpful, before I finally walked down the steps of 13. Savile Row, into Stowers Bespoke.
From the front window, with its well-groomed mannequin, to the rear where cutters and seamstresses quietly go about their business this place had the warmth and atmosphere I’d hoped I’d find. Here, I am at home. I’m surprised to see them not only making suits, but also a variety of casual clothes. Explaining that I was considering a bespoke suit for business that I could also wear at formal occasions, I let slip that I have no idea of budget – which, in hindsight, was probably not my best bargaining move. Ray Stowers is as much therapist as tailor and we discussed styles and fabrics and my concerns over a very nice cup of tea. With a much clearer idea of what I wanted and of the costs and timescales involved, I said my goodbyes and left to face the toughest stage of bespoke suit ownership – telling the wife that you want one. I braced myself and headed off to my lunchtime meeting, suddenly conscious of rather ill-fitting trousers, which seemed to have had a falling out with my shoes.
Later that evening I set about persuading the missus that I what I really needed was a really high quality suit. One that cost the same as small car, a term at a very good prep school or maybe a luxurious and romantic holiday, somewhere tropical. She listened patiently and miracle of miracles, agreed that it would be a good idea. I have no idea whether she genuinely concurred or is planning something equally indulgent for herself which I will now be powerless to oppose. Women are like chess grandmasters, but with make up.
The next morning I made an appointment for a measure up. I’ll openly admit I’m one of the least patient people I know. I don’t like waiting for anything. Christmas gifts are opened early, desserts are occasionally eaten before starters and the idea of waiting eight weeks for a jacket to be made is mental torture. Yet, some things are worth the wait, even for me. I arrive at Stowers for my measuring. Ray greets me with a warm smile and another cup of tea.
Now comes the moment where most men wish they hadn’t let their gym membership lapse, had shown maybe a micron of self-control the last time they were confronted by cake and start resenting their partners for turning the adjective ‘cuddly’ into anything other than a pejorative. Brian, a true craftsman and possibly the longest-serving of cutters on the Row, sets about measuring me in great detail. And then measuring me again. We then discuss fabrics, linings, styles, buttoning and everything I may have wanted or ever considered. Genuinely surprised by the level of attention to detail, I have to remind myself that this is a ‘bespoke’ service and not simply a ‘tailored’ service.
My suit is being made by hand, using high quality English cloth on the premises. This is very, very rare in the modern world of menswear. That’s what the true Savile Row tradition is all about. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge yourself, it’s worth checking whether your chosen tailor really offers a bespoke service or whether they simply offer a house style, where the garment is then sent out for construction. I find myself covered in paper, pins and undergo a terrifying series of invasions on my person, with Ray’s tape measure. No blush is spared. Whilst this may make one self-conscious, the procedure is of course at the very heart of the bespoke suit. This level of craft requires all ones physical imperfections to be mapped and transcribed. The aim of the process is to neutralise the sloping shoulder and the bandy leg and the pot belly, insinuating a heroic physique. Remember this: fine tailoring is not about fashion, it’s plastic surgery in cloth.
With my not quite perfect body mapped out, I leave the chaps to their miracle work. Four weeks later I returned for a first fitting. I am greeted by Brian with his trusty chalk and a strange garment that looks like something extreme from an insane fashion show. A jacket with pins and sewing lines traversing its contours. Panels of cloth hang with frayed edges. What the hell is this? It’s my new suit. And it feels sublime, as it slips on perfectly. Well, I think so, but Ray, Brian and his assistant, Clare, aren’t so sure. They walk around me, pinning, chalking and adjusting nuances of drape and fit. Once happy and I have nodded my appreciation, they whisk the suit back and leave me holding yet another nice cup of tea. Two more weeks for a final fitting and then I’d be ready to go. I couldn’t wait to pick it up. Actually, I don’t remember ever being so excited about clothes. In theory, I could easily have asked to have the suit sooner – a recent nameless celebrity customer had a jacket made in three days for a TV appearance. Part of me was happy to let them work at their own pace, as despite my natural impatience, I did feel as though the quality really was worth the wait.
Two weeks later, I get a call from Ray. I make up an imaginary client meeting and head straight there. By this point, I enter with my hand out, instinctively ready for another nice cup of tea. I involuntarily grin from ear to ear as Brian slips the jacket on me. Absolutely perfect. The blue lining with claret piping – West Ham, sorry Ray – I’d requested looks incredibly sharp and they’ve added a pocket within my trouser pocket, which they’ve crafted to take my iPhone. The grey English cashmere and wool Super 150 is perfect. Incredibly soft and light, yet reassuringly warm. I know I’ll get years of wear before I consider bringing it back for repairs. Should I put on a few pounds – and married life does tend to expand more than one’s horizons – there’s room. In fact, I whole-heartedly recommend a Savile Row suit for a myriad of reasons. It’s a great investment – a suit that classical fits never goes out of fashion. You’ll walk taller and with more poise and you’ll take pride in every other detail – shirt, tie knot, shoe, cufflinks. If suits aren’t your thing, a tailor with Ray’s skill and knowledge can always fit you for jeans, shirts, trousers or an outfit for your new Sunseeker. If you decide to head down to Stowers then do tell them I sent you. I feel like I owe them something. If only for the endless cups of tea, at the very least.
Stowers Bespoke can be found at 13 Savile Row and can also offer a visiting service for clients. More information is also available online at stowersbespoke.co.uk.