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Brian Dukerschein | Photo: Courtesy of Tony Lutwyche | May 10, 2013
Is it just us, or is tailored clothing becoming much more complicated? As more and more retailers launch personalized menswear services, the lines between made-to-measure, custom and bespoke seem to be growing fuzzier every season. Here, renowned Savile Row tailor Tony Lutwyche, whose made-to-measure and bespoke services are available locally at the Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Store, sets the record as straight as a pinstripe.
Everyone knows bespoke is as good as it gets when it comes to quality, but unlike haute couture the term isn’t regulated. How do you define it?
In the original days ‘bespoke’ meant that the fabric had been ‘bespoken’ for, and you’d go in and select your fabric. This comes from a time long before suits were available ready to wear. For me, a bespoke suit really does need to have a fitting. Without a fitting and without being individually cut or having a certain level of handwork in it, then it can’t be thought of as bespoke. [With genuine bespoke] the jacket is basted together and a semblance of the trousers is put together. They’re then fitted on the individual. We adjust the pattern, and the suit at that point gets stripped right back down so it’s just individual pieces again. Any changes are marked onto the pattern. Then the suit is put back together and sent out.
What about custom suiting, in which the suit isn’t always made on-site? How does that compare to bespoke?
Bespoke has become a gray area. People think of Savile Row, but all of the Savile Row tailors have done trunk shows where they stay at the Waldorf Astoria or in various places, so to measure you and choose fabrics, that wouldn’t necessarily have been done on-site.
Made-to-measure programs often involve some basic measurements and choosing fabrics and a few details. Is that a step down from custom?
I see that more as ‘made-to-order.’ You choose the fabric and some bits and pieces, and you can have small changes, like the length of the jacket or the sleeves. [However] with the made-to-measure program we have, you can fairly spec your suit any which way you want. The key bit is you get measured, and those measurements are taken to our workshop. Our cutters will look at those, and then they will individually mark out and hand-cut a suit. The key thing is that it goes from there straight through to finish, so it arrives with you back wherever you are, whether you’re in Chicago or London, as a finished garment.
The number of labels and retailers offering specially made clothing, and bespoke in particular, has spiked in recent years. Why do you think that is? I think consumers are becoming more savvy. When you’re buying a bespoke suit you’re not paying for a huge advertising budget and marketing budget. It’s not about brand. You’re paying for quality and the hours of work that go into that suit. You might be paying a lot more, but the amount of work and the cost of the fabrics are totally transformative compared to a ready-to-wear suit.