At college I had a Saturday job at Browns. In the 80s it was a celebrated designer store at the epicentre of fashion. It was an exciting time in London as various designers exploded on to the scene and I realised I wanted to be a part of that. I worked for some of them including John Galliano then set up Richard James in 1992, when we saw an opportunity to marry certain aspects of the fashion world with the heritage and history of Savile Row.
It takes many years to become a suit cutter. At Richard James we like our cutters to start on the shop floor, so they’re able to relate to the customer’s requirements and learn to help guide them through the process. After that, they start an apprenticeship of many years, working with cutters and tailors to really understand the nuances of creating the perfect suit. Not everyone makes it – it requires a certain skill set.
A suit can make its wearer look and feel great. A really good fit is important and – now more than ever – comfort is a priority too. It is a cliché, but a suit should never be wearing you.
A good suit is all about detail. Once you have decided on the fundamentals – double or single breasted jacket, flat front or pleated trousers – the focus shifts to things like the width of the lapel, the angle of the pockets, colour of the buttons, colour of the lining, turn-ups or not. The possibilities are endless and can seem daunting, especially when it is the first suit you are having made. But we are there to help with the process, and all these small details make the suit unique and give a sense of ownership to the wearer.
The usual price for a bespoke suit is £4500 to £5000 depending on the fabric requirements. It isn't really possible to make it any more affordable - a lot of time and hand work goes into creating a bespoke suit, and once you start compromising in these areas it is no longer bespoke. Made to measure sits between bespoke and ready to wear and allows a degree of personalisation. This is a more affordable option as there is less time involved.
The suit making process can be length. If it is the first time a client has ordered a bespoke suit from us, the first point of contact will be with the consultant who will spend time assessing your requirements and identify where the suit will be worn. Time is spent looking at fabrics and discussing style and details. Following this, an introduction is made to the cutter who will take all the measurements he needs to start the suit. Approximately 4 weeks later, the customer returns for a first fitting. The suit will be in quite a raw state and it is also a chance to make adjustments and changes, quite significant style changes can be made at this stage. Quite often a second fitting will take place about 3 weeks after this to check that all the amendments required after the first fitting have been made. Then we move to the final fitting, where the suit is completed and the client can leave with the suit. No suit ever leaves the house until both we and the client are 100% satisfied that the suit is perfect. The whole process usually takes between 8 and 12 weeks although we can and have completed suits in under 2 weeks. It is, however, a more enjoyable process if it isn't rushed.
In the world of bespoke tailoring, things tend to evolve rather than change. When we opened on Savile Row we introduced more colour and lighter fabrics. More recently, there has been a trend towards separates and a more relaxed, less structured fit. That only looks set to continue. Ultimately, the look of a Savile Row suit will endure, but comfort comes to the fore.
There are many different weights of fabric. In my time on the Row, the general trend has been towards lighter fabrics. It simply comes down to where the suit is going to be used and for what purpose – as you’d imagine, it could be for a wedding in the Caribbean or heavy tweed for a weekend in the country.
Is it possible to buy a well-fitting suit online? No.
We’ve had a fair few unusual requests over the years. We had to cut a suit for a bodyguard of a Middle Eastern royal family that could accommodate and hide his handgun. We also once made a camouflage suit for a client who needed to wear a suit to the opera but clearly didn’t want to conform.
We’re generally asked to make grey or navy suits but within those two colours there are endless shades to choose from. Interestingly, men ordering bespoke suits tend to shy away from trends. Many clients like to get creative with the linings – though, while colour is great, novelty prints are a strong no.
If you’re looking for some tailoring inspiration from a man in the public eye, I love the way Mark Ronson wears a suit. He has his own style, is not afraid to try something and the whole effect is effortless. I should also say he is a client…
Having a bespoke suit made is a process. Errors shouldn’t be made, but trial and error is a fair way to describe it. There will be things you may want to change or adapt next time round. It could be the depth of the trouser pockets or the width of the lapel.
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