Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bespoke survey: Who will be your next tailor?

First, a very special thanks to everyone who responded to the bespoke survey I created earlier this year. If you haven't filled it out yet, here's the link to the survey and the related post.

In the survey, I asked the following question: Which tailors are you most interested in commissioning a garment from but haven't yet tried? This attempts to get at the tailors that bespoke buyers are most interested in trying next - a bespoke wish list. To some extent it also measures tailors with the greatest "brand" awareness among bespoke customers (as opposed to RTW customers). This distinction is important because it presumably shows the preferences of buyers who are fairly knowledgeable about bespoke clothing.

I would like to share some interim results now that the pool of respondents for this question is decently sized (n=109). So what are the results? They are quite interesting because they show what looks like a power law distribution. In other words, the responses follow a long tail distribution with a just a couple of heavyweight contenders at the top and many other players trailing the lead pack.

Here are the interim results as of 12/30/08:

Ranking / Tailor (% of Respondents)
(n=109)
1 Anderson & Sheppard (31%)
2 Rubinacci (25%)
3 Thomas Mahon (9%)
4 Henry Poole (8%)
5 Huntsman (7%)
6 Caraceni (6%)
6 Raphael (6%)
7 Dege & Skinner (5%)
7 Any Savile Row tailor (5%)
8 Chris Despos (4%)
8 Gennaro Solito (4%)
8 Steed (4%)
8 Leonard Logsdail (4%)

A couple of methodological notes. First, the ranking above captures roughly the top two-thirds of all tailors mentioned. There are quite a few with just one or two mentions. Also, the percentage indicates the percentage of respondents who mentioned the tailor in their response. Since each respondent can list more than one tailor, the percentages do not add up to 100%.

So why are just two tailors - A&S and Rubinacci - sitting pretty at the top of the wish list for bespoke customers? Good question and I suspect it's a potent mixture of two things - the power of tailoring tradition and history fueled by the easy information exchange of today's internet-enabled consumer. A&S tops the cognoscenti's list because of its storied past, achieving almost mythic status for its original cutting style (Scholte) and uniqueness among Savile Row firms. Men like distinction. And modern men have been like moths to the flame when it comes to ease and comfort - both perceived and actual.

Let's look at Rubinacci. Imagine if I had distributed this survey five or ten years ago. I would guess the list would be mostly Savile Row with Caraceni perhaps still making an appearance but certainly not the Neapolitan tailors. The success of Rubinacci in this list can probably be traced back literally to one or two members on Styleforum and LondonLounge. Three or four years ago very few men - even experienced bespoke customers - knew what a Rubinacci cut/jacket looked like.

Mahon is number three largely because of his groundbreaking tailor's blog - the first of its kind - and the intense, internet-based marketing efforts early on by his supporters. Of course, it helps to have the A&S training and pedigree as well.

It's also interesting to note that the top three tailors are all of the soft tailoring paradigm - soft natural shoulders, relatively little or no padding, free and easy chest canvas, penchant/familiarity with creating front drape over the chest.

What is somewhat disappointing is the relative paucity of American-based tailors on this list. Of course, I didn't ask the respondents for their current tailor (who very well might be American) but one might want to consider local options before booking that flight to Naples, Rome, Sicily or Heathrow. Of course, if you have the means to rely on tailors both at home and abroad, consider yourself lucky!

Related links
- LondonLounge thread on survey results

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

No mention of a well known Hong Kong travelling tailor.

sleevehead said...

The ranked list I published only shows the top two-thirds of tailors mentioned.

If I were to list the remaining tailors sitting in the long tail, it would include the tailor you're likely referring to - WW Chan.

M. Fan said...

It really isn't so conspicuous that Rubinacci is near the top of your list. Until recently, the internet forums have been largely preoccupied with the notion that Savile Row and its prestigious long-standing institutions were the ultimate places to go for a bespoke suit; that thinking still dominates at AAAC.

In contrast, the Italian and American tailors have been much less emphasized--hence the apparent under-representation of the latter in your survey. The trends you've observed in the internet popularity of various tailors likely has nothing to do with their real world fame or reputation. After all, Rubinacci and Caraceni are commonly understood by knowledgeable people to be two of the best tailors in Italy. It's not like Rubinacci is a relatively obscure tailor that a handful of internet enthusiasts have made popular. I'm a client and great proponent of Rubinacci, but I don't have that kind of selling power.

Rubinacci has been popular for decades (well, as 'popular' as an expensive bespoke tailor can get); it's just that internet forum geeks were not as familiar with it as they are now.

sleevehead said...

A couple of points. First, it's a bit of a stretch to say that Rubinacci has been popular for decades - certainly not for bespoke tailoring. Alden just posted an interesting historical background on the rise of Rubinacci in the LL thread on this list. As he notes, Rubinacci was not always in the bespoke business but focused mostly on RTW in the 90s.

Caraceni (Rome or Milan depending on whom you wish to believe) has long been considered the "best" tailor in Italy (or at least the most well-known). Take a look at Flusser's Style and the Man (1996) - still the most complete book on menswear stores and tailors in Europe. He has a chapter on London, Paris, Rome, etc. But he does not have a chapter on Naples, let alone an entry on Rubinacci.

So it is a bit surprising to find Rubinacci at the top of the list, esp. ranking above Caraceni. Only recently has Rubinacci risen in profile - initially through the Japanese press and now through the online men's clothing forums for English speaking customers.