Friday, September 25, 2009

The Lodger: Built to last

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies is the title of a business book on what makes an enduring business. Nathan Brown, managing director at The Lodger, is aiming to do precisely that in the men's footwear business. It goes without saying that he's been very focused on building a company that "lasts" (pun fully intended).

During my September visit to London, I dropped by the store tucked away on Clifford Street in Mayfair and chatted with Nathan, who has a degree from London Business School and worked at a well-known footwear company in the Pacific Northwest. He is hoping to carve out a new market segment between ready to wear and full bespoke. Much of his success will hinge on a 3D laser scanning device, installed downstairs in the store, which provides a precise set of measurements of the geometry of the foot.

While I was in the store, I happened to strike up a conversation with an Austrian customer, Thomas, who proceeded to have his feet scanned on the device. Nathan has found that doing both a traditional fitting and using their scanning device produces the best results. This makes quite a bit of sense. Even in the 21st century it's actually quite difficult to fully automate "a good fit", a process which is statically physical (described by measurements) but also dynamically perceived by the customer.

Below are a few photos of my visit, taken with Thomas's camera:

Nathan Brown & Thomas

Wholecut

Oxford chocolate

Brogue milkshake

Welsh & Jefferies: Dressing the old and new guard

I happened to be in London again this month and visited Welsh & Jefferies, a tailor at the north end of Savile Row. As I tend to do, I walked in without an appointment and ended up having a very cordial and friendly chat with James Cottrell, who was working on a jacket at the table in the front of the shop. James is a senior cutter and has been at W&J for four years but has 40 years of experience in the trade. Prior to W&J, he worked at Poole, Nutters and Kilgour. If I remember correctly, he also trained under Roy Chittleborough at Chittleborough & Morgan, whom I wrote about in an earlier blog post.

Welsh & Jefferies storefront

W&J make a straight, square shoulder with a shaped waist. The detail work and finishing looked quite good for those who care about the details (e.g. very fine buttonholes). James kindly pulled out a number of examples - a blue velvet smoking jacket, a tweed jacket and couple of suits. They offer an excellent selection of fabrics: Lesser, Smith, Dugdale, Holland & Sherry, W. Bill, Cacciapoli, D'Avenza and Dashing Tweeds.

For new customers, the initial order will take 4-6 weeks and multiple fittings. The garments are cut entirely on premise but sewn off-premise due to space constraints. Although Malcolm Plews was not in the shop when I visited, I also met a young cutter in training named May who is now able to make coats. She showed a remarkable military-inspired white cutaway coat with gold piping and braiding with matching trousers which she cut and made entirely herself. May is shown wearing just the coat in the photo below (which was cut and sized for another person). Note also the trim shape and shoulders on James's jacket - a classic Savile Row look.

James Cottrell and May

What I like about talking with the smaller shops on the Row is the ease with which you can get a good sense and familiarity with the cutters. In other words, it's quite easy to know who will be working on your clothes, how they work and what interests them. As the title of my blog post indicates, they have customers who have made some very interesting and unusual commissions in the past. It may not be apparent immediately when you walk in, but W&J are comfortable with commissions with fantastically different fabrics and patterns. If you're thinking of marrying an impeccable Savile Row cut with flair in the fabric and pattern, you may have just found your shop.

Savile Row sundries: Kilgour, Anderson & Sheppard...and the mystery bespoke American tailor (MBAT)

Other tidbits from my visit on the Row this month. I dropped by Anderson & Sheppard to check on a suit and was wearing a two-piece suit made by an American tailor. The managing director Mr. Hitchcock took note of it, requested to take a closer look and said it was the "best looking suit from America I've seen so far." Considering I liked my suit as well, I said it was not bad. “Not bad?”, he exclaimed, “it's very good!” I will refrain from naming the tailor as I do think America has several world-class tailors from coast to coast (including my mystery bespoke American tailor or MBAT). Let the guessing games begin!

In other news, Kilgour recently announced to customers that they are no longer offering the entry level bespoke service, which I had written about in 2006 and 2007. The entry level description is still up on the Kilgour website but the email I received was quite clear about its discontinuation. It's a pity since I think it was an excellent value and was very pleased with the results.