Saturday, December 16, 2006

Foster & Son: Jermyn St shoemaker

During my summer visit to London, I dropped by Foster & Son (incorporating Henry Maxwell) to take a look at their shoes. I spoke to a friendly gentleman named Peter and we got into a wideranging conversation about Foster & Son's new direction and the shoe market.

Foster went through a recent management change as their chairman recently had passed away. One of the consequences of that unfortunate event is the opportunity for a fresh start. When I spoke with Peter they had recently zeroed out their RTW inventory. The new owner is investing in the business to expand and improve it.

Foster maintains a bespoke production rate of approximately 600 pairs per year. Bespoke starts at £1,500 and takes 4-6 months. There are no US visits currently but this is potentially in the works. I was particularly taken with their sample bespoke loafers and monks. Terry Moore is Foster's principal lastmaker.

We also had an interesting discussion of the current state of the market. Foster works with Barker for most of its RTW, as well as Crockett & Jones and Edward Green. According to Peter, Foster's RTW production partners have been very busy this year due to rising demand. He believes the principal driver of growth is a product shift with shoes increasingly being separated into either high-end or cheaper, low-end products. Consumers in the middle have to choose which way to migrate - up or down the price/quality ladder. Many of them choose to go up the ladder.

Another interesting tidbit - when I visited Foster they had just completed a photo shoot for a Japanese shoe aficionado magazine (probably Last).

For additional information, there are two useful discussion threads at AskAndy and Styleforum on Foster & Son. For photos of a pair of Foster bespoke, it would be difficult not to admire these handsome brogues.

Update: Link to AskAndy thread with photos from Foster's 2007 trunk show and Henry Maxwell thread.

New Alfred Sargent website and retail store

Out of idle curiosity I checked the Alfred Sargent website today and discovered some interesting developments for this well-known English RTW shoemaker.
  • New, improved website with online store coming in 2007
  • New retail store (first in their history) up and running in Bury St. Edmunds, a town in Suffolk, near Cambridge
A move into retail is somewhat unusual for a manufacturer, not least of which are concerns in managing channel disruption with existing retailers. However, from a business perspective, there are good reasons to establish a direct channel with consumers and expand brand awareness. Hopefully this expansion augurs well for the English shoe industry as a whole.

I posted this info on an AskAndy thread as well.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Freddy Vandecasteele: A bespoke shirtmaker

I became aware of Freddy through an AskAndy post by Carl of Cego Shirts. Freddy is a Belgian-born shirtmaker living and working in Los Angeles (Studio City to be precise). His process is fully bespoke since he both cuts and sews the shirts himself. Freddy has diplomas from Art et Metier (Belgium) and Academie Darroux (Paris).

Freddy offers solid, good quality shirtings from Thomas Mason 100s, 120s, 140s. His shirts have pattern matching on shoulders and pockets (see photos), mother of pearl buttons, optional split yoke. The shirt is mostly machine-sewn but Freddy hand-sews the buttons into place. Pricing starts at $140.

As you can see, he loves colors and stripes but will certainly produce a dozen plain white shirts if that's your preference.

Freddy Vandecasteele shirt

Freddy Vandecasteele shirt

Freddy Vandecasteele shirt

Freddy Vandecasteele shirt

From what I have seen, Freddy's shirts represent a great value for the price and it is always enjoyable to chat with him when visiting. In addition, one of the benefits of working with Freddy is his general quickness in turning around new shirts or making adjustments. One time I dropped by and he refitted a couple of sleeves while I was looking at swatches in his workroom.

A tutorial in balance courtesy of Despos & Antongiovanni

This Ask Andy thread (also in the London Lounge) is a mini-tutorial on the notion of "balance" in tailoring by Chicago-based tailor Chris Despos and Nicholas Antongiovanni, author of The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style.

"Accidental" tailoring at its best: Brian Lishak interview

Courtesy of harrybee in this AskAndy thread, I came across a brief video interview of Brian Lishak of Richard Anderson. This is a brief but wonderful introduction to what makes a successful tailor (even if you stumble into the trade by accident as Lishak did).

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The future of tailors

This AskAndy thread contains some excellent analysis and brainstorming on the economics of tailoring today. Essentially there are two options: demand stimulation (e.g. better marketing and branding) and supply chain efficiencies (e.g. outsourcing or automation).

An example of both would be Kilgour, which has rebranded itself as a luxury apparel brand and introduced a more affordable bespoke line by pulling a lower cost, skilled workforce from overseas into the traditional production model.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Great Esquire photos of 30s style

I haven't browsed The Fedora Lounge much recently but this is a great thread featuring scans of 1930s styles from the pages of Esquire.

Advice on going bespoke

Here's an excerpt from my recent post on StyleForum.

In my book, if you do not fit RTW or even MTM very well, then the end product of bespoke is worth every penny. But of course you need to reach that level of realization for yourself.

Some ways to increase the likelihood of success when you go bespoke:
  • Do your due diligence (i.e. know what you want and match that as closely as possible to the tailor most likely to capture your needs and preferences). If you do this, I contend it is entirely possible to be anywhere from highly satisfied up to insanely happy with the first suit from a bespoke tailor.
  • Build up your knowledge of tailoring, garment features and styles over time. I went through RTW, MTM and bespoke in that order. I do not suggest diving directly into bespoke without a decent sense of your stylistic preferences and adequate knowledge of tailored garments.
  • Learn on the cheap first (ebay, filene's, sales, SF, AAC, etc) then pull the trigger on bespoke.
  • Basically, the more you are familiar with what you want and need (and which tailor can optimally supply it), the better value and satisfaction you will receive both aesthetically and practically speaking.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Edward Green and John Lobb last comparison

This side by side comparison of Edward Green and John Lobb lasts has been posted previously in StyleForum. Worth repeating for those curious about the shape of English lasts.

Northampton shoemaking

One of two shoemaking epicenters in England, the Northamptonshire region went from 45 shoe factories right after World War II to just five. According to this AskAndy thread, the remaining five are:
  • Edward Green
  • John Lobb
  • Church
  • Crockett & Jones
  • Trickers
Not surprisingly, these are rather familiar names to those who wear them.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Kilgour's new website

Kilgour has launched a new website. The Savile Row Bespoke, their traditional bespoke offering, entails:
  • 80 hours of work
  • 4,000 baste stitches through the chest
  • Cut, sewn and finished in Savile Row
It appears this conforms to the Savile Row Bespoke Code described in an earlier entry.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The appeal of Brioni

This confessional thread explains the drawing power of the Brioni silhouette. Very sensible for most business settings and works well for a number of body types.

Independent NY tailors v. Savile Row

For those considering the bespoke option, this is an excellent AskAndy thread to mull over on the tradeoffs involved between going local (principally New York) v. Savile Row visiting tailors.

I enjoyed especially the discussion of Dege & Skinner v. Raphael.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More on Jack Taylor

Today I came across a couple of links showing photos of Mr. Taylor and a customer going through an initial appointment.

Another blogger met with the Taylors earlier this year and took photos of the couple and finished garments lined up on a rack (scroll to the February 1, 2006 entry).

On The Fedora Lounge, there are additional photos in a recent discussion thread, this time of an initial measurement with Mr. Taylor's head cutter/tailor, whose name I believe is Sam.

More photos appear in this AskAndy thread, including one that features a Jack Taylor suit with a more set-in shoulder.

Update: Taylor in a Men's Style video interview.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

London trip

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about what one should do on a hypothetical trip to London. Now for a brief report on my actual trip last month. I stayed in Mayfair and did quite a bit of walking along Conduit, Regent, Piccadilly, Burlington Arcade and Jermyn Streets.

Gieves & Hawkes

Anderson & Sheppard

Here's a list of shops I visited or window shopped:
  • Shoes: John Lobb St. James, Edward Green, Cleverley, Foster & Son, Crockett & Jones, Church's, Trickers, Berluti, Cheaney
  • Shirts: Ede & Ravenscroft, Budd, Turnbull & Asser, New & Lingwood
  • Tailors: Kilgour, Anderson & Sheppard, Henry Poole, Dege & Skinner, Gieves & Hawkes, Huntsman, Meyer Mortimer, Jones Chalk & Dawson, Rubinacci
  • Accessories: Lock's, Swaine Adeney Brigg
  • Outerwear: Cordings
I noticed the English certainly like their pyjamas and gowns (e.g. Cordings, Budd window displays). Around 6pm one day I was in front of Anderson & Sheppard and noticed a couple of sewers in the basement working on their respective jackets.

John Lobb storefront

I also had a long chat with a nice fellow at Foster & Son, which is the subject of recent StyleForum thread.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The subjective fallacy of clothing

There is I think a common fallacy about clothing. Most men (and women for that matter) dress to please themselves or to please other people. This quote from Epictetus in Richard Torregrassa's new style book, Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, illustrates a rather more compelling take on clothing:

Know first who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.

In other words, your character and identity should inform your external accoutrements. I think most men do exactly the opposite (e.g. feel better about themselves through fine clothing). Or, they dispense with the first part of Epictetus' advice entirely (e.g. dress without reference to character or dress principally to "impress" persons of interest).

Why is this point important? Because your character and identity are rooted in principles, concepts and ideas that are external to you. To put it simply, the question is whether you relate yourself to something greater than yourself or is everything just about yourself?

Cary Grant I think epitomizes what Epictetus admonishes us to do. CG displays an admirable consistency of the interior and exterior that I wrote in my very first blog entry. True style is a principle of consistency rather than the pursuit of fashionable conceit.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A modest proposal: the archives of men's tailoring

I've recently wondered about the rather haphazard legacy of bespoke garments (suits, shoes and the like) and the unfortunate manner of their disposal, often in auctions to the highest bidder. The garments live on in the private collections of aficionados but their power to inspire and enlighten remain hidden to the public eye.

Then a curious idea of preservation settled into my head. Why not create a public archive and museum of men's tailoring? We learn in economics of the principle of supply and demand. How is supply and demand satisfied here? By definition, bespoke is fitted for the owner in question and may often be unsuitable for direct bequesting to family members. Hence, I would imagine that owners of bespoke garments could select and donate at least one ensemble, provide documentation of provenance and a personalized story (or stories) of commissioning and wearing said ensemble.

It would be a fascinating collection I think. This goes to the demand question. There is much to learn about men's clothing but very few places of sartorial learning. There are several thousand members of men's clothing discussion fora. They would be the target market, as well as students, trade professionals and researchers.

Our tailoring archive would be modeled after public libraries, which emphasize easy access, and research archives, which cater to serious researchers in the field. We would offer books and written materials on the technical field of tailoring, history of men's clothing and, of course, notable commentaries and creative works (film, documentaries) on the subject.

Perhaps most distinctively, in lieu of a reading room, we would offer a "fitting room" where selected garments would be available for close inspection.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Artisanal excellence: UK and Japan

Cottage industries have an economic stickiness in the factors of production, particularly in the supply of trained artisans. As a result, they tend to form organically and are difficult replicate (e.g. Savile Row for bespoke suits, Northampton for welted shoes).

However, there is an interesting case study of shoemaking excellence in one area (Northampton, England) being replicated and grown in another (Japan). Apparently a critical mass of Japanese cordwainers have returned from training in England to set up shop in Japan. The key driver of artisanal replicability appears to be the coexistence of a virtuous cycle of supply (trained artisans) and demand (discerning consumers).

This is discussed briefly in a StyleForum thread.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Self-diagnostic for dandies

I thought this AskAndy thread on dandies was rather funny.

I have been guilty of the following:

  • have to argue with store alterations about an 1/8th of an inch on the jacket sleeve.
  • add in extra time to your business trips in order to do some shopping at fine merchants, even if it means an inconvenient departure or arrival.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The philosophy of the 'first fitting' and Kilgour's approach

Recently I started an AskAndy thread on the likelihood of getting things right at the very first fitting of a bespoke suit or jacket. Apparently near perfection does happen occasionally. But the more important discovery is that there are at least two different philosophies on the fitting process. The Savile Row method generally hews to "front-loading" the process in terms of getting as much of the jacket components assembled, pieced together and finished as possible. This is in contrast to independent tailors in New York City for example who tend to stage the fitting process into different phases - the first fitting to achieve the right balance, the second fitting to achieve overall fit and so on.

I find that this distinction holds true as evidenced by my recent Kilgour forward fitting in Los Angeles. Last month I walked up the stairs of the Chateau Marmont, a very relaxed setting by the way, and met with R., my cutter, and W., a fellow cutter. After a few pleasantries (the fellows mentioning running into the actor Jude Law, a Kilgour customer, at the hotel), I tried on the jacket and thought to myself, what a revelation! The skeleton basted jacket looked and felt superb - more than I had expected. R.'s pattern emphasized and shaped the chest a touch. The shoulders fit snugly right over the ends, the waist nipped and the jacket line flared slightly from the hips. All in all, a very flattering balance between the shoulders, chest and waist. R. measured the length from the front of the jacket to the ground to confirm the proper front and back balance. To my eyes, the overall length looked superb, as did the sleeve pitch. R. loosened the back neck a bit on both sides after judging and feeling the tension on the fabric. To make this determination, he removed the inlay on the lapel to feel around the neck area.

The vest or waistcoat was next in line for inspection. The side length remained the same but R. added a touch (perhaps 3/8 of an inch) to the front such that the angled ends drop down a touch more dramatically. He also observed that the middle front section of the vest stood out a bit, which he will take in and correspondingly shift button positions down somewhat.

The last part was fitting the trousers, which also fit superbly well for a first fitting. R. took in a touch around the side of each hip and lengthened the knee area, which was pulling just a bit when I was sitting down.

For future orders, R. recommended going with a straight finish (no fitting). He said it is actually a bit easier to fit a fellow with a trim build like myself since, compared to a more expansive figure, there is logically less surface area subject to distortions that pull and push the fabric. I was tempted to look at more fabrics but as R. mentioned it is probably best to go "softly, softly" for the first order. Sound advice most assuredly.

The normal procedure for overseas customers is of course finishing the suit with the marked adjustments and shipping it. However, as it turned out, I was in London last week for a business trip and stopped by 8 Savile Row for any final adjustments. After being kindly offered a cup of tea, I tried on the suit and was not disappointed. All the changes R. had noted in my forward fitting look to have been incorporated in the finished suit. There is no turning back to RTW or MTM after this!

I'll have to do a separate write up on the numerous shops in London I stopped by or walked in. My suspicions prior to my trip were correct - London is truly the mecca of men's clothing (at least until I visit or move to Naples, Italy).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Savile Row Bespoke Code

This recent AskAndy thread discusses the latest activities by Savile Row to maintain and extend equity and reputation in the Savile Row brand. It's an idea which is sorely needed and rather belated in my opinion. But better late than never. I had in fact intended to write an entry on ways to revivify the Savile Row brand from a business perspective. This is a marketing and production initiative that certainly falls under that rubric.

Savile Row Bespoke Ltd is a promising new joint initiative by some of the most prominent names on the Row - Gieves & Hawkes, Huntsman, Dege & Skinner, and Henry Poole. Created in 2004, Savile Row Bespoke Ltd aims to "protect and develop the reputation of bespoke tailoring on Savile Row, to maintain craft skills on Savile Row, and to develop a training programme for bespoke tailors."

The craft definition of the Bespoke Code appears to be fairly demanding: hand-made and finished to the last stitch for at least 60 hours over six to eight weeks in one place.

In cooperation with a local school (Newham College), Savile Row Bespoke offers a course of study including:

  • Basic sewing skills
  • Sewing machines and equipment
  • Underpressing and shrinking
  • Constructing canvases
  • Constructing pockets and details
  • Block construction
  • Figuration
  • Constructing bastes
  • Workshop practice
  • Bespoke patterns

A recent Times article mentions the Savile Row Bespoke Code in the context of a series of baffling remarks by Giorgio Armani on the Row.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Interviews with the author of The Suit

From the author of the recently published book The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style, here are two interviews he gave recently on the book and general thoughts on men's clothing:

Interview part 1
Interview part 2

Monday, June 05, 2006

Finally! Knize's new website

After having a placeholder for the longest time, Knize & Comp have finally rolled out a website. And it's a handsomely designed one at that.

It's quite a delight to see photos of the Loos designed interiors and exterior. There are also stunning examples of their house styles in lounge/business suit (Anzug), blazer (Blazer), morning coat or cutaway (Cut), stroller (Stresemann, named after the Weimar statesman), tails (Frack) and dinner suit (Smoking). If you want near definitive examples of proper men's dress, look no further.

I think the photo examples of Knize's morning coat and evening tails look especially winning (though perfectionists might quibble with the white pique bowtie extending beyond the wing collar tips in the latter photo).

Nonetheless, I'm quite delighted that a mere few months after my earlier blog entry attempting to amend Knize's lack of web presence that, lo and behold, the website is here. Endlich!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Giacomo Trabalza followup

In my blog entry on Trabalza a few months ago, I remarked that he had an interview around the time I visited. I came across this recent link to an archived radio interview, which apparently is the interview in question. Enjoy!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Brooks Bros of yesterday

For those interested in the history of Brooks Brothers, I've collected a few links that give a glimpse of its past:

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A note on Kilgour's entry level bespoke

Kilgour is a longtime Savile Row tailor that happens to offer an alternative product to the traditional bespoke model (cut, sewn and finished in the UK). Actually they offer two alternatives - ready to wear and "entry-level bespoke". An interesting tidbit surfaced recently on the latter.

It appears that the overseas half of Kilgour's entry-level bespoke (cut in England, sewn in Shanghai) is a tailoring establishment called Y. William Yu with shops in Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York.

According to this AskAndy thread, Y. William Yu is among the best in the region, which explains why Kilgour decided to partner or set up a joint venture with their lower cost partner in the Far East.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

D'Avenza: large-scale made-to-measure

For those unfamiliar with D'Avenza, this is an interesting profile of a major Italian RTW suitmaker which also does made-to-measure. The article is a bit dated (2001) but the details and commentary are alternately entertaining and informative.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kilgour: A Savile Row tailor's visit to Los Angeles

After more than a year of research and steady progression up the menswear food chain (from RTW to MTM), I recently decided to take the plunge into bespoke. I looked at local tailors and would have preferred to start there but I wasn't quite able to find the right cut or silhouette that I felt entirely comfortable with. So I decided to take a bit of chance and try a Savile Row visiting tailor. I say chance only because of the added time and length involved in the process. I went with Kilgour because I found the extra touch of elevating structure and shape in the shoulder and silhouette of its house style to be quite appealing to me. Kilgour favors a single button peak lapel suit with a fairly defined and slightly roped shoulder. A classic Savile Row cut with a bit of flair. As the visiting cutter politely but firmly told me, "We don't do soft shoulder."

If you're interested in Kilgour, you'll want to read this AskAndy thread on Savile Row, part of which discusses Kilgour's entry-level v. full bespoke options (scroll down close to the end).

Being measured
My cutter took probably about a dozen measurements (chest, girth around arms, armhole, ground height, legs with feet apart and together, arm length) and observation of my figuration. For jacket length, Kilgour apparently hews closely to the formula of setting it to half of the distance from collar to the ground.

Selecting fabrics
From what I could see, all the fabrics were outstanding. Some of the mills and merchants I saw included: Lesser (2 books of Super 90s 11-12 oz and 13 oz), Harrisons, Scabal, and lots of Holland & Sherry.

Interestingly enough, I learned that Lesser offers the same fabrics every year and works with the mills to improve the fabrics every year. Hence, what they lack in variety they make up for in sheer quality. In contrast, Holland & Sherry offers tremendous selection and variety but presumably loses a bit of ground on some of the fundamental qualities in wool weaving, processing and finishing. Still a very good merchant nonetheless.

I also learned that very few Kilgour customers order the heavier fabrics such as 13 oz or higher. This is unfortunate I think because heavier cloth drapes better.

Designing my pattern
I wore a soft-shouldered, made-to-measure suit to the appointment and my cutter did a superb job dissecting its deficiencies regarding the front-side-back balance (which I had not caught before). Specifically, he showed how the overall mispositioning of the suit (pitched forward) leads to an imbalance between the front shoulder and side (fabric pulling) and the front and back length. He also pointed out the right shoulder was a little bit off.

Compared to my MTM suit, the shoulders of my Kilgour 3-piece suit will be narrower and higher, the front of the jacket will be cut a little more dramatically (the armhole area will be cut to "sweep" up and away), the back will be longer (~ 1.25") and the front shorter.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Menswear in Chicago

For ready-to-wear, Morris & Sons is certainly worth a visit for discounted quality men's clothing (Brioni, Luciano Barbera). Although some have reported less than satisfying visits to either the Chicago or New York location of Paul Stuart, I think it's still worth a visit. The Chicago location is a beautiful men's store, albeit apparently smaller than the NY location. During my last visit to Chicago, the shoe salesman I talked to was friendly and familiar with English shoemakers. I inquired about the availability of Edward Green in Chicago. He checked in with his manager and came back with George Greene, a men's store on Oak St, and Polo Ralph Lauren on Michigan Ave.

Chicago store recommendations (AskAndy)
Dining and entertainment recommendations (AskAndy)
A 1964 Time magazine article on Chicago-based RTW manufacturer Hart, Schaffner & Marx

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sleeve/trouser length: the most common problem

A brief followup to my entry on the jacket length. I think the most common problem I see is excessive sleeve length of both the jacket sleeve and shirt sleeve, as well as excessively long trousers that "pool" at the ankles.

The proper shirt sleeve length is relative to the jacket sleeve, showing about 1/4 to 1/2 inch beyond the jacket sleeve. The shirt sleeve should also end near the point where the base of the thumb meets the wrist. This is an important detail such that you may avoid sloppiness at a high-profile occasion like your swearing-in ceremony.

The trousers should have a slight break (or no break) in the front and should not have multiple breaks, creases or bunching. There are additional nuances and preferences to consider but if you follow the above you can avoid the most common fit problems.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Jacket length: a fairly common problem

For some time, I've known that the length of off-the-rack or ready-to-wear sports and suit jackets was not quite right on me. The length looked off for some reason. The problem originates in the practice of stock or standard patterns and sizes that make ready-to-wear (RTW) possible. All RTW garments are cut off of standard patterns that are based on the "average" person for a given size. The problem is that very few exactly fit the average model.

In my case, I find that the jacket length of most stock sizes are too long for me. So what is the appropriate length of a jacket? I wish I had read this AskAndy thread on coat lengths years ago. The basic rule of thumb is that the back of the coat should cover the seat of one's pants. There are two other, less reliable guides: (1) the jacket ends at the thumb knuckle and (2) the jacket is half of the distance from the bottom of the neck collar to the ground.

Case in point: I was standing in line recently at Walt Disney Hall for tickets to a concert featuring the pianist Lang Lang and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. I saw one gentleman walk up wearing a classic outfit - a single-breasted navy blazer with medium grey flannel trousers. The only problem was that his blazer was far too long, extending below his fingers. Needless to say, it disrupted the entire look and balance of his ensemble.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bespoke in West Hollywood: A visit to Giacomo Trabalza

Today I decided to drop by Mr. Trabalza's workshop on La Cienega just north of Melrose. It's tucked away among other local businesses on this busy street in West Hollywood. A lady answered the door and walked to the back workroom and brought out the tailor. I didn't have an appointment but wanted to see what Trabalza would recommend for me as a walk-in visitor looking to become a potential customer.

I was wearing a recently made MTM blazer and trousers and asked him what he would do if he were to make a suit for me. What I had read about his preference for raised shoulders and shaped waists was indeed true. He went to the shoulder first, placed his palms on my shoulders and pressed in and up slightly, saying that he would raise and narrow the shoulder a bit. He said he'd also shape the waist just a bit more. But it's all a matter of a quarter inch here or there, nothing drastic. Trabalza liked the length of my blazer (which was reassuring to hear as I had heard he liked longer coat lengths). For my build, he said he was looking at the relationship between my shoulder width (fairly broad) and chest/waist (not as built or broad). Good point, I thought. But I was most impressed when he moved in to take a closer look at the shoulder of my blazer, stating succinctly, "Brooks Brothers". As a matter of fact, I was wearing a MTM Brooks Bros blazer.

I mentioned I had read the recent Robb Report article on him and Joe Centofanti. I also heard a bit about him from Victor, a salesman who works at Brooks Bros. Trabalza also mentioned that he was interviewed recently again (though I didn't catch the name of the publication). It seemed his business has been doing quite well. He said that for a few months last year it was incredibly busy but things have since tapered off to a more manageable level. On the long table near the front of the store, he pointed out three packages of suits and jackets that were being sent to customers living outside of California. On one of the walls, Trabalza has photos of Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarznegger, The Rock and others. With such high profile clientele, it is perhaps no surprise that he sees he has no need for advertising (cf. my previous entry on marketing 201 for tailors).

He's been working in the trade since he was 14 years old, which is a remarkable span of time. In two or three years, he mentioned it might be time to retire. Incidentally, this means that the two leading bespoke (or bench) tailors of Los Angeles - Giacomo Trabalza and Jack Taylor - might be retiring at roughly the same time. If you're thinking of going bespoke in LA, now's the time to start considering it.

The only question remaining is whether Trabalza will be able to find and groom a successor to his business. Whoever it is, he needs to be a tailor, Trabalza said. I hope he finds some takers. The other trait that he recommends for this business is having a real passion for tailoring. That explains why he's been in the trade for more than seven decades and still going strong.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Marketing 201 for tailors: Pourquoi le web site?

Back in April 2005, I wrote a "marketing 101" entry for bespoke tailors and thought a recent discussion thread I created would be a useful sequel. A few weeks ago I posted a marketing related thread on AskAndy about the web as an underutilized marketing channel for tailors, shirtmakers and other bespoke artisans. I listed a few examples of tailors and workshops such as Anderson & Sheppard, Knize and Caraceni (Rome) who continue to operate today without a website.

One customer of Anderson & Sheppard mentioned that the firm believes websites violate their no advertising policy. The thread generated fairly vigorous arguments for and against a tailor such as Anderson & Sheppard (probably the largest tailor on Savile Row) having a website. A major point of contention was the mistaken notion of websites as purely vehicles of advertising.

This is an unfortunate misconception since websites are much more than that. In fact websites:

(1) Create a highly convenient channel to convey inbound inquiries, orders and other types of communication from existing, former and potential customers to the merchant or maker
(2) Build brand loyalty (every business has a brand, the web is just another way to build it)
(3) Enhance customer service (both inbound/outbound)
(4) Educate/convert consumers

Fundamentally, my premise is simple: a well-executed, integrated website can only help a business rather than harm it.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Custom or made-to-measure neckties

I've seen vintage neckties around 2.5" wide and 50" long. These days the standard tie size is about 3.75" wide and 58-60" long. This "standard" size seems to have gotten wider and longer over the years. Consequently, I have always had a devilishly difficult time finding ready to wear ties shorter and narrower than the current standard. Somewhat belatedly I've realized the answer to my cravat conundrum is going custom or made to measure.

Of course, the question now becomes - who makes a custom tie these days? Not very many I have found. Particularly scarce are US custom tiemakers. This AskAndy thread on a rumored Brooks Brothers custom tie program enumerates the limited possibilities. The Brooks program remains just a rumor at this point. While there are some very well-known custom tiemakers overseas (Marinella, Charvet, Turnbull & Asser), I prefer at this time to work with a domestic source.

The only US sources I know of are Robert Talbott, Tiecrafters, Seigo (NYC), Anthony Kirby and Mulberrywood. Talbott is the most well-known but I am most intrigued by Mulberrywood, a small workshop in Denver run by David Hober and his wife. As described in the AskAndy thread, Mulberrywood will be soon offering English silks in addition to their Italian and Thai silks. They offer both made to measure ties cut to any width and length and a custom woven silk design option, which is rather unusual I think.

In the new year, I look forward to Mulberrywood's new English silks and potentially ordering my first custom tie. Happy new year 2006!