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!