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.