Monday, September 03, 2007

The next bespoke frontier: China

This AskAndy thread on Henry Poole's recent expansion into mainland China has ruffled more than a few feathers. I have a different perspective. Assuming the original post is genuinely representative of Henry Poole's activities, I think the objections raised in the thread are rather missing the larger point. There are in fact emerging trends in supply and demand for bespoke clothing that make Poole's activities in China (as well as Kilgour's and Davies & Son's) quite justifiable and even savvy.

Consumer demand and growth. China is one of the fastest growing luxury goods markets in the world. According to this excellent Wharton article, China is already the third largest luxury goods market globally. China's growth will most likely follow the American model of postwar growth - middle-class driven and consumption-oriented. When the economy matures fully in the next two decades, it will probably be the largest market not only for luxury goods but for a wide swath of goods and services. Here are some numbers to think about. Currently, there are 400 million middle class consumers in China. The Chinese middle class alone exceeds the gross population of the US and that number is growing by 20-30 million per annum.

Replicating the supply chain - go for the trifecta. Skilled tailors are in short supply across mature industrial economies, especially Europe and the US. Let's not get into the reasons for this shortfall, except to say job expectations among the young in the workforce have shifted elsewhere. Where in the world are people willing (and eager) to learn a labor intensive skill? Ah yes, that would be China. Of course, there are cost efficiencies to be gained by locating in China. But the smart move for a tailoring firm would be to take advantage of all three factors: the available skilled labor pool, low wages and a potentially massive local market to fund growth and operations.

For example, Davies & Sons is behind this Anglo-Chinese effort to transfer Savile Row production methods to China. Although the pictures of their joint training workshops are interesting, even more intriguing is the fact that bespoke tailoring is part of an artisanal tradition as depicted by this tailoring museum in Ningbo. Given the right mix of trainers and tradition, I think it's quite possible for Savile Row techniques to be transplanted successfully.

In summary, if I were a Poole (or Kilgour, etc) director, I would most certainly have a China strategy, both for supply chain reasons and medium to long-term growth opportunities. To not have one would be very short-sighted.

Update: Interestingly enough, Sartoria Partenope, a Neapolitan RTW brand, is opening up a store in Beijing according to this AskAndy thread. Opportunity is knocking, as they say.

Additional links
- Wharton article on China's recent quality woes and the idea of quality fade
- An AskAndy thread on the apparent oxymoron of Chinese luxury goods

Bel y Cia update: Teba jacket

I normally avoid posting photos of jackets on hangers mainly because they often look rather lifeless or less than flattering. Nonetheless, below is a picture of my MTM Teba jacket from Bel y Cia. It has four buttons and displays an impressive amount of lapel roll (to second button). Keep in mind the Teba's practical and hunting heritage - hence the four buttons. There are also two collar buttons underneath the lapel that can be fastened. The jacket features a patch breast pocket, two patch pockets and one interior chest pocket. The color I chose was an olive-gray, which is swatch #24 (see photos of the two swatch books in my earlier entry on Bel y Cia).

Bel y Cia Teba jacket

Bel y Cia Teba jacket (flickr)

In terms of construction, it is entirely unpadded and unlined except for a small area on each side of the upper chest. The shoulder is constructed like a shirt shoulder rather than a normal jacket shoulder. Buttonholes are handmade and straight seams appear to be machine-sewn. Since the jacket is MTM, I should also note that the armhole is larger than on my bespoke jackets.

Overall, I am very pleased with the jacket and will probably think about ordering a linen version for the summer. This I can order over the phone or email since I have no adjustments to make on the jacket. For anyone traveling to Barcelona to place an order, I recommend getting measured twice and being quite specific about waist suppression and sleeve length. I did both and these contributed to the end product. And don't forget to pick up the two swatch books for future orders.

Note: Spelling correction made from Tiba jacket to Teba jacket. Updated photo 12/8/08

Additional links
- London Lounge thread on the Teba jacket

New fabric: 3-ply glenplaid

I recently acquired a length of medium brown glenplaid with pink overcheck woven by an English mill. The ground is actually a bit darker than the swatch photo. Weight is 320g (11oz) and it's a robust 3-ply weave with a very firm yet feathery hand and dry finish.

Dark brown glencheck

Harold at Novex just recently finished completing a 2 piece suit out of it for me. Here's the finished product:

Novex SB brown glenplaid 02Novex SB brown glenplaid 01

He prefers making a straight Roman-style shoulder and full cut trousers. The shoulder of this particular suit has about half of the usual shoulder padding he uses. The tie is made by Sam Hober and the shirt by Freddy Vandecasteele.

Vienna update: Knize, Netousek, Maftei, Materna, Balint

I came across this recent report on Viennese tailors and shoemakers by LL member smoothjazzone. He provides a nice update to my purely web-based reportage nearly 2 years ago on Knize and Netousek.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Fellow blogger Will recently visited Cifonelli, the iconic tailor of the Continental shoulder, described in this entry. His visit confirms the presence of significant handwork and handpadding in their jackets.

Photo essay: A visual history of the blazer

Today is photo essay catch-up day. Take a look at this nice photo essay on the blazer by AskAndy member Doctor Damage.

Photo essay: Retail menswear circa 1916-1921

One of the little joys found on clothing forums is the virtual photo essay. Some of the essays can be real gems. This is an AskAndy thread showing the window displays of an early 20th century Buffalo retailer called Weed.

I especially liked the well-proportioned 4x2 and 6x3 double breasted jackets, sportswear (e.g. Norfolk jackets) and outerwear.