Monday, March 31, 2008

Updated: Survey for bespoke customers

Update: Thanks to all those who have filled out the survey! The response has been great and I will leave the survey active on Surveymonkey. If you encounter any issues with the survey, please post a comment or send an email to sleevehead [at] Regarding publication, I am hoping to publish the results in my forthcoming book if I get a fairly decent sample size. Otherwise, I'll publish the summary results on my blog and hopefully a forum or two.

If you're a customer of bespoke clothing, I invite you to take a ten minute survey that I've created. I'm conducting some primary research into men's bespoke buying habits and preferences. Every additional response will increase the robustness of the data collected.

Thanks and feel free to copy and send the link to a friend who's into bespoke!

Click here to take survey

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Paris part 2: Camps de Luca

My final stop in Paris was Camps de Luca on Place de la Madeleine. When I walked up to the second floor and stepped into the atelier, I asked for someone who could speak English and out came Charles de Luca who is the young cutter, tailor and heir to the de Luca name. Charles is quite passionate about his work and legacy and that is reflected in the time and effort he very graciously lent me in showing the tailoring and workrooms.

Camps de Luca

One of the first things he said was, “Let me talk about the chest.” He took me to the workroom in the back and pulled out a sample chestpiece. In the de Luca chest, the layers are pressed and shaped to create a very distinct ripple or drape in the chest. He pushed the chest piece together between his index finger and thumb to indicate the swell. This, he said, is the “power point” for the Camps de Luca cut, creating a shaped chest. I found the chest treatment (and his explanation) absolutely fascinating. If you like Kilgour, for example, you might find its Continental cousin right here at Place de la Madeleine.

Camps de Luca

Regarding the chest, Charles noted the Italians (especially the Neapolitans I would note) like to keep the chest “free” and easy. He also noted that he will take away padding depending on the shoulder of the client. The norm at Camps de Luca is usually 2-3 fittings.

Other salient elements in the de Luca cut and style: roped sleevehead, the Camps revers and details such as the ingenious little raindrop pocket (in the left lower front). He also showed another fine detail: the finishing of the side vents in which the matching fabric on the inside is folded and pressed over to match the outside flap.

Charles very kindly allowed me to walk through the workrooms and take photos of the various workstations. As you can see, they maintain specialized workers for buttonholes, lining attachment, etc.

Camps de Luca

Camps de Luca

Quite astutely, Charles describes bespoke as an education unto itself for clients today, to which I agreed wholeheartedly. Today's customer is different from the customers of yesteryear. But the future looks bright as increasing coverage in French men's magazines such as Edgar and Monsieur seems to suggest. They also have a new website up and running. As we wrapped up, Charles kindly offered to send me over to his bespoke shoemaker, Pierre Corthay. He phoned the store and said Pierre himself would be there to receive me. Now that is indeed hospitality! Many thanks to Charles for spending part of his afternoon with me.

A concluding note to Paris. As a group, Parisian bespoke offers an intriguing hybrid of Savile Row and the Italians (Rome in particular). My Parisian visit might be subtitled “Notes on the chest”. Indeed, it has strengthened my view that the chest and shoulder must be considered in unison. On the discussion forums, nearly everyone focuses on the shoulder, neglecting its necessary counterpart, the chest.

Additional links
- London Lounge thread on Parisian style and Camps de Luca suits from the 1950s
- Sleevehead post with TF1 video clip of Camps de Luca

Paris part 1: Cifonelli and Smalto


From London, I hopped onto the Eurostar to Paris and embarked at the spanking new Pancras train station, now a dedicated terminus for the high-speed rail link to the continent. My goal was to visit a few of the heirs of the "Parisian five" tailors. Cifonelli was first up and quite impressive (pardon the temporary scaffolding).


I stopped by their retail storefront on rue Marbeuf and asked the salesman if he spoke English. He did and called the workshop upstairs. A few minutes later Massimo Cifonelli kindly walked down and took me up to the second floor rooms used for measuring and fitting their bespoke customers.


The Cifonelli cut is distinctive in three ways according to Massimo. I shall defer a more detailed description on this for my book but suffice to say that they involve the chest, sleevehead and shoulder. Massimo's grandfather created this system for comfort and ease of upper body movement. He came up with this system after working in Savile Row and then modifying those techniques to his own vision. The Cifonelli cut is also characterized by a fairly fitted waist (similar to Camps de Luca). The shoulder is straight and slightly roped (“une cigarette”).

Massimo himself prefers the double-breasted suit. He was wearing a black 6x2, which is the preferred DB style he likes to make (I asked about the 4x2 style, which he said could be done but he seemed less enamored with it). He was also wearing a black shirt and black/white patterned tie. Very Parisian, stylish and quite different from the Anglo-Saxon and American sense of style. Another detail of his suit: flared sleeves with one button closures. As he says, the beauty of bespoke is that the customer can change anything. My favorite quote of his during my visit: “You must have a mistake somewhere in your look. You can't look perfect.” In other words, one needs to strike a dissonance, if you will, a minor key somewhere in one's sartorial register.

Massimo obligingly brought out several examples of their work including a completed travel jacket in tweed (with half-lining) and a jacket in basted fitting stage. The level of handwork looked excellent (handstitching in lining attachments, handpadded lapels).


The firm takes up the entire second floor, employing four cutters and nearly 40 workers. Fabrics include: W. Bills, Holland & Sherry, Drapers.


Overall, I was struck by the precision of it all - the operations, the cut, the personality. Monsieur Cifonelli himself strikes me as being a very precise and exacting individual. This precision carries through to their documentation. I was impressed by their distinctive and meticulous customer measurement document: a bifolio sheet in thicker linen-based paper embossed with the Cifonelli logo. The second page displays a swirling constellation of variously sized circles containing key measurements (You can catch a glimpse of this document in the slideshow below or here). Whereas most tailoring establishments seem to record customer measurements in a simple notebook or plain sheets of paper, Cifonelli has a system, a plan, a method. I can definitely see how this would appeal to the left-brained sartorialist. C'est logique!

Francesco Smalto

After Cifonelli, I took a quick stroll down rue Marbeuf to Smalto's couture boutique and walked upstairs to the bespoke section. Or rather, to the haute couture section as the saleswoman on the first floor naturally called it. On the second floor, I managed to communicate in elementary French with a salesman.

Francesco Smalto

The starting price for a couture suit is 6,700 euros and normally takes six weeks. There are no US visits. The cut is a structured, straight (or slightly pagoda-like) shoulder with distinct roping and a clean chest. Keep in mind the firm does not, as far as I know, retain the family connection as do Cifonelli and Camps de Luca. But the model suit certainly looked superb for those interested in the Continental style (note the cran Necker notch style).

Smalto bespoke jacket

If you are interested in Smalto bespoke, be sure to bring your best conversational French with you. The saleswomen on the first floor did not speak English nor did the salesmen upstairs. Next stop: Camps de Luca at Place de la Madeleine.

Additional links
- L'internaute video clip (Feb 2008) on Cifonelli. In the video, you'll see Massimo wearing a grey suit in the trim-looking Cifonelli cut.

- L'internaute slideshow (Feb 2008) on Cifonelli

- Styleforum thread on Smalto

Monday, March 10, 2008

BBC4 documentary on Savile Row

For those who were unable to view this three-part series on Savile Row, it is now (unofficially) available for download on the web.  See this Styleforum thread for more details.  

Off Savile Row: A walk by 6-7 Sackville St

Jones Chalk & Dawson / Tom Brown / Brian Russell / Ward & Kruger / Meyer & Mortimer

6 Sackville St

Meyer & Mortimer were tailors to the original dandy himself - Beau Brummell.

Fallan & Harvey

Fallan & Harvey

London: Foster & Son, Anderson & Sheppard, Norton & Sons and Gieves & Hawkes

In late February I visited a number of cities (London, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Florence and Naples) primarily to research a few critical items for a book project. I shall roll out my commentary on each city in that order. The first city was London and my first stop there was Foster & Son.

Foster & Son

I dropped by in the mid-afternoon for an appointment with Foster's principal lastmaker Terry Moore and chairman Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson. My purpose was both pleasure and business: to order a pair of punched captoe oxfords and to chat with Mr. Edgecliffe-Johnson.

Foster visit

What did I order? The lovely punched captoe model on display in the showroom (from 1954!) with slightly antique finishing and fitted waist. The measurements took just 20 minutes and involved the following: an outline/tracing of my feet while standing up and several measurements taken of each foot.

Foster visit

Terry also examined each foot by hand and made some remarkably astute observations about my feet and the way I distribute my weight when I walk. It goes without saying he's a highly skilled and experienced cordwainer whose eyes and hands can make some startlingly accurate inferences about his customers. I also learned that Terry will make a separate last for slip-ons (at least in my case since I have fairly bony feet).

Foster visit

Back in the day, Terry used to travel quite extensively when he worked for Peal until around 1965 – twice yearly in the US to a dozen cities or more including NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans and also Japan.

Foster visit

Afterwards both Terry and Richard kindly took me upstairs for a tour of the workshop and a fascinating discussion of Foster's history and the history of London shoemaking. One of their projects is to search back into the archives and pull out interesting historical material. For instance, Richard mentioned finding a 1901 West End Bootmakers' Association membership list mentioning some 52 bespoke shoemakers in London at the time. Today that membership list reaches a grand total of just four: Foster, Cleverley, Lobb and James Taylor (who specialize in orthopaedic footwear).

Foster visit

Times have changed in terms of the craft as well. As of today, there is no true trade school for lastmaking in the city. In the past, the Cordwainer's School served this purpose. Terry graduated from this school but today it is folded into the London College of Fashion and is focused more on the design rather than the craft aspect. Richard also mentioned that Foster would be introducing an Edward Green line (with specially designed lasts if I heard correctly).

Foster visit

In my tour upstairs, I met Emma (pictured above) and another young fellow (Micky I believe was his name), two of Terry's pupils and current lastmakers.

All in all, this was quite an enjoyable visit and set of conversations. Thanks to Terry Moore's expertise and experience, Foster has trained and developed a young and capable team of cordwainers and, equally important, the firm is led by a dedicated and enthusiastic management team. My thanks to them for sharing their stories and work with me.

Anderson & Sheppard

Before my visit with the direct heirs of the Scholte cut, I stopped by Kilgour to pick out some cloths from the Lesser 8/9 oz tropical book, adjust a pair of trousers and to chat with Will, one of the younger cutters at 8 Savile Row. We both had a good laugh regarding one scene in the BBC documentary on Savile Row. But it was a quick stop because I needed to visit Anderson & Sheppard.

Conventional wisdom says A&S embodies the old, stuffy Savile Row – rather formal and intimidating. Nonsense. My visit late this afternoon was quite the opposite and all the more noteworthy because it was unannounced and unscheduled (as actually all of my visits were on this trip save Foster above). They had no idea who I was and whether I intended to be a customer or not. Despite that, they were quite accommodating and I enjoyed chatting with Colin Heywood and John Hitchcock. There was a buzz of activity when I arrived due to the regular run of business but also because the final episode of the BBC documentary on Savile Row had just aired.

A&S cutting room

Hitchcock graciously offered to show me the workroom which is one of a kind on the Row now that workrooms are being moved systematically to the basement level. The room used to be a conservatory when the building was a residence. Hence it enjoys the fall of natural light through the skylight. Looking around, I have to agree that it is indeed a marvelous room to cut and sew clothes together.

A&S cutting room

Note how high and tightly cut those armholes are on Mr. Hitchcock's colleague above.

Heywood did an excellent job explaining the A&S cut by taking down the window mannequin (with the grey flannel jacket). For those who favor the soft round shoulder, A&S has historically been the tailor of choice should you be based in London. In the interests of equal opportunity, I should mention that Thomas Mahon, Steve Hitchcock and Edwin DeBoise of Steed - all A&S trained - also merit a serious look for those requiring the soft tailoring approach.

Times have indeed changed with regard to flexibility to customer requirements. Flexibility is certainly part of the offering these days. Plys of padding may be added on request or due to a dropped shoulder (say two ply on a dropped shoulder). Lapel width can also vary though the width will be kept in proportion. The most distinctive jacket style according to Colin: the single-breasted jacket with 3-2 button roll through. I must say that grey flannel jacket on the mannequin had me seriously tempted to order an odd sports jacket that afternoon. But fiscal discipline prevailed that day.

Additional links
- W Magazine article (March 2008) on Anda Rowland, vice-chairman of A&S

Norton & Sons / Gieves & Hawkes

Rounding out the day in Savile Row were two quick visits to Norton & Sons and Gieves & Hawkes. At Norton I chatted briefly with Patrick Grant, who appears in the BBC documentary. Norton's suit production is just 200 suits per year, which allows them a firm handle on quality. He was a bit short of time as they were preparing to go to Brussels the next day for two major customers.

From our conversation, I gathered that the Norton cut is somewhere between Poole and Huntsman. Back in the 1970s, John Grainger was the head cutter and now John Kent and David Ward have assumed that role. Kent is one of the most experienced cutters on the Row – some 40 years of experience and a trusted source for other tailors. Example: Another tailor asked for his advice on making an Inverness cape as he had not made one for more than ten years.

Final stop of the day was Gieves & Hawkes, which has focused in recent years on its RTW business by the look and feel of its retail space. It was near closing time when I met John Blanco, general manager. But I did manage to examine a bespoke morning coat on a mannequin, which looked solidly constructed. G&H offers a selection of 25,000 cloths and are in the process of redesigning the layout of their bespoke department. In my next visit, I plan to email ahead to schedule a one hour appointment for a proper tour.

The next city on my itinerary was Paris where I had some fascinating discussions with a couple of scions of the Parisian tailoring scene (Camps de Luca and Cifonelli). Hope to write that blog entry shortly.