The problem with made-to-measure suits in most of Europe is that they are an afterthought.
Most of the high-street brands offer made-to-measure, where a tailor takes somewhere between eight and twenty measurements and creates a block for the factory to make your suit by. Hackett offers it, Austin Reed offers it. So do Aquascutum and foreign chains such as Massimo Dutti, or American chains such as Brooks Brothers.
But they are all afterthoughts – a desk and book of swatches lies at the back of the store, waiting without much anticipation for that customer who wants something a little more personal.
And that is how it is often sold, as the opportunity to customise your suit or shirt. Pick your lining, pick your buttons, have your initials sown into the cuff. Well if that’s all you want, it would be a lot easier to take your shirts to a tailor willing to sow something onto them for you. Or even to replace the lining.
The real selling point of made-to-measure (one that is rarely used in these high street stores – as they rarely try to sell the service at all) is that the suit actually fits. Few people can pick up a suit which is measured by one thing – your chest size – and have it fit them well. Even if you pay for a few alterations here and there.
As the subject of my last posting, Hardy Amies has it: “Normal figure: There is no such animal. You may be ‘stock’ size so far as chest and leg measurements are concerned, but it is 99% certain that you will have some idiosyncrasy of figure that makes you not abnormal but simply individual.”
Everyone should buy made-to-measure if they can. And they may be able to, thanks to the launch of Suit Supply in the UK. This Dutch brand launched on December 12 last year, setting up shop at 9 Vigo Street – at the head of Savile Row. It offers made-to-measure from £300 for its English wools and £600 for the Italians.
It can be that cheap because everything is geared to economies of scale. It has its own factory. It can mass-order fabrics. It offers the three most popular colours (mid-grey, charcoal, navy) at the cheapest price, because these are ordered in the greatest volume. As made-to-measure is its main business, there is someone on the shop floor dedicated to that service.
A computerised ordering system tells the factory immediately whether your stance is stooped or straight, whether your right arm is a little shorter than your left, and how high up you like the waist of your trousers. It is made-to-measure, made efficient.
(Have a look at www.suitsupply.co.uk. The website is pretty fun as well – try dragging the pictures around! Those in the US, you may have to wait a while for this to come your way. It’s only Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK so far.)