How to hold trunk shows

Friday, September 14th 2018
Share
||- Begin Content -||

Last week a reader stopped me on the street.

He asked me why a certain tailor, who will remain nameless, hadn’t yet returned to London for his next fitting – and wasn’t answering emails.

I understand why he asked me. I had introduced him to the tailor by writing a post, after all, and recommended the final product.

But I can’t, of course, start interceding on behalf of all of the thousands of readers that have problems with scores of artisans mentioned on Permanent Style.

I can provide a forum for such complaints. Consistent complaints can inform whether I continue to recommend a maker. And I can write posts telling artisans generally to pull their bloody finger out.

It shouldn’t be that hard.

This isn’t e-commerce, where everyone expects next-day delivery, free returns, and email replies within 24 hours. (Indeed, where often that’s the only thing that separates one online shop from another.)

This is bespoke. The customer is already prepared to pay more and wait longer than in any other area of retail.

All they generally want is communication and consistency.

At a minimum, before an artisan sets out to begin trunk shows, they should be able to:

  • Say when they are going to return, at least twice a year and ideally 4-6 times.
  • Follow through on it. Perhaps the most important point. Customers are prepared to wait if they know they’re definitely waiting a certain time.
  • Carry on visiting until a commission is finished. Once an artisan knows they are going to stop coming, give notice and find a way to finish existing orders.
  • Communicate consistently. Don’t start giving out your mobile number, but answer all emails within 3-4 days of receiving them - even if it's just to say that you will reply fully the next week.
  • Communicate clearly and honestly. If a piece is likely to be delayed, say so. And say it before the appointment, so a customer doesn’t turn up and find there’s nothing there.

This shouldn’t be a lot. I’m aiming for a bare minimum.

Yet it always surprises me how many artisans ask me about coming to London – for example – without having considered these things. With no plan on what to do if it doesn’t work out.

These requirements mean that starting trunk shows is a big commitment.

It means the costs of travel and accommodation for at least a year of visits, which will definitely – unless you charge big margins – make a loss.

But this is what bespoke is all about. It’s about the long term, about repeat customers, about building a relationship. Anyone that doesn’t realise that hasn’t been running a bespoke business very long.

I remember when I was helping Luigi Solito (above right) and Luca Avitabile come to London for the first time.

On the first visit, Luca had three or four customers; Luigi had none. Luca has no minimum for shirts, so it was an easy thing to start with.

On the second visit, Luca had five or six; Luigi still had none. But there were a couple of inquiries.

Now, several years later, Luigi has dozens of clients, Luca even more. Their problem is trying to fit everyone in (they can’t just come for more days, because everyone wants to come on a Friday or a Saturday).

Saman Amel (above) grew quicker, but the story has been similar. A couple of appointments at the start, followed by rather more when I reviewed the tailoring, and then more still when I covered the knitwear.

The knitwear has proved an interesting gateway drug for them, in the same way shirts were with Luca and Luigi.

Saman and Dag are also now having to come more to fit everyone in – four days recently, rather than two in the past.

Dag at Saman Amel is much better on communication than Luca and Luigi. But the latter always came consistently, and usually delivered.

Stoffa are the best in class – sending email reminders about upcoming shows as well as confirmations of appointments.

And I’m sure one reason Elia Caliendo (below) has proved so popular in London is that he comes frequently and always delivers what he says he will. (Even if he, too, could be better on email.)

Tailors, shoemakers, shirtmakers: please, don’t start travelling until you can do so regularly and professionally.

If you do it wrong, poor experience can damage a reputation for years. And in many cases, the brand is your name – your personal reputation, not just that of a company.

I love bespoke, crafted menswear, but it can often be let down by service.

Hopefully this piece – and me pointing it out to anyone that asks about travelling – will help in some small way to improve it.

Photography: All Jamie Ferguson or Permanent Style

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
49 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Carl

This is so true! I gave up on Graham Browne and Simone Abbarchi because they didnt live up to their promises. Graham Browne never replied and didnt want to return to Stockholm (with ongoing projects) and Simone never kept promises on delivery times.

Graham Browne

Hi Carl Apologies that you feel this way, we haven’t been to Stockholm in a while and we always respond to questions and emails. I have had a quick look and I can’t seem to find an email.
Being a small independent business taking we take pride in our customer service and keeping our clients happy so please send an email to us and we will try and help wherever we can.
Best wishes.

Carl

It was many years ago. You did good work but it seemed that you didnt have time to prioritze. In the end I had to go to London for the last fitting. The meetings with Russell was great but it seemed that you had too much to do.

Kevin

I had the same experience with Graham Browne but different location (NYC) approximately 6 years ago. Made an appointment off of Simon’s recommendation/review and ordered two suits. Months and months (beyond the original timeframe given) went by along with a multitude of emails that went unanswered. I finally reached out to Simon who was nice enough to contact G&B on my behalf as I literally was starting to think I got scammed or something. They finally mailed me the suits and they were nice enough quality but I didn’t get the chance to have a fitting done with them as they weren’t sure when they were coming back and quite frankly at that point I just wanted to move on from the whole experience. Stoffa on the other hand, to Simon’s point, are outstanding as they perfect the customer experience. Constant communication whether good or bad, as evidenced recently regarding a delay as due to a Hurricane affecting delivery. I think Simon really hit the nail on the head, we’re paying more and expecting a long wait to begin with, all we ask is an occasional update and reasonable response time to our questions.

David Carter

Great to see you standing up for your readers and pushing for higher standards Simon.

Jeff from Chicago

I am glad this was written and I agree with Simon on just about all of it.

It is frustrating at times, even after reminding myself that these are small shops, true artisans etc., –

I would agree Stoffa is excellent with updates, and return times on email.

It would also be nice if the artisans would post (consistently) their travel schedule – so one could plan in advance. Often times I learn of a trunk show on instagram a week before they’re here.

H

Agree with your comments on Stoffa – probably starting to get annoying how much I bang on about them but they really do provide such a first class service. Because of where the trunk shows physically are, and the fact they fall on Saturdays, I actually tend to find them easier to deal with than a lot of London based tailors despite the lack of a permanent physical presence.

Off-topic: have you ever tried Rubinacci’s cashmere knitwear? I’d usually guess you’re paying quite a lot for brand and design with them – but skoaktiebolaget has a few nice sweaters on sale right now for £213 and I’m deciding between that and another Luca Faloni piece as my first new cashmere purchase of the season! Is there likely to be much difference in quality?

James

Luca R, rather than Luca F, I assume Simon?

Thanks

Adam jones

When I first started having things made by visiting tailors (shirtmakers popular on PS) time was my issue but after a while that became secondary to consistency. Whilst shirts were ready on time consistency of product and delivering what was asked for became and issue. All this while prices were increasing. I personally think some of that has to do with popularity. It was clear that order numbers we increasing every time I went and maybe demand was becoming difficult to keep up with? I personally would rather less visits with more consistency.

Keith

Simon,

Since April, I have seen Gianni and Luca (Sartoria Vergallo) during their monthly London trunk shows. The service has been consistent and I’ve been very pleased with the results so far (I’m having a jacket and a suit made). For anyone in London looking for a good and reliable Italian tailor, I can strongly recommend Gianni.

Anonymous

I have to agree with you. Gianni and Luca are extremely reliable.

Anonymous

Surely “Trunk Shows” is not an apt description in this context? These are visiting tailors, nothing more. They are not coming to display their merchandise, which is what a trunk show really is.

Simon you really should try and educate your readers.

Mansy

Yeah, Simon!! You really should try. I suggest starting a blog where you publish invaluable content three times a week to help your readers.

I’m pretty sure the visiting tailors use trunks to transport their fabric books and client garments so “trunk show” works for me. But I know what you mean Anonymous, I went to a car boot sale and a bloke was selling stuff out of the back of a transit. I nearly vomited with pedantry.

Michael

Article right on the money…
I have contacted Ciardi 3 times by email enquiring about an appointment in London during their next visit and they never reply…
Even Solito and Luca Avitabile have become less reliable having now grown their business and (Luca) having moved into RTW…

willingtolearn

I recently visited a trunk show of a traveling Italian tailor that also does ties. The tailoring looked nice, and I considered working with the shop, but chose to simply order a custom tie first. The representative seemed a bit put out, but the idea that on the first visit every appointment would be commissioning bespoke is clearly unrealistic. Missed delivery times and having to follow up via email several times cinched the decision for me that I won’t be using them for a bespoke suit if they can’t deliver a tie on time and without repeated pressure…

It goes to my general rule, I don’t order on the first visit. I like to see the regular return and listen in the local market for feedback from others. I know that hurts the tailors financially, but understanding the idea of the first few trips being “loss leaders” is key.

Since someone mentioned Simone Abbarchi, I will stick up for his performance with me. I may have to nudge him on timing of delivery, but often only once and he is wholly committed to making things right if you are not happy. A recent order had too much shrinkage in the sleeves (140 material) and he, without a second’s hesitation, offered to remake the sleeves.

I’ll also put in a plug for my favorite traveling (to NYC) Neapolitan tailor, Napoli su Misura. They are reliable as clock work, here 4 times a year, and fully committed to always making things right; to a fault from a business point of view in some cases I fear. Their reliability has been very strong the last 3 years after I think going through a growing pain period.

Ralph

I did something similar to you in taking a suit to a tailor for alteration (they offer it as one of their services) because I was considering commissioning a bespoke suit from them. When I returned they hadn’t made one of the alterations (a buttonhole) and it took several more visits and phone calls before they completed the work. I found another tailor!

Richard T

Really good to read your comments re Vergallo, Keith (and Simon). I have my first meeting with Gianni and Luca in London next week. I’m just giving visiting Italian tailors (to add variety to U.K. Tailoring by W&S, G&H and a Northern MTM operation) and shirt makers a try – Vergallo next week and Simone Abbarchi last week. I found the appointment with Simone to be very good and he was highly engaged, responsive to my needs, with good, helpful suggestions. I’m looking forward to meeting Gianni and Luca next week and am encouraged by your comments.
Thanks, both.

Winot

This is an excellent piece and the lessons apply equally to London-based businesses.

I sympathise with the difficulty of organising a small business that has growth spurts, but communication is the key to customer satisfaction and craftspeople are – on the whole – not great at it.

I know you were setting a bare minimum but I think 3-4 days to answer an email is too slow in the age of the smartphone. I suspect many of the people who can afford the high prices of bespoke are in professional services themselves (e.g. I am a lawyer) and are used to their own clients wanting at least an acknowledgment within 24 hours. There’s no reason why tailors can’t do the same.

Gonzague

Do most tailors raise trunk show prices and by how much on average?

David G

I’ve just read the “anonymous” comment about “Trunk Shows” and have to agree with it.

Why do you call it this Simon?

David G

Really?

Anonymous

Quality is of course important but service will always trump quality. A defect in garment quality can always be remedied if quality service is given. No artisan,however talented they may be,is worth the aggravation or price if they cannot deliver quality service commensurate with the presumed quality of their product. Artisans. to become commercially successful,must also become business people if they expect to succeed long term.

Will

Trunk shows are very tricky business. If you live in London, Paris, anywhere in Italy, Tokyo/Osaka, increasingly Hong Kong — just stick with the best local options. If you live in New York, Berlin, Shanghai, Beijing, possibly Singapore — fine, trunk shows. Anywhere else, good luck.

Kenny

I agree totally. In England, there are several regional tailors who offer quality bespoke services at reasonable prices, i.e. well below those of Savile Row and Mayfair.

Trunk shows are best suited (excuse the pun) to those who seek a specific style, e.g. Neapolitan, Florentine or Milanese tailoring. However, A few tailors in England offer soft tailoring and even Neapolitan features like the spalls camicia.

I would always choose a tailor whom I can call and visit easily. For some, cheap flights to Italy (rather than trunk shows) may be the best option, especially if they are charged local prices.

Kenny

Does anyone know how English Cut has been affected by the forced departure of founder Thomas Mahon? I had heard that Karl Matthews, ex A&S, has replaced him but I can’t find any information on the website.

Is the quality and reliability, including travelling services, better or worse? I would be particularly interested in comments on the MTM options which I am considering for business suits.

Kenny

Thanks for the update – I was not aware that Karl was recruited by Tom. MTM1, from £595 for a full canvassed suit, appears to be very good value. It would be ideal for a travel suit or for commuting in bad weather. MTM2, with its lighter canvas, should be ideal for a summer suit, e.g. a fresco, or sports jacket. I would welcome more opinions or comments on English Cut’s tailoring.

Anonymous

English Cut has been folded into Steed.

David

It may be stating the obvious but poor service is an inevitable consequence of buying from tailors who have overstretched themselves by embarking on expensive, ego driven, overseas travels before they have the structure or expertise to support the expansion.
Many times I’ve been tempted by Simon’s writings but when it comes to commissioning bespoke from traveling tailors I’ve always reigned back.
Horror stories abound.
Frankly A&S can look after my bespoke needs and I can rest easy knowing the service will be good.

Erik Syverson

With Suitmaking, you must go local. This fascination with visiting tailors from Italy or Britain is beyond me. It’s all hype. If there are no local suitmakers then you must go off the rack or made to measure. South wick in the states makes iconic American suits off the rack as good if not better than savile row or neopolitan bespoke . I have plenty of bespoke items from the best and I enjoy southwick every bit as much.

Klas

Simon, are you considering having a trunk show for the items you sell? I’m interested in your trench coat for example but would like to try the items on before buying.

Regards,
Klas

Harry of Monmouth

Trunk Shows v Visiting Tailor, pray tell me the difference ?
Has any one experianced Raja – Fashion (Hong Kong)

Anonymous

Very simple Harry

A trunk show is where a merchant travels and presents a limited range of products with the intention of eliciting orders.

A visiting tailor does not exhibit merchandise.

The two things are not in any way related.

Sachin Mayi

Simon – I love this post. I just came back to Florida after meeting Luca and Luigi in NYC for my first bespoke adventure. I had no idea what to expect and afterwards was thinking of ways I would improve on the experience. I don’t necessarily feel that is the role of the tailors to walk people through the process, especially if the tailors are established and have a waiting list of people coming through the door one after another as was the case when I was there. But it would have been nice if someone had done that for me. I would love to invite Luca and Luigi to come to Florida and see if we could build a market for them here. I wondered what is in it for the holder of the event? How does one pay oneself for setting up an ongoing bespoke experience in their area? Is it pretentious of me to want to hold an event with so little experience?

Mike

These standards are entirely what I’d expect and agree it’s all in the communication and consistency.

Having had such an awful experience with BNTailor (who I also now know produce inconsistent quality, previously highlighted in a review here) and still not having pieces after 2 years, with no sign of a return to London anytime soon; no communication, let alone an apology or any sense that my custom was valued, I have completely lost faith in the ‘online, tailoring marketing machine’.

That you have had to write a post like this Simon, suggests that this is not an experience isolated to one or two artisans. It is a very ugly situation that has made me feel taken advantage of and extremely disappointed.

After this experience, I would not purchase something from anyone whose business I cannot walk in to easily myself.

The whole artisanal community needs to wake up to this and abide to a set of standards and these ones I would agree are the bare minimum.

Richard T

I was just reflecting on some of the comments on communication with and reliability of visiting tailors etc. and my own experiences in that respect. Interestingly, I’ve had no problems with the Italian makers I’ve dealt with, who have been very responsive to email communication. By contrast, by far the worst experiences I’ve had have been here in the UK. Firstly, I had major communication issues with a business which sells entirely online. One would think that an online company would be highly responsive to email, but the reverse was true. After repeated attempts, I gave up. Secondly, I tried to deal with a London based tailor, whose haphazard response to attempts at communication was entirely consistent with the service at his premises. Needless to say, I quickly decided not to engage further. Thankfully, I’ve also had some very good experience with a London tailor, whose communication and face-to-face interaction are consistently excellent.
I guess the point I’m making is that, at least in my experience, there is no correlation between whether or not a tailor/shirtmaker/shoemaker is UK based or overseas in terms of their responsiveness and reliability.

TOS

Simon,
I’m posting a comment under this thread in order to relate my wife’s experience of commissioning bespoke shoes. The process has been wonderful and prompted me to reflect on occasional comments from you and your readers when the experience has been underwhelming.
The maker in question is Caroline Groves, based in the English Cotswolds and the commissioning process started with a phone chat about inspiration and ideas etc. At the first meeting it was very obvious that Caroline had given the brief considerable thought already and she showed various books, images etc to prompt further discussion.
The fittings process duly followed and (despite Covid) a stunning pair of handmade bespoke evening shoes were delivered.
What really prompted me to write was a subsequent rather unexpected website innovation whereby customers can have a personal area on the website into which inspiration, ideas, images etc can be stored – rather as a design dialogue with the maker. This may perhaps be less relevant with classic tailoring but I found the the idea of developing an efficient mechanism for digital design discourse with a bespoke artisan very appealing.
And perhaps it may be an important innovation for some makers in a very uncertain world.
Best wishes.