How to hold trunk shows

Friday, September 14th 2018
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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