Blackhorse Lane made-to-measure jeans

Wednesday, May 12th 2021
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About two years ago, I started a process helping Blackhorse Lane set up a made-to-measure system for their jeans. 

Some PS readers took part in an early trial, which mostly went well, but several things - particularly Covid - consistently got in the way. I’m pleased to say that now with shops open again, the service has finally launched

From the outset, my advice was not to offer a full bespoke service. Yes, offerings like Lot No.1 at Levi’s are great, where you’re largely starting from scratch and can invent almost anything. 

But what Blackhorse Lane really needed, and its customers said they wanted, was a reliable way to get jeans that fit them better. Not to design something original. 

The way to get this reliability, I felt, was to start with the jeans Blackhorse Lane already sells, and then tweak them. 

BHL already offers most shapes, rises and sizes as part of its collection. So a customer that comes into the shop can try several rises and find one that’s very close to what they want. They can do the same with the width of the leg, as well as the amount it tapers, and therefore the opening at the hem.

They can effectively put together the fit and style they want from everything that’s on offer - and make minor adjustments where necessary. 

The shop (in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross) also has a huge range of denim on display. So you can pick your material from a made-up pair of jeans as well, rather than a swatch. 

All this should help bring the customer’s expectations and the final result closer together. And therefore make it more likely the customer will go away happy. 

(It always surprises me when an MTO or MTM service doesn’t have a big range to try on, like this. They should really invest in one, and learn from examples of companies like Stoffa - who will usually have every model, cloth and size on display, even if not your particular combination.) 

 

 

As part of the final test for this Blackhorse Lane service, I had a pair made which were then featured in the marketing video above. 

We started with my favourite style, the NW1. Size 32 fits me on the hips and seat, while a 31 is perfect in the waist. So we used the 32 as the model, and matched the waist from a 31. We also raised the front rise a tiny bit, around a centimetre. 

I liked the leg line, which tapers slightly but is fairly straight from the knee down. However I was interested in trying it a touch wider. So we added 1cm to the width, mindful that it would be easy to remove that later (but impossible to add it).

And then we chose the denim. I wanted to try the brighter blue of the Turkish organic denim, particularly having seen how it faded on another customer’s pair. (Having more such jeans on display is another thing I’m encouraging BHL to do - adding yet one more area of predictability.)

The final jeans were great. A tiny bit tighter in the hips than my other NW1s because of the denim, but everything else exactly as expected. 

The service costs £450, with a surcharge of £50 for some rare denims. Once the personal pattern is created, any subsequent pairs are £375. 

This is still obviously expensive, but it's not much more than other premium, ready-made denim, and it's not hard to make a decent cost-per-wear case for great jeans.

The process involves an initial appointment in the store, where models are tried on, adjustments agreed, and the order placed. Usually this is with Lilly who is the pattern cutter at the factory (shown below). 

She makes the unique pattern at the factory in Walthamstow, the jeans are put together, and after three weeks there is a second appointment where they are hemmed (while you wait) to the length preferred. You then walk away with them. 

Currently the service is only offered in store, in person. Repeat customers could potentially be serviced online, but given the whole experience is centred around trying everything in-store - and the predictability that results - it doesn’t make sense to do it remotely while possible. 

Note that you can also request some style changes to the jeans, such as different threads or rivets, a zip fly instead of a button fly, or a vegan patch instead of leather. I will also make sure to photograph my pair sometime soon, to show how those worked out.

There are more details on the Blackhorse Lane MTM service on their site here. Appointments can be made by emailing [email protected] 

By the way, it’s worth saying that I have no commercial interest in the success of this service. Blackhorse Lane say they are likely to want to advertise at some point, which would be nice, but that’s it. My reward was a lovely pair of jeans.

More details on these kind of relationships on this page of PS, as always. 

Clothing worn in the video: Liverano ulster coat, Begg & Co scarf and PS grey watch cap

Video: Itch Media

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Anonymous

I can’t help but feel that this is quite a pricey proposition for something rough and ready like a pair of jeans. It’s like the “work” boots that sell for extortionate prices. Happy pay a premium for tailored formal clothing. But workwear….a step too far. This is just my view of course. I can appreciate that for some, jeans are part of their uniform and so more precise fitting is wanted.

Anonymous

I see your point. Probably best to look at how often you wear something rather that through a formal / informal lense.

RT

Hi Simon,
I have two pairs of BLA jeans and love them. The staff in the store are really helpful and friendly.
Do you have any idea of how much the Levi’s Lot One service is at the moment, just for comparison?

RT

Ok, thanks, Simon.

H

Early last year it was £500 for the first pair, going down to £450 for any subsequent pairs on the same pattern.

Paul

My jeans have a taper from the knee to the hem (7.5″).I don’t like them with a turn-up as the resulting carrot shape does not appeal to me.However,I can imagine your jeans with a straighter and wider leg do not suffer from this problem.

Anonymous

Good for BHL! They are a fantastic company putting out a great product, and this new offering builds on that. Having owned multiple BHL jeans including via their MTO program, I would love to access the MTM service but since I’m not based in the UK, that’s out of reach for now.

Simon, what do you think of this brighter blue organic denim? Have you liked it? How does it compare to the Japanese selvedge denim that your other BHL jeans are made of? Thanks.

Robert M

I have a pair in this denim and I love it. The fades are very pronounced even without the dark indigo to begin with, and I find it a nice middle ground between the traditional raw jeans and cheap, washed ones you can get anywhere. So if one doesn’t want their jeans too dark, or one already has pairs in indigo, then I’d say these are definitely worth a try.

Tom

Hi Simon,the jumper that your wearing in the video is fairly short.Was it MTM?I ask because it is difficult to find shorter length sweaters.Even Luca F and Colhays are about 26.5 ” long in size 40.A recent purchase from the A &S Haberdashery in Shetland wool is the same.Smedleys do shorter lengths but many of them are fine knits not the lower gauge ones I was seeking.

Annonymous

How do you think BLA compares with the best of the best? For example ironhead, flathead and others?

Nick

Good for BHL! A real success story for new British brands I think. The article led me to have another look at their website and I notice they are once again offering 21oz jeans. I seem to remember you have a pair in that weight, is it something you would recommend? Would also appreciate your views on the denim as it seems slightly different to the dark shades you usually wear.

James

Some unsolicited additonal feedback on the 21oz jeans.

I love mine, but agree with Simon that they are very stiff to begin with, and definitely uncomfortable early on. I’m six months and two washes in and they are slowly softening up but I still wouldn’t want to wear them two days back to back.

The weight of the fabric has some other consequences too.

The make is less neat in places (waistband button hole in particular, and the corners of the coin pocket), but obviously they’re workwear not tailoring. The most noticable thing for me though is that the pockets are actively painful to use; it feels like you’re going to skin your knuckles retrieving your keys! I imagine this will improve with wear, and is part of the fun, but thought it was worth mentioning.

TIM J

Simon, I can absolutely vouch for BHL’s Turkish Organic denim. I’ve had a pair of E5s in this denim for about 4 years now and they’ve faded beautifully. They’ve recently been back to BHL (from Australia) for some minor repairs and I was suitably impressed with the quality of their work.

Tim J

Couldn’t agree more Simon. Jeans (like your Armoury Chinos) are a ‘project’. They always tend to look better with age. I bought the BHL pair with that in mind but also found the brightness didn’t take too long to settle down. Hope you enjoy them.

Daniel

I have bought a pair of NW1s last year and I am very satisfied. Unfortunately it seems that BHL still did not figure out how to streamline orders from EU.
Actually, this is the case for many smaller shops in UK…

CDBP

I genuinely wish Blackhorse well, and it sounds like a quality outfit with a good offering.
Perhaps my views are old fashioned and those of an “old git”, but I do feel that there are certain categories like this one, where one can’t help but feel that the effort goes somewhat against the spirit of the category in which they operate. I know one can buy pre-ripped designer jeans for extortionate amounts of money, so I am doubtless out of touch.
I can survive a bit of bad sizing for the dubious psychic reward ok knowing that I am the heir to the gold miners of ’49 and Marlon Brando on a Triumph.
With jeans I can handle “good enough” fit. Thanks to this article I AM now tempted to go buy a pair at Blackhorse off the rack.

Franc Strazzeri

Hello CDBP.
Franc here from Blackhorse Lane Ateliers. It’s nice to hear that Simon’s article has tempted you.
Our ethos is based around the pillars of highest quality fabrics and tailoring, and always moving our business in the direction of sustainable economics – “One pair for life” , “repair and re-use” and ” best jeans in the world” are our mantras. The latter is what we are always aiming for, by listening to our customers, studying the history of the craft of jeans making, honing and refining our products. The former two ideas, practically speaking, means that we are dedicated to repairing your well-loved jeans for life.
We’d love to welcome you in our store in Coal Drops Yard, London, if and when you’re ready to try our jeans, or just for a browse and a chat.
Many thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.
Best regards, Franc

Rafael

Very interesting proposition in my view, Simon.
I guess difficult question to answer precisely, but having tried Levi’s bespoke and BHL MTM, are there any major differences in make, quality, cloth availability, etc worth pointing to? For someone (like myself) that just wants a very nice fitting pair of jeans but won’t have strong views on design details, would you consider either option comparable? Thank you

Franc Strazzeri

Hello Rafael.
If and when you like, come to our store in Coal Drops Yard, London for a look and a conversation. We can talk you through our detailing, but more importantly, figure out what suits you best in terms of fit and style, as an exercise if nothing else, with no expectation of commitment from you.
Best regards,
Franc, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

Evatt Gibson

This is really exciting news. Thanks for helping them set it up. As you say, the price is not considerably more than a pair of premium Japanese jeans. I hope they get plenty of take up. A couple of questions:

Does this service extend to their other trousers, e.g. chinos?

Did you order with or without belt loops?

I notice you give your chinos just a single turn-up so the bottom seam is visible. I’ve never seen anyone else do this – most turn up twice so a fold is on top too – can I ask why?

Kenny

Are BLA planning to re-stock the RTW chinos? There’s none available in size 36 on the website. The beige chinos are out of stock for all sizes and £450 for MTO is too expensive for me.

The Hebden Trouser Company, my usual jeans brand, also has no chinos in stock at the moment. Can you recommend other RTW chinos that are made in the UK? If not, I will order another pair of Hebtroco’s GVNR canvas jeans instead.

Franc Strazzeri

Hi Evatt.
Thanks for your supportive commitments and yes! we offer MTM on our chinos.
Get in touch if and when you’re ready, or drop into the shop at Coal Drops Yard, London.
Best wishes,
Franc, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
([email protected])

Mohammad Reza

Hi Simon,
Would you know if the MTM extends to their chinos? I’ve had my eye on the ones in the Japanese selvedge twill but unfortunately it’s not available in my size!

Tommy Mack

My experience of BLA has been brilliant and I hope this is a success for them.

I’m unsure whether I’ll actually use this: my RTW E8s, bought a month ago, are close to perfection! There are a couple of things I’d perhaps tweak (slightly lower rise, slightly snugger on the waist, slightly more taper while keeping the fit on the hips and thighs – actually all things I expect will improve with washing and wearing (I really should wash them soon but I don’t want to go a day without wearing them!)

I’m talking about very minor tweaks here though so I’m not sure I’d feel the need to double the price of the jeans in order to perfect them. Definitely something I’ll keep in mind though if I’m feeling flush. I do like the idea of having another pair to fade to a lighter shade to contrast with darker, esp navy, upper-wear: my old jeans just aren’t in the same class so I haven’t worn them since.

Franc Strazzeri

Hi Tommy.
It’s great to read this kind of feedback – thank you.
We very much work on having a dialogue with our customers that helps us to refine what we do.
You’ve definitely got a long way to go enjoying your E8s ;), but look forward to seeing you if and when you are ready for something different.
Best regards,
Franc, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

Tommy Mack

No problem – I’ll definitely be back when I do want another pair. In the meantime, there are always jackets and chinos!

Tommy Mack

No problem Franc – I’ll definitely be back to BLA sometime soon (maybe chinos or a jacket before more jeans – still want to wear the E8s in properly!)

Wil is a very friendly and knowledgeable guy so it was a pleasure buying from him. Also, handy that he is almost the same dimensions as me and pretty cool that the guy selling me my jeans is the guy modelling them on the website!

Chris

In my opinion this service is a really good idea.
They ARE expensive, it’s true. I’d have loved the price point to be maybe 350ish, but I certainly think that a good pair of jeans is worth an investment, and I can say that with more confidence than any other item of outerwear , suiting shoes etc. I’d venture 99% of readers wear jeans with huge regularity and no other item of clothing grows with you quite like great jeans .
For most of us too, finding that right leg, rise and waist is actually incredibly tricky . This solves that problem.
Looking forward to trying this service and I wish them great success.

Franc Strazzeri

Hi Chris.
The price does seem expensive, but to add to what you’ve mentioned about it being a good personal investment, especially with regards to fit and individuality, it’s also tied to our ethical and sustainable practice and the implied costs of that. We don’t cut corners (except on the actual denim when required) and are committed to making the best quality jeans, using the best fabrics and expertly skilled and experienced people in our London factory, with the smallest carbon footprint we can uphold. We are also dedicated to sharing and maintaining our high standards with our foreign suppliers. It costs, but we know it’s worth it and we thank all of our customers for their support.
Looking forward to seeing you in store, Chris.
Best wishes,
Franc, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

michael Maglaras

Simon…this is Michael from Connecticut…when I read a piece like this I am reminded how you have striven valiantly and well during the Plague to bring us all a little bit of hope…through good and objective product assessment, good journalism, fair dealing, and positive vision. Those of us in the States who follow you admire, not only your business model, but your gift for making a sane perspective resonate with the public. Dressing well and presenting a positive and life-enhancing image through how we present ourselves to the world, seems to me to be an appropriate position for these times.

Ravi

Exciting news, Simon, as there’s now two places that offer made to order jeans in London.

It seems the only difference between the BHL and Levi service is you get more flexibility in terms of the style you may want with Levi, with the quality of workmanship and, most importantly, the fit being of a similar quality for both. Is that right? I only ask because inherently I’d have thought creating a bespoke pattern from scratch is likely to fit better than tweaking an existing design, but I acknowledge that could be completely inaccurate!

Also, is there a reason you wouldn’t use a tailor (such as W&S whose trousers cost roughly the same as a pair of Levi or BHL jeans) to make you a pair of jeans, especially given they are likely to already have a refined pattern for you on file to work from?

Many thanks!

Franc Strazzeri

Hi Ravi.
Our MTM service is based on the block styles that we have researched and developed over our 5+ years making high quality denim clothing. We are constantly listening to our customers feedback and it’s what has helped us refine our signature styles. While not offering a pure bespoke service, we’re confident that we can tailor your perfect five-pocket jean (less pockets if you desire). Come and see us when you’re ready, even just for a chat.
Thanks and best regards,
Franc, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

Russ

This I will enjoy trying, Simon, because most jeans I try on in shops are uncomfortable- usually too restrictive round the crotch or tapering too much in the legs (why do so many jeans makers think all men are androgynous wimps with no male parts and want to look like a beanpole?)

Do you know if BL can put a single pleat into the front so as to provide more comfort and do they sell lightweight Summer jeans in a light blue colour? These are easy to spot on my continental European tours but almost impossible to find in the UK.

WES WP

Speaking of made to measure – and also not really related to that at all – is Maison Degand in Brussels.

This video showcases the amount of natural light in the boutique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YopXKxJrPh8

I’ve asked you this before – about how natural light can cause clothing to fade – but he’s got $5K suits and cashmere overcoats directly exposed to natural light on a daily basis.

Any idea why this doesn’t impact his stock (causing one side of the garment to fade, for instance, for the suits on the double-hang)? Or does it (in all likelihood)?

Feurich

Totally agree about light causing fading. I have stopped having cotton trousers made since they were all fading from the knee up because I like sitting in the sun. Garment washed rtw cottons resist more.

Matthew V

I have one pair of BHL jeans, and with a bit of experimentation with washing and drying (following your own article on the subject) have got the fit just right.

In the past I have found it so frustrating to get the ‘right’ fit of jeans for me, combined with wanting selvedge denim, I think the BHL MTO initiative will be perfect.

In terms of cost, when I compare with what I have spent in the past on jeans from the US, these don’t actually seem that expensive.

Strangely getting the fit right on trousers and chinos has been easier, perhaps due to a lot of choice now (e.g. various fits from Incotex) or buying from a shop / brand that can alter to suit (Anglo Italian for me).

The BHL shop at Coal Yards Drop is great and the whole ethos about how they manufacture, source materials and suppliers, and repair, should be greatly commended.

And living near London, aside from the denim material itself, it is nice to be able to buy something made locally. Along with my Drakes ties and C&J shoes (albeit they are from slightly farther afield in Northampton).

Franc Strazzeri

Hi Matthew.
Thanks so much for your kind words. We revel in the support and encouragement. And glad to hear your jeans are working well.
Best regards,
Franc, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

Nhans

Hi Simon, do BHL offer different washes/colours of denim in relation to this service? Or is the focus on rigid/raw blue denim?

DKP

Simon – in terms of fit and finish how does the Blackhorse compare to your Levis Lot No.1s?

Erik

Simon any change BHL will set up shops elsewhere in Europe?

Brian Kreps

Does anyone know of a high end custom denim maker here in the States besides Blue Delta?

RDH

Hi Simon

Saman Amel have jeans in their range now. How would they compare?

Emerging Genius

I truly wish them success. However, tailored jeans are somehow a little weird.

But if there’s a market for it, why not?

Ant

Excellent! Can’t wait to get back to BLA/BHL and try this new service. I’ve got a pair of RTW E8s and have been patiently waiting for this so that I can get a tweaked pair in cream made.

Thanks for persevering with this with Han and the rest of the team there – even buying off the shelf with them in person is an enjoyable experience, so this bodes really well as an event as well as a product.

RT

I have some E8s too and love them. However, I’ve just taken delivery of a pair of the new NW8s in ecru denim. They’re superb and I may even prefer the cut to the E8s.

Tommy Mack

I can’t find NW8s on the BLA website. Are they just in store?

Franc Strazzeri

Thanks, Ant!
We’re as enthusiastic about MTM as you are.
Can’t wait to welcome you back.
Best,
Franc, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

Dom

I’m really pleased to read this, having spent years trying to find jeans that even remotely fit since Levi’s dropped the style I used to buy, I bought two pairs of NW1’s last year and they are fantastic. The service was great and BHL even hemmed a pair of my daughters Levi’s when I returned mine to have an inch of the length. I won’t be going anywhere else for my jeans in future.

Franc Strazzeri

Thanks, Dom, that’s really nice to hear and very much appreciated.
And we’re always ready to repair our jeans and other brands too.
Best regards,
Franc, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers