“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor;” quipped George Bernard Shaw “he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go by with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”
Tailoring, as Bernard Shaw’s witticism attests, is one of the most personal and rewarding experiences and the relationship a man has with his stab-rag can be a fruitful one; for no one appreciates your individuality more than a tailor. Tailors exist to perfect the practice of enveloping ourselves in garments. The fact that we desire this perfection is essential to the tailor; our vanity is the mother of the practice. And arguably, tailors need clients, especially in these luxurious days of mass machine-production, a lot more than clients need tailors.
Tailoring, though very much a profitable craft, has taken a few substantial hits in recent years. The designer suit is one of the culprits for the bruising. Offered at lower prices than tailored garments; marketed and packaged to the hilt, designer suits have been a success for brands such as Armani, Dior and Gucci. Brandishing the Italian and French credentials is sometimes more important to buyers than material and construction, and while getting a suit personally tailored from scratch remains a status symbol, more and more people are being drawn away from the dimly lit and rather homely establishments lining Savile Row.
Harrods and Selfridges; brash, lavish emporiums that excel in attracting new customers, offer free adjustments for suits bought from ‘superbrands’ such as Dior Homme and Burberry Prorsum and to the buying public, they are getting what is, to them, the ultimate package; a designer name and ‘tailoring’, all in one.
Suit buyers are far more demanding than they have ever been and they are, by all accounts, far more fickle than they used to be. The Row just hasn’t kept up with the rest of the pack. It has old and faithful clients (with a distinct emphasis on ‘old’) and internationally it is respected, but it is without a doubt experiencing a jolly rough time.
The 21st century is the age of the hotel-tailor; a quick lunchtime visit to a just-landed Hong Kong tailor in a London hotel room, and a suit made at a fraction of the price. Modern tailoring is also about using available technology; sending measurements via email and getting a suit delivered by UPS.
Clearly, the tailoring industry today is a very different thing to what it was before and it will probably be a greatly different thing in the future.