Made To Measure Suiting at Stephan Shirts: Part 1

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I’ve praised Stephan Shirts on this website and BespokeMe for the last few years now – and justly so. Quite simply they make a great product to a great standard and charge a fair price for it – the Holy Grail in clothing terms.

When Erlend Norby took over the running of this family business he came with years of experience and training as a Savile Row Cutter. The aim was to continue serving a loyal client base with fine, fairly priced shirts but expand that service to suiting.

Erlend is perfectly honest about calling what he does Made to Measure, and certainly doesn’t try to pass it off as bespoke. But considering the price tag of £495, the range of cloths, Erlend’s experience as a Savile Row cutter and just what he’s able to offer, in terms of cut and modification, a better definition would be Made-to-Measure-plus.

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M-to-M suiting comes in for a bad rap, and in many cases that’s entirely deserved. Too many retailers offer less than convincing quality with minimal adjustment for your physical attributes, whether that is a matter of posture, a drop shoulder or barrel chest. Even things like soft shoulders or a floating canvass can be beyond the possible with most M-to-M retailers. Neither should we forget that the skill of those taking the measurements is all important, an enthusiastic shop assistant is no substitute for a trained tailor or cutter.

The status of poor relation to bespoke, and even in some cases better off-the-peg suiting, is exacerbated by the fact that many retailers use the terms made-to-measure- and bespoke interchangeably; a line blurred by a very public court case in which the tailors on Savile Row lost (you can read about it here). Throw in a myriad of high-street retailers and online providers, some visiting some not, and it’s difficult to know just who to trust or what you’re getting for your money.

I’d be the first to confess that I’m weary of MTM precisely for these seasons. But having been a devoted fan of Stephan’s shirts I decided it was time to invest in one of Erlend’s suits. I trust the man and I trust the product.

The key difference between bespoke and M-to-M suits is that with bespoke a pattern is cut specifically to suit your body shape, whereas M-to-M uses a block pattern to which adjustments are made. What Erlend offers is also based on a block pattern. However, owing to his skill and training as a cutter and the system he uses, whereby he can manipulate each aspect of the pattern to the smallest fraction via computer, he is able to make the most detailed adjustments. The pattern is then cut by laser following his exact pattern. This means that each pattern is cut to the individual client and their physical demands (it should be pointed out that even bespoke tailors have to work within the boundaries of certain ratios). The degree of personalisation far exceeds what one might expect from normal M-to-M retailers and comes as close to that available from bespoke, without actually going bespoke and doubling the price.

Another key difference between bespoke and M-to-M is the amount of handwork involved. It’s this which provides for a very fluid and soft suit, and the most important aspect of that hand work is the floating canvass (see an explanation of floating and fused canvasses here). Until very recently this was something that could only be done by hand. However, Erlend uses one of the few manufacturers in the World equipped with a machine capable of stitching a floating canvas – the vital ingredient for a soft roll lapel.

For me the fact that Erlend is an experienced Savile Row Cutter and is able to provide a suit with a floating canvas are the most important details. But you also get the usual individual aesthetic choices; horn buttons, coloured linings and he carries an impressive range of cloth books. These range from heavy tweeds to lightweight Italian cloths. However, he prefers to deal in more substantial English fabrics – I went for a 13oz Holland and Sherry navy cloth with grey windowpane over-check.

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Deciding to put my trust in Erlend was the easy part, the next more difficult stage was to decide just what style of suit I was going to have, which will be the topic of my next post.


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Andrew Williams blogs at www.bespokeme.com and is based in London. For him style is a frame of mind not just a state of dress.