Reader Question: The Differences In Bespoke Tailors

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CS, Los Angeles: I have been reading PS for the last few months in an effort to educate myself on various matters of style. First and foremost, I want to thank you for the time and effort you put into your work in this area. I suspect that you have a day job (and I believe you mentioned having at least one daughter in a post), so, from the perspective of another young father-professional, your work is all the more impressive.

 

Please forgive the bluntness, but I was hoping to get your views on why it is you chose the tailors you did for your first few British bespoke items.  Is it simply the price range of the larger names that caused you not to try them out or is it a value calculation?  Did you feel that you had the same options with Graham Browne that you might have had with a ‘bigger name’ shop?

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Dear CS, thank you for your question. I cannot afford Savile Row at this point in my life, so that limited my decision. But I have also over time learnt the various ways in which bespoke tailors – all of whom deserve the name – differ from each other. And that informs the value calculation.

The first point to note is that the materials are all the same. Unless you want the exclusivity of Huntsman Opus or some such record cloth, you can find the same wools and linings at any bespoke house. Everyone uses Lesser, Minnis, W Bill etc and the same lining books.

Second, the process is the same. Both GB and one of the more famous Savile Row names will take an equal number of measurements, create a unique paper pattern and cut the cloth by hand, creating a basted suit that will be ripped apart and re-cut, and remade for a forward fitting. Then the final suit will be made, which can be altered again. In this way they are both entirely different to made-to-measure.

Assuming some minor changes are made at the final stage, this means visiting the tailor five times. Many Savile Row tailors will insist on more than this. That’s more expensive as it means more staff, more cutting and more time. But whether that is worth it depends on fit, which will be discussed later.

Third, the style and design options are unrelated to price. Some tailors, such as Anderson & Sheppard or Huntsman, and more known for a particular style and are more likely to stay with it. Others have no particular house style, but dislike experimentation or anything out of the ordinary, as it takes longer.

This is a question of personality rather than price. Russell and Dan at Graham Browne are always surprisingly excited about experiments – as demonstrated by both my and Guy Hills’ (of Dashing Tweeds) commissions. Some Savile Row tailors are equally impressive in that regard.

So those are the similarities. What are the differences? Well, Graham Browne does a few things with a sewing machine rather than by hand. For example, it attaches the layers of chest canvas together by sewing machine. These are still not tight stitches, and the canvas as a whole is secured to the jacket by hand, to ensure movement, but that construction of the canvas would be done by hand at most good Savile Row houses. It takes ages. And so it is expensive.

Personally, I love the way that my Graham Browne suits have adapted to my chest and feel personal. Far better than any expensive off-the-peg suit that had a floating canvas (Ralph Lauren Purple Label, for example). But a Savile Row suit might adapt better there – I don’t know, I’ve never owned one.

Another difference is that Graham Browne does not make its own shoulder pads. They are pre-constructed. Unless you have unusual shoulders, though, I don’t think this makes a substantial difference.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for the price, Graham Browne offers little after-sales service. They cannot sponge and press suits onsite. With good Savile Row houses, this is included in the price and can be done for years to come. And while GB would be happy to carry out minor alterations after the fact, it will not substantially alter and refurbish a suit several years down the line without some cost. Good Savile Row houses will – it’s part of the service.

These last three points are all part of a value calculation, as you put it. They are all things that GB has opted to do without in order to charge less. And I’m perfectly happy with that – the construction is great and the fit fantastic, which are the priorities with bespoke.

Then there is definitely a premium for a big name (however small) and it costs a lot more to have large premises on or around Savile Row. That’s obvious if you look at the prices of Savile Row-trained cutters that now work somewhere else in the country (like Thomas Mahon) or in smaller premises (like Steven Hitchcock).

But, I think the most important thing you get, or should get with a Savile Row tailor, is consistency and quality of fit. Savile Row head cutters are at the top of their game. It is a prestigious position, and they are very good. You can have confidence that they will make you a very well-fitting suit, where you couldn’t with a smaller less-known name. It’s less risky. Not that the biggest names don’t sometimes get it wrong – but you’re on safer ground.

You can also justifiably be more demanding on Savile Row (back to the idea of service), changing things or requesting more fittings. The tailor is likely to be more demanding on that score as well.

There is a chance that there are tiny points of fit on a Graham Browne suit that would be improved on Savile Row. But I can’t see them and I’ve had suits made for a while now. I think Russell is a good cutter and others think so too.

Would I have a Savile Row suit made if I could afford it? Yes, I would. But given that it would cost three times one from Graham Browne, I would have to be earning at least three times what I do now.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.