January 15, 2014
The True Meaning Of Bespoke
Lately I have seen many businesses claiming to be “bespoke”. The personalized and custom manufacturer of the finest quality clothes, shoes and accessories is back with a vengeance! But the precise, historical word used to describe that trade and its artisans is in danger. In the loose rhetoric of fashion marketers, merchandisers and makers, bespoke is becoming synonymous with “custom”, rather than a personal luxury. In this series of blog posts, I aim to distinguish the true definition of “bespoke”, while acknowledging and celebrating some of the artists, craftspersons and trades people who remain committed to the ultimate in fashion.
Bespoke comes to us from the tailors of London’s Savile Row. When a customer entered, he might remark on the cut, color, fabric or style of a garment newly made or being finished. Upon inquiry, the proprietor would describe the item as bespoken or “speak your order”, since its made to the order of a client. Over the years, bespoke emerged as shorthand for the personalized, labor-intensive production of clothes and shoes practiced by luxury tradesman of London’s West End.
There has been an insurgence of boutiques in NYC and surrounding cities claiming to provide bespoke services. The Refined Gent feels it’s important to offer clarity to such a muddled and often misused term by describing what bespoke actually means to the discerning customer for clothes, shoes and accessories.
At the top of the clothing profession, a bespoke tailor will have apprenticed with a bespoke firm in order to acquire a mastery of fabric, fit, styling, cutting, sewing and tradition. As a consumer, you should take the time to inquire where and for how long your tailor has trained. Like the seamstress of a Paris Couturier, a bespoke tailor is an artist and the products of his thread, needle and scissors are sartorial art, which should be recognized as such. Generally the price point for a bespoke suit ranges from $3,500 to $6,000 dollars depending on the cloth selection and details. Two true bespoke tailors in NYC are Leonard Logsdail and Alexander Nash. I will blog separately about them both in the bespoke blog series in the weeks ahead.
For any tailor claiming to produce “bespoke” clothing, you’ll want to know where the garment is actually produced. If they are claiming “Made in USA” as a selling tool (assuming you’re purchasing this in the U.S.), that’s a given since to qualify as bespoke they should have master tailors and a sewing team on site in their studio. However, I should caution you about businesses offering bespoke suits for less than $1,000. In almost all instances, your suit will not be made on the premises and will likely be sent to a factory for machine sewing either domestically or in China. The personal touches and details will consequently be less carefully supervised and quality controlled.
Below the bespoke price point, what you are probably buying is a made-to-measure suit with minimal hand stitching. The garment will probably be made domestically and the custom experience you’ll receive will be diminished accordingly. Most people you encounter won’t know the difference; but there is a difference. In New York today, there is a resurgence of true bespoke purveyors, whether your interest is suits, overcoats, shoes, shirts or accessories. These craftspeople deliver the ultimate in service, quality and comfort and they deserve to be acknowledged for their commitment to craftsmanship in an age of instant-fashion, off the rack, one-size fits all clothing. I look forward to sharing their names, their expertise and their artistry with you. In essence, this blog is buyers beware. You work hard for your money and it should be well spent on a service that is luxury in every sense of the word.