The Problem With Bespoke


Words by Simon Crompton/ Image via: Permanent Style

The biggest problem with bespoke (made to order) tailoring is that it is expensive. And because it is expensive, men expect the same efficiency and quality of service as similarly priced purchases. But the better scale to compare is margin, not price.

Luxury retail may offer pretty packaging, multiple assistants and a customer service hotline, but you are paying for it. However, independent tailoring has the lowest margin of any luxury consumer product; no one ever got rich off tailoring. The odd head cutter became ‘comfortable’ if he steadfastly refused to live the life of his customers, but no more. To get rich, you need to make suits for £200 and sell them for £1000.

Even the most organized of bespoke tailors make mistakes, whether it’s the wrong cloth, the wrong suit or simply the wrong customer. Only the biggest houses have administrative support, and they are as likely to be family friends as trained secretarial staff.

Savile Row uses independent coat makers to make most of a jacket from beginning to end. There is no production line and no process management. The delay to finishing your suit may be due to a slow tailor, and/or a slow cutter. Huntsman, the iconic Savile Row tailor, once had a production line, but it was stopped under Terry Haste. It was too expensive.

These mistakes and delays, to some, are part of the ‘charm’ of tailoring. I’ve never seen it that way, just like I’ve never been convinced that a missed stitch is part of the ‘beauty’ of handwork. But I’ve never expected luxury service from my tailor either. Rather, they are like the shop down the street, with the staff you know and the aunt behind the till: familiar, welcoming, and prone to the idiosyncrasies of a small operation. And, I’d much rather have it that way.