MA­TE­RIAL GAINS

A well-tai­lored suit can present you as a cut above the com­pe­ti­tion. Busi­ness Trav­eller guides you through the process of buy­ing be­spoke

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS - as­cotchang.com, hack­ett.com, hugo­b­oss.com, isaia.it

Buy­ing a made-to-mea­sure or be­spoke suit says a lot about how you see your­self – and how you’re per­ceived by oth­ers

Con­sid­er­ing how much a good suit can cost, and the great im­pres­sion it can make, it’s sur­pris­ing we spend so lit­tle time think­ing about the ma­te­ri­als and skills in­volved. Go into the av­er­age men’s out­fit­ter and you’ll find a se­lec­tion of ready-made suits hang­ing by size in a va­ri­ety of colours. It might be the quick­est op­tion, but for a rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive pur­chase, “off-the-rack” isn’t the wis­est way to spend your money. For starters, this skips over de­tails such as qual­ity, cus­tomi­sa­tion and longevity. There’s also the small mat­ter of whether it re­ally does fit. Ready-made clothes are de­signed to fit the av­er­age man. Is that how you think of your­self? And is it how you want to be thought of by oth­ers? If you re­ally care about the ma­te­ri­als and the fit, you’ll soon find your­self con­sid­er­ing made-tomea­sure and be­spoke suits. But what do these terms ac­tu­ally mean, and why are they worth the ex­tra cost?

THE RIGHT FIT

Justin Chang, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment man­ager of renowned Hong Kong tai­lor­ing com­pany As­cot Chang, ex­plains: “Made-to-mea­sure is a mod­i­fi­ca­tion of a com­pany’s ex­ist­ing pre-cut block pat­terns. The cloth is still cut as per the cus­tom-made or­der, but the sys­tem used is based on al­ter­ations on that pat­tern. There are lim­i­ta­tions, for ex­am­ple you can’t let out the shoul­der by more than a quar­ter-inch or three-eighths on each side – there are con­trols built in that limit what you can do. With be­spoke, how­ever – which is what we do – the pat­tern is drawn up from scratch based on the mea­sure­ments taken in the store, and this is a longer process.”

Made-to-mea­sure may be the quicker, less ex­pen­sive op­tion, but it still of­fers a high de­gree of tai­lor­ing. Hugo Boss, for ex­am­ple, has a made-to-mea­sure ser­vice where a suit is cut “ac­cord­ing to pre­cise in­di­vid­ual mea­sure­ments from head to toe”, and “ex­pertly con­structed from 180 in­di­vid­ual pieces”.

The process be­gins with a se­lec­tion of fab­rics from a li­brary of hun­dreds, of­fer­ing pat­terns from check to pin­stripe to mi­cro-her­ring­bone. But­ton choice ranges as far as mother-of-pearl, veg­etable ivory and buf­falo horn, while your op­tions with lapels and cuffs are also di­verse. The cus­tomer is then mea­sured by a tai­lor­ing spe­cial­ist us­ing a slip-on gar­ment pinned to them ac­cord­ing to their pre­ferred fit and style. The fig­ures are recorded on a per­sonal mea­sur­ing sheet, which is then sent to the Hugo Boss head­quar­ters in Met­zin­gen, Ger­many.

At Isaia, a high-end Ital­ian menswear firm that opened its first Hong Kong store in 2014, the process is “very close to be­spoke al­ready be­cause we have our own fac­tory,” says Bernard Chin, the com­pany’s Asia Pa­cific MTM spe­cial­ist, ex­plain­ing that this al­lows for a high level of con­trol over the fin­ished prod­uct.

As­cot Chang of­fers a made-to-mea­sure pro­gramme from fa­mous Ital­ian cou­ture house Bri­oni, though ac­cord­ing to Chang “this is rel­a­tively ex­pen­sive [due to the Bri­oni name and rep­u­ta­tion], so the pric­ing comes into play. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, though, the cus­tomers who come into our stores are look­ing for be­spoke. For a be­spoke suit we have at least two fit­tings, so you have the ini­tial mea­sur­ing phase, a one-third com­pleted ba­sic fit­ting, af­ter which the suit is taken apart, ad­justed and then made up ei­ther into a three-quar­ter fin­ished prod­uct or a fully fin­ished suit. At each point there are small ad­just­ments to be made.”

A SEAM­LESS PROCESS

When buy­ing a be­spoke suit, con­ver­sa­tion comes first. The tai­lor will make an ap­praisal when you walk in, look­ing at body type, pos­ture, etc. Then comes a dis­cus­sion on what you need the suit for – wed­ding, busi­ness travel or sim­ply ca­sual week­end wear.

“Based on that we’ll find the fab­ric that’s right for them, the weight, colour, and we’ll dis­cuss styling as well,” says Chang.“Nowa­days it’s two-but­ton suits mainly, we rarely do three-but­ton, and some of the younger guys are look­ing at dou­ble-breasted again. We’re also see­ing more three-pieces now than pre­vi­ously – peo­ple like its ver­sa­til­ity, it can help in air-con­di­tioned of­fices when you take off the jacket but the air’s blast­ing out. It’s a style thing too, with all these TV shows like Mad Men.”

“Suit de­sign re­lates to the out­side, things like lapel type, cuffs, patch or flap pock­ets, etc,” adds Isaia’s Chin. “The in­side is the de­tail­ing, in­clud­ing lining type and colour, the num­ber of pock­ets, and so on.”

Next comes mea­sur­ing; there are dozens of dif­fer­ent mea­sure­ments to be taken, but a mas­ter tai­lor will usu­ally have this done in 15-20 min­utes. The cloth is then or­dered, usu­ally from abroad, with the two main sources of fab­ric be­ing Italy and Eng­land due to the high-qual­ity woollen cloth their mills pro­duce. Where the suit is ac­tu­ally made de­pends on the com­pany. As­cot Chang has a work­shop in Hong Kong’s Hung Hom district, and the first fit­ting comes within a week to ten days of the cloth’s ar­rival, with the sec­ond fit­ting about 2-3 weeks af­ter that – in to­tal the whole process of mak­ing a be­spoke suit takes 4-5 weeks.

Isaia’s pro­duc­tion hap­pens in Naples, Italy, so the suit will ar­rive within four weeks.“The first fit­ting should be a min­i­mum of 80 per cent right,” says Chin, and cor­rec­tions are made in-house within a few days be­fore the sec­ond fit­ting. For Isaia, a made-to-mea­sure suit takes 4-5 weeks and be­spoke 8-10 weeks.

CLOTH TO SUIT THE CLI­MATE

Wher­ever you are in the world, a good tai­lor will talk to you about the choice of ma­te­rial. Most suits are made from wool, and in gen­eral there are two types: worsted, in which the fi­bres are un­tan­gled and straight­ened then spun into yarn; and “carded” wool, whereby comb­ing al­lows air into the fi­bres. They will be given a num­ber, such as Su­per 100s or Su­per 180s, re­lat­ing to the fine­ness of the cloth. Higher num­bers are more ex­pen­sive but this also means the fab­ric is less durable as it is more delicate. The im­por­tant thing is to ex­plain what you want, and then be guided by the ad­vice you are given.

“We source cloths from Italy and Eng­land,” says Chang. “Eng­land pro­duces very good cloth but it’s a bit on the heavy side – we as tai­lors like to work with it, since you can shape it bet­ter, but it’s of­ten too heavy for the Hong Kong cli­mate. So we also have a lot of Ital­ian cloth.”

Cloth is mea­sured in grams per square metre, with the usual suit range be­ing from 210-310 grams (over 310 grams takes you into over­coat ter­ri­tory). For the colder cli­mates of north­ern China, Korea and Ja­pan, Chang rec­om­mends 290-300 grams. “For hot cli­mates like Sin­ga­pore, you want much lighter, but you don’t want to go un­der 210 grams,” he says.

Chin says that Isaia fol­lows a gen­eral rule of 190-230 grams for sum­mer suits, with the 230-270 gram range a good year-round choice, and 270-310 grams per­fect for winter.

An­other im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion is fab­ric mixes. “In Asia peo­ple pre­fer com­bi­na­tion fab­rics like cot­ton, silk, linen, usu­ally mixed with wool,” says Chin. Chang agrees: “Now you’re see­ing a lot of wool/linen or wool/linen/silk blends which are more com­fort­able. How­ever, some of the de­signs are a bit ca­sual and might not work for a busi­ness work­place.”

Colour is an­other ob­vi­ous con­sid­er­a­tion .“Navy blue is still the most pop­u­lar colour,” says Chang. “Black had its mo­ment in the 90s but went out of style 5-10 years ago, though it’s com­ing back a bit now – for the Asian trav­eller black works be­cause of our skin tone and hair colour.” Isaia’s Chin says that “blue and grey are ev­er­green, but we cur­rently have laven­der, green, light blues… the gen­eral rule is darker colours in winter and lighter colours in sum­mer.”

“Checks are in rather than pin­stripes,” adds Chang. “We’re sell­ing a lot more checks now than be­fore, and if there are stripes they are very sim­ple. ”This is good news for Isaia, a self-con­fessed “fun, lifestyle” brand with its roots in 1920s Naples, whose sig­na­ture pat­tern is check and which de­scribes its cloth­ing as “Neapoli­tan sar­to­rial tradition, rein­ter­preted in a con­tem­po­rary way”.

Of course fre­quent busi­ness travel can be par­tic­u­larly hard on suits, and this re­quires thought. “If you’re trav­el­ling a lot, thin­ner fab­ric wears out more eas­ily,” says Chang. “I would sug­gest high-twist fab­rics al­though the hand feel isn’t as good – it’s a type of worsted, and the twist gives it a bit of scratch­i­ness, but it’ll hold up well and it has a bit of nat­u­ral stretch which re­turns to its shape bet­ter.

“There are English-style fab­rics that might be a bit heav­ier but they are wo­ven so that air passes through – you can have those un­lined and they travel re­ally well. There’s a weave called Fresco – we carry one from Hol­land and Sherry – that is quite good for travel. We’re also start­ing to see cloths with 2 per cent Ly­cra come in, which is def­i­nitely a trend. Peo­ple who have to travel a lot want to be com­fort­able.”

THE RIGHT PRICE

When it comes to price, there’s a sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence be­tween made-to-mea­sure and be spoke. “Made-to-mea­sure suits start from HK$32,000 (US$4,120) and be­spoke from around HK$67,000 (US$8,630), but it de­pends on the fab­ric and cus­tomi­sa­tion and can go much higher,” says Isaia’s Chin.

“A Bri­oni made-to-mea­sure suit starts at HK$50,000 (US$6,440) – if you’re work­ing with the Ital­ian brands prices can go very high, since they have metic­u­lous con­trol over ev­ery as­pect of pro­duc­tion in their fac­to­ries in Italy,” says Chang. “But there are made-to-mea­sure places here that might cost HK$6,000-7,000 (US$770900) a suit. A be­spoke suit from As­cot Chang will start at ap­prox­i­mately HK$14,000 (US$1,800) and up.”

Of course what you spend is a per­sonal pref­er­ence, but a good tai­lor will take into ac­count your bud­get and hope to keep your cus­tom, un­der­stand­ing the value of re­peat busi­ness and rec­om­men­da­tions to oth­ers.

Op­po­site and

above: De­sign and de­tail from Gieves and Hawkes’ tai­lor­ing ser­vice; and suit pat­terns at As­cot Chang

Clock­wise from above: A dou­ble-breasted Isaia suit from its spring-sum­mer 2017 col­lec­tion; metic­u­lous tai­lor­ing work at As­cot Chang; and YC Ng, a mas­ter tai­lor at As­cot Chang

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