A CUT ABOVE

THEY COME OFF THE RACK, BOXY AND ILL-FIT­TING, OR BE­SPOKE, STITCHED FROM SCRATCH AND COST­ING A KING’S RAN­SOM. IN BE­TWEEN IS THE IN­CREAS­INGLY POPULAR MADE-TO-MEA­SURE SUIT, TO FIT BODY AND BUD­GET

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Monitoring - STORY JONATHAN LOB­BAN

Australia is un­der­go­ing a Pea­cock Revo­lu­tion. Sar­to­ri­ally savvy Aus­tralian men to­day are driven less by cost and more by qual­ity and fit when it comes to pur­chas­ing a suit. De­spite the higher price, made-to-mea­sure suit­ing, a semi-be­spoke ser­vice, is on the rise, driven by a range of fac­tors that in­cludes more per­son­alised ser­vice, choice of fab­rics and ar­ti­san-level hand-fin­ish­ing. What’s more, Aussie males are re­fin­ing their fash­ion palate, pre­fer­ring to buy less but spend more, en­sur­ing the lo­cal for­mal menswear mar­ket is buck­ing weak­en­ing in­dus­try trends.

Ac­cord­ing to a March re­port by in­dus­try re­search com­pany IBIS World, sales at Aus­tralian menswear stores have been shrink­ing by 1 per cent a year from 2010 to 2015. This is in part due to con­sumers tight­en­ing their belts on non-es­sen­tial items and the rise of cheaper on­line al­ter­na­tives. Over the same pe­riod, how­ever, for­mal menswear — tai­lored suits, coats, ties, shirts and footwear — has grown by 3.8 per cent an­nu­ally in Australia, and is ex­pected to main­tain this growth rate un­til 2020, as younger and in­creas­ingly dressed-up con­sumers buy in. This year for­mal menswear is ex­pected to hit $340 mil­lion in turnover, buoyed by the rise of luxury brands. In a sep­a­rate re­port in April, IBIS World es­ti­mated the Aus­tralian luxury re­tail mar­ket — led by Louis Vuit­ton, Tif­fany & Co. and Prada in or­der of pop­u­lar­ity — is set to rake in $1.6bn by the end of this fi­nan­cial year. Clothes, it seems, not only maketh the man, but also helpeth to prop up a sec­tor of the Aus­tralian re­tail econ­omy.

“It’s quite good growth,” says IBIS World an­a­lyst and re­port au­thor, Lau­ren Mag­ner, es­pe­cially in com­par­i­son with the rest of the re­tail in­dus­try, “which is show­ing quite slug­gish growth as con­sumers are rein­ing in their spend­ing.” Mag­ner cred­its the growth of for­mal menswear to an in­creas­ing range of styles and brands on of­fer. “More than a decade ago there was hardly any choice or va­ri­ety for men to choose from,” she says. “Th­ese days you go to any shop­ping cen­tre and there’s such a wide range of stores. You’ve got Brooks Broth­ers, Rhodes & Beck­ett and all those places that have such a wide range of men’s shirts in all dif­fer­ent pat­terns and colours. There’s so much more va­ri­ety to choose from and that’s helped to in­crease de­mand over the past five years.”

Mag­ner be­lieves the rise of on­line re­tail and in­creased use of in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia have given men greater ex­po­sure to in­ter­na­tional brands and style. “They are see­ing how their male coun­ter­parts are dress­ing and that is be­ing re­flected here in Australia. Par­tic­u­larly be­cause we’re hav­ing a lot more in­ter­na­tional re­tail­ers come along to Australia. Brooks Broth­ers has come re­cently and all th­ese de­sign­ers are start­ing to make made-to-mea­sure ser­vices, which is quite a grow­ing seg­ment in the mar­ket. And when pur­chas­ing goods, men usu­ally — com­pared with women that like to buy lots of dif­fer­ent cloth­ing — tend to pur­chase fewer items that are of a higher qual­ity. So they’re will­ing to splash out a lit­tle bit more on high­qual­ity long last­ing items which are typ­i­cally pro­duced or sold by th­ese smaller bou­tique stores.”

Of all the high-end prod­ucts and ser­vices re­cently made avail­able to the Aus­tralian male, the evo­lu­tion to­wards made-to-mea­sure tailor­ing is sig­nif­i­cant. In what is ar­guably the most com­pet­i­tive Aus­tralian menswear mar­ket in his­tory, luxury-po­si­tioned brands are turn­ing to the per­son­alised of­fer­ing to in­crease the loy­alty of their cur­rent cus­tomer and at­tract an in­creas­ingly savvy con­sumer. Many a mas­ter tai­lor from Italy, Ja­pan and Ger­many will rack up the fre­quent fly­ers to Australia this year. Gior­gio Armani have their Ital­ian mas­ter tai­lor cur­rently in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne tak­ing ap­point­ments with cus­tomers, while Ger­man luxury re­tailer Hugo Boss will launch a new made-to-mea­sure ser­vice for Aus­tralian cus­tomers this Au­gust. Aus­tralian-owned “gen­tle­men’s cloth­ier”, M.J. Bale, which dresses the Aus­tralian Test cricket team and Soc­ceroos in their game day suits, al­ready cre­ate made-to-mea­sure hand-fin­ished suits in their Ja­panese tailor­ing work­shop in the Iwate Pre­fec­ture un­der the ti­tle M.J. Bale Cus­tom (start­ing from $1500). How­ever, in May the six-year-old brand in­tro­duced a new Clas­sics Made-to-Mea­sure suits ser­vice aimed at the younger man on his way up, start­ing from $995.

And it’s not all in­com­ing, ei­ther. Australia’s Pa­trick John­son of P. John­son Tai­lor, re­cently nom­i­nated as Aus­tralian In­ter­na­tional Wool­mark Prize fi­nal­ist, launched in late April a new show­room in Soho, New York to ex­port to up­town Amer­ica his el­e­gant and pared­back Ital­ian-made suits. One of John­son’s first cus­tomers in New York was Amer­i­can chef David Chang, of Mo­mo­fuku, who brought the Ade­laide-born tai­lor a fresh batch of cook­ies as a house­warm­ing gift.

By rough def­i­ni­tion, made-to-mea­sure suit­ing is a process where a cus­tomer gets fit­ted in store us­ing a “shell” mas­ter gar­ment, usu­ally a sleeve­less jacket. The tai­lor, or trained in-store staff mem­ber, will take a se­ries of about 20 mea­sure­ments, in­clud­ing neck, chest and waist cir­cum­fer­ence and trouser length. Th­ese mea­sure­ments are sent to the brand’s tailor­ing work­shop with de­tails on the cus­tomer’s pref­er­ences in fab­rics (wool and cot­ton usu­ally, or, for those that can af­ford it, cash­mere or vi­cuna), lin­ings, num­ber of but­tons, style of pock­ets, lapels and whether the jacket is to be sin­gle or dou­ble-breasted. The suit is then cre­ated in the work­shop us­ing an ex­ist­ing ready-to-wear pat­tern, but sewn — usu­ally by ma­chine with some hand fin­ish­ing — ac­cord­ing to the user’s mea­sure­ments. Those mea­sure­ments and the in­di­vid­ual pat­tern are then re­tained by the brand’s work­shop, mak­ing it a breeze to or­der an­other suit. Rather than go­ing through the full mea­sur­ing process again, the cus­tomer sim­ply has to visit the store and se­lect new fab­rics and de­tails.

Aside from the op­tion to per­son­alise your suit and re­tain your in­di­vid­ual pat­tern on-site, for the cus­tomer the ad­van­tages of made-to-mea­sure are ob­vi­ous. Off-the-rack suits ap­prox­i­mate the av­er­age male in a range of sizes, but men vary greatly in body shape, par­tic­u­larly around the shoul­ders, waist and leg, and that’s be­fore tak­ing into ac­count sport­ing pur­suits or long lunches. The trend to­wards a fit­ted sil­hou­ette — ta­pered shoul­ders, a nipped-in waist and slim trousers — makes it even hard to fit into a ready-to-wear suit and be in fash­ion.

For the re­tailer the benefits are sim­i­larly prac­ti­cal. Made-to-mea­sure suit­ing re­quires no stock and few over­heads, save for the train­ing of in-store staff. Ermenegildo Zegna op­er­ates its own “Zegna schools” around the world, in Europe and Asia, where Aus­tralian staff travel to learn how to ex­e­cute the firm’s Su Misura pro­gram (Ital­ian for made-to-mea­sure).

ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA A “sig­na­ture look” is one of the few tags Ital­ian menswear and tex­tile leviathan Ermenegildo Zegna can’t be ac­cused of th­ese days. Whereas in past decades Ermenegildo Zegna had one de­sign speed — up­right and clas­sic — the Mi­lan-head­quar­tered brand em­bed­ded it­self deep in fash­ion ter­ri­tory with the hir­ing of ex-Yves Saint Lau­rent cre­ative direc­tor Ste­fano Pi­lati in 2012 as their head designer. Pi­lati’s fin­ger-on-the-pulse ap­proach to de­sign has in­tro­duced colour and atyp­i­cal forms of suit ar­chi­tec­ture to Ermenegildo Zegna and his pet la­bel, Ermenegildo Zegna Cou­ture, with­out ig­nor­ing the tra­di­tional, clas­si­cally minded cus­tomer. But it’s in the in­tegrity of its sup­ply chain where Ermenegildo Zegna has the global jump on al­most ev­ery other menswear brand of­fer­ing made-to-mea­sure.

Un­like in ca­sual, ready-to-wear cloth­ing, where syn­thetic fi­bres and cot­ton blends plus mass ma­chine work per­mit a lower price point, tai­lored high-end suit­ing has to get ev­ery small­est de­tail right. That means Aus­tralian Merino wool as the base raw ma­te­rial for suits, usu­ally su­perfine (16.5 mi­crons), but also up­wards to ul­tra­fine (un­der 13.5 mi­crons), which com­petes in soft­ness with vi­cuna and cash­mere. The wool be­comes worsted suit­ing cloth in the weav­ing stage. The best weavers come from the north of Italy, around the Biella

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