Fashion: Well Suited

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You don't have to be a man to have a suit made to measure. Melanie Rickey talks to four high-flying women (and their very individual tailors) about life in a pair of perfectly fitting trousers

IN THE brightly coloured lounge area of Ozwald Boateng's W1 men's tailors, Mariella Frostrup laughs that throaty laugh of hers, and states: "I always wanted to be a mobsterette." Boateng - a super-slim, 6'4" human pipe-cleaner - bobs and bends, shortening the cuffs of her soon-to-be- a-pinstripe-suit-with-bright-purple-lining, currently at the first fitting stage. Meanwhile, over in Soho, Mark Powell is cajoling one of his increasing number of female clients, club manager Leanne Bugner, into a sexy boot- cut trouser suit. "You won't need to wear anything underneath that, darlin'," he quips. She giggles as he works at sharpening the lapels of her cream suit (to enhance the appearance of her cleavage), and says: "Don't forget the trousers. I want my legs to look really long in this."

Men's tailoring establishments, both on and off Savile Row, are no longer the preserve of fusty gentlemen, dapper lads and businessmen seeking a bespoke service. High-flying women are getting in on the act, eager to enjoy the luxury of having a suit made-to-measure by a tailor. "Bespoke tailoring for women is a perfectly viable alternative to haute couture, and with much better value for money," says the East End-based Timothy Everest, who believes a man's suit tailored to a woman's form can be "very sexy, in a subtle, understated way". Mark Powell, on the other hand, designs his suits to be "very sophisticated and very sexy, with a strong cleavage". Boateng says he loves strong, direct women: "Suits make women look powerful, and sexy, but it has to be a respect- ful sexiness." And the Savile Row stalwarts Gieves & Hawkes? Well, they are too proper to comment on matters of this nature.

The advantage for the increasing number of professional women who choose bespoke men's-style suits over the off-the-peg variety sold by high-fashion designer labels is, of course, the fit, which is second to none. But there are other factors involved. Of these, personal service is probably the most important. The tailor measures the client in every place, provides a second, third (and possibly even fourth) fitting, discusses fabrics, linings and lifestyle, and assesses what the suit is needed for. A tailor can even become a friend - Powell and Boateng enjoy a genuine, if slightly risque rapport with their female clients, which makes the whole experience of buying a suit a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The other advantage is choice of design. Fancy a slim-line grey wool suit with pinstripes and shocking pink lining? A trouser cut the same way as old worn-to-death favourites? A flare? A matching skirt with or without thigh split? An inside pocket for sunglasses - or even condoms? Absolutely anything is possible when it comes to bespoke, though clients should always listen to the advice of their tailor - after the training they've been through, they know best. For instance, Gieves & Hawkes' Debbie Fairman - the only woman tailor on the Row - trained for nine years before being allowed to consult directly with her clients.

Order a bespoke suit and the result will be both unique and designed to last - it can even go in for a service. And though the experience won't be cheap - suits cost between pounds 1,000 and pounds 3,000, depending on the fabric used - it will be fun. Sure beats spending pounds 10,000 on an haute couture number from Paris. !


Client: Mariella Frostrup, 35 Television presenter

Mariella Frostrup (previous page) wears a "work in progress" by Ozwald Boateng - a celebrity in his own right, who has been showing his men's "bespoke couture" tailoring on the Paris catwalks since 1995, and introduced made-to-measure womenswear last year.

"I can feel totally different in the morning than I do in the afternoon, so I like the stability of a suit. If you wear a well-cut trouser suit, people notice you, not what you wear - it's like a coat of armour, a protective uniform that doesn't say anything about who you really are. That's why men have worn them for so long. This is my first made-to-measure experience, so Ozwald advised on fabrics and linings, but I know what suits me. I've ordered two outfits: one suit in pinstripe, which I'd always wanted, with a slim-cut trouser, the other a skirt suit in soft, mid-grey cashmere with a faint pink window-pane check."

From pounds 2,000. Ozwald Boateng, 9 Vigo Street, W1 (0171 734 6868)


Client: Leanne Bugner, 25 General manager, Cafe de Paris, London

Leanne Bugner (boxer Jo Bugner's daughter-in-law, left) wears a cream wool, Bianca Jagger-inspired single-breasted suit with high lapels and kick-flare trousers. It was made for her by East Ender Mark Powell, whose other clients include Naomi Campbell and Dina Carroll.

"I wanted a funky man's power suit for work, something I could wear for a meeting in the day, and feel sexy in for night. The first suit I bought from Mark was pinstripe - I wanted it to slim me a bit - and I wore it with heels, so I was 6ft tall. I received several compliments so decided to get fitted for this suit, which is a totally different look. This is a man's-style suit, but Mark's tailoring is so womanly I can actually wear nothing underneath this, and no one would be able to tell. I used to wear long dresses a lot at work - now I wear Mark's suits just as often. They are just as sexy but much more practical."

From pounds 750. Mark Powell, 17 Newburgh Street, W1 (0171 287 5498)


Client: Jeny Howarth, 34 Writer, mother, businesswoman and model

Jeny Howarth wears a single-breasted mod-style black suit tailored for her by Debbie Fairman (near right) at Savile Row's Gieves & Hawkes.

"I have loved boys' clothes since I was a child, they have always suited me better than girlie things. It was great to walk into Gieves. I expected an Are You Being Served? atmosphere, but it was very relaxing. There is an overwhelming choice of fabrics, so I chose a simple lightweight wool which can be worn anytime, except in extreme heat, and a timeless design. I changed my mind about leg and arm length a few times, and was advised to keep the styling simple. After three fittings and 12 weeks, it was ready. This suit is 100 times better than anything ready-to-wear. You really feel it is being built around you, and it isn't at all restrictive. I felt totally at home in it right away and I would recommend Gieves to anyone who wants a real Savile Row experience."

From pounds 2,000. Gieves & Hawkes, 1 Savile Row, W1 (0171 434 2001)


Client: Camilla Gloerfelt-Tarp, 28 Banker with Tokyo-Mitsubishi Bank, London

Camilla Gloerfelt-Tarp (right) wears her bespoke pinstripe trouser suit from Timothy Everest, whose clientele is 20 per cent female. Other Everest fans include Nicole Kidman and Evangeline Blahnik, sister of the shoe designer Manolo.

"I saw Timothy's collection of ready-to-wear suits for women at Barney's in New York, and asked about him. When they told me he was based in east London, I knew I would visit him for a suit. I have had things made to measure before, mainly because I'm 6ft and slim, and like things that fit well. It's not that I can't find things for my height, I can, but I didn't want to look like a woman in a man's suit, so Timothy's style really appealed to me. I had two fittings until it was just as I wanted: a slim pinstripe jacket with matching skirt and trousers. I wear the skirt suit for work, it is conservative enough for meeting clients, I often wear the trousers for work, but I prefer them for going out."

From pounds 1,000. Timothy Everest, 32 Elder Street, E1 (0171 377 5770)