Fast Track: Suits and blazers cut by lasers
What do you do if after your first week in an impressive City job you realise your off-the-peg suit doesn't quite come up to scratch? Holly Davies visits Savile Row for a surprisingly affordable answer
Thursday 26 February 1998
Stephen Wood, 31, is set to take over the family business. After years of being a backroom boy he now needs to be taken seriously. The business is TF Wood and Son, suppliers of hand-made accessories to the gun trade for more than 25 years. Steve will soon be responsible for all sales negotiations and general business dealings,. At the moment, his standard outfit for meetings is a pair of beige cords and a checked shirt. He wants a suit but can't afford bespoke and knows he will not be respected if he turns up in any old high-street affair.
For a "semi-bespoke" suit, select tailors use a Mintel computer system provided by Paname, which translates the exact dimensions into a laser- cut suit. The tailor measures the customer and enters the figures into the computer. Paname makes up the suit in France, then sends it to the tailor who oversees the final fitting. The process may sound hi-tech, but it has been around for the past 10 years, and is growing increasingly popular with traditional tailors who are discovering that it can give their business another string to its bow. More than 150 tailors now offer the service throughout the UK and Ireland.
The suits cost between pounds 450 and pounds 550 - almost half the price of bespoke suits - without neglecting any of the finer details that bespoke suits deliver. A hand-made bespoke suit can set you back up to pounds 20,000.
Stephen's new ensemble began life as a rather ill-fitting and unfashionable blazer, a 42-inch basic template - known in the trade as a block - whose measurements are stored in the computer. His tailor was the delightful Eric James, of James and James on Old Burlington Street. Bundles of fabric swatches were brought out for Steve's inspection. "I thought that I wanted something in dark grey, but there was hundreds of fabrics to choose from," he said later. "It's amazing - when you've got so much choice, the boring suit you needed becomes something of a pleasure." Stephen took a shine to a tweed, which was obviously suited to his role in the gun trade.
Eric set to work adapting the jacket to Stephen's measurements and specifications. The shoulders sat well but the armholes were too deep. By tapping a code into the computer, he was able to alter the measurements so they would fit Stephen perfectly. Then Steve was asked if he wanted the cuff of his shirt to show. He did, so half an inch came off the sleeves of the jacket.
The general style of jacket was the next choice. As Stephen had only owned two suits before - one of which was a green tartan Vivienne Westwood bondage suit - all he knew was that he wanted to go for three buttons and single breasted. He also wanted, above anything else, the attention to detail a ready-to-wear suit cannot provide. The tailor's charts included a new design that was just what he wanted, and surprisingly modern in cut. Three buttons, slightly waisted, with a hand-stitched lapel, real buttonholes on the sleeve and a double vent.
Steve thought choosing the trousers would be the easy part until he was shown the array of pocket styles available. He eventually plumped for a Fifties-style cutaway pocket, and one back pocket with a button and loop. The icing on the cake was the decision to embroider his name in gold thread on the inside breast of the jacket. "The details are the things that make you feel like you're designing your own suit, a special one- off production," he said.
Lastly it was agreed that the trouser hems should be left raw so that when the suit arrived back from France, in approximately three weeks, they would be cut by hand and tapered so they were longer at the back, which would give a slight drape over Steve's brogues.
After the fitting, I did some research on the nearest competition: the designers you would expect to offer similar quality in their off-the-peg suits. The cheapest Paul Smith suit costs pounds 485 and a Nicole Farhi suit is pounds 550. Alterations are free for Paul Smith unless you require shoulder alterations, which cost pounds 120. The prices may be similar but, in real terms, the Paname suit offers so much more.
"I expected that it would be quite an intimidating experience, going to a posh tailor on Savile Row, but everyone was friendly," says Stephen. "I had quite a good idea of what I wanted from my suit but I actually ended up with something quite different. The chance to choose from over 200 combinations really made you feel as if you were designing a suit for yourself, one that was different from everyone else's and really reflected my own personality and identity.
"I was really happy with the advice I was given and had every confidence that Eric wouldn't let me walk out looking like a fool. His instinct for what was flattering and his ability to translate what I wanted was uncanny. I think it's great that now all my measurements are on the computer and I could get another great suit within three weeks.
"The service is especially good for someone like me who really does not enjoy wandering round the shops, mainly because I know exactly what I want and need. Even if you don't know loads about having a suit made, the little bit of knowledge you do have combined with this tailoring system - and, of course, a good tailor - guarantees that you'll end up with a suit you will love.
"I always find that people judge a book by its cover and I find that people generally get me wrong, but with the suit that I've had made I think they'll get it right."
Paname is available at tailors nationwide, for inquiries call 01823 335251.
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