My partner went to Brioni and all I got was a £150 T-shirt

One of the world's most exclusive suit makers seems to be feeling the pinch, reports Nina Lakhani

Presidents and kings have shot their well-cut cuffs; the cream of Hollywood slip their hands discreetly into the immaculately sewn pockets. Brioni, arguably the world's most exclusive – not to say expensive – suit maker, has been worn by everyone from Nelson Mandela to George Bush, James Bond to the Rockefellers.

Now, for men of more modest means but with a taste for luxury, the Italian fashion house is branching out into, well, T-shirts.

Wide in the shoulders, narrow in the waist, Brioni's bespoke suits are not for the typical male fashion fan. A top-of-the-range two-piece will set the buyer back an eye-watering £28,000.

But, as the global downturn continues to bite, Brioni has been left with little choice: it has become the latest, and perhaps most unlikely, fashion house to cross into leisure wear. It joins its compatriots Armani and Canali in an attempt to appeal to a wider market through designer jeans, polo shirts and sweaters. Of course, with hand-stitched embroidered detail, Brioni won't be producing any old T-shirt, and at £150 garments are unlikely to end up in the bargain bin.

Brioni has been forced to join the rag trade as the luxury goods sector suffers in the recession. Clothing has been hit hardest and quality menswear sales are expected to fall by 15 per cent this year, according to the international consulting firm Bain & Company.

The Savile Row tailor Henry Poole said yesterday that regular customers were coming in a little less frequently and perhaps buying two suits rather than the usual four.

Ozwald Boateng, the British designer credited with introducing Savile Row bespoke tailoring to a new generation including President Obama and stars such as Will Smith and Jamie Foxx, has seen customers swapping bespoke for made-to-measure suits. Tim Quayle, a spokesman for Boateng, said: "Last season was probably our best season ever for ready-to-wear pieces, and though people still want investment pieces that will last for years and years and years, they are perhaps moving it down a level from what they used to buy."

It is unlikely that the Italian suit maker, established just after the Second World War, will foray too far into the high street, however. Brioni's tailors train in-house for four years before they are allowed even to handle fabric for clients. The very best suits are pinstriped with white gold.

By the 1950s, the house of Brioni had become synonymous with elegance, luxury and daring sophistication, boasting Clark Gable, John Wayne and Kirk Douglas as regular customers.

The apogee of its fame was when it became known for dressing the world's most eligible fictional man. Pierce Brosnan introduced Brioni suits to the 007 wardrobe in GoldenEye and passed on the style baton to the new Bond, Daniel Craig. Just days before the release of Casino Royale, Brioni launched a £3,000 Bond-themed tuxedo: each had "James Bond" stitched into its silver lining.

But with the Bond deal lost and in tighter times, the new T-shirt perhaps signals that Brioni realises exclusivity alone doesn't cut it any more.

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