Bespoke Suits: Making the Case for a $20,000 Outfit
The how, where and why of having a tailor make you some customized business attire
Francesco Pecoraro smiles knowingly and waves his hand toward the window from his second floor perch on overlooking Bloor Street West, Toronto’s haute couture thoroughfare.
“I don’t sell suits,” says the founder of Francesco SR. “The point is not to sell a suit. Anyone can sell a suit. The point is to get a customer – for life.”
At 78 years old with 62 years as a master tailor under his belt, the diminutive doyen of Toronto’s bespoke tailoring scene isn’t slowing down. Neither is the market for his services.
Anyone can sell a suit. The point is to get a customer – for life
For the masses there are off-the-rack suits. For those with a taste for more, designer suits with custom alterations. Then there is custom made to measure (in Toronto it’s a service offered at Harry Rosen and Holt Renfrew. The latter will custom cut and tailor a design from Armani Collezioni, Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali or Tom Ford at just 10 to 15% more than the rack price. That’s especially a bargain for American visitors getting a substantial discount already thanks to the low loonie.)
Beyond that is something a little more special: bespoke suiting. It’s an alien concept to many millennials raised in an off-the-rack, disposable fashion culture but bespoke is something true fashionistas aspire to. It is timeless in design, a rock in the surging sea of fashion trends, almost a lost art. Sartorial elegance at this level, however, is a cloistered world. Depending on who you’re buying from and what you want, bespoke suits start at around at $3,000 and climb to $15,000 or $20,000.
It’s primarily a man’s world, too: While Francesco SR and other tailors will make women’s suits to order, the offer is rarely taken up. Pecoraro says it happens so seldom that “it’s something I do just to see if I can do it, like a hobby.”
What you’re paying for is the most refined experience you can have when it comes to a suit, says Pedro Mendes, men’s fashion connoisseur and blogger at the Hogtown Rake (hogtownrake.com).
He explains that the benefits of a custom-made suit go further than the obvious. The fit is the important factor, even more than the fabric, design, colour or pattern. Whereas off-the-rack suits aren’t designed for your body, a bespoke garment is designed just for you. It moves with you and sits with you as a second skin.
The cost is fair, Mendes says, because “the art of bespoke is that it’s a very labour-intensive process.”
Another benefit of bespoke, Mendesr says, is that a shop will hold on to customers’ patterns, to be re-used for future suits. Having a long-running relationship with one tailor can be rewarding and convenient.
It’s all about relationships for Issac Ely of Issac Ely Bespoke. His shop is located in North York, far from bustling Bloor Street. Ely says he doesn’t expect anyone to walk in his door by chance. Bespoke is a process, he says, not something you run in and buy.
He’s been at it for more than 20 years, an extension of the Iranian family business rooted in wholesale textiles and retail. “I wanted to do more than what four walls of off the rack could offer,” he said. “Retail is about customer service.”
New customers should know that bespoke suiting doesn’t happen at 21st century speeds. Here’s what he means by a process. A first meeting allows the master tailor to size up the customer, figuratively and literally. While the omnipresent measuring tape is indispensable, so too is an eye. The tailor observes how the customer stands, sits and walks – each gesture makes a difference.
The customer picks out the style, fabric, and details such as button holes, pockets, lapels and vents. The second meeting is a rough fitting, ensuring the shoulders, waist, sleeve and waist all conform to the body of the customer. The third is usually the delivery of the finished product.
The whole procedure takes “maybe four to five weeks – you should budget the time,” Ely says.
‘A hub for bespoke’
Back at Francesco SR it’s a bittersweet day. One chapter is closing and another is opening. All around Pecoraro, movers are whisking away boxes loaded with customer’s suit patterns as he prepares to vacate the his location of 13 years and move to nearby Avenue Road, where he’ll join Ideyi Chuku at the new location of LeatherFoot. With their forces combined at one address, they envision an emporium for all things luxury, from shoes to shirts, suits to ties – and perhaps later, cigars and fine whiskies.
“It’s going to be a hub for bespoke,” says Pecoraro’s son Max, a Toronto criminal lawyer helping with the transition. “The finest of the finest for men.”
Regardless of where he sets up, Mendes says Francesco SR’s quality level remains unique among Toronto bespoke tailors. “Some places send their work out and there are many shops of highly skilled tailors in Toronto,” he said. However, he belives, “true bespoke should be on-premise,” and that’s how Francesco SR works.
Other options include bespoke shirts, and in Pecoraro’s case, ties, hats and overcoats, the latter with the house signature third pocket, also known as the cash or ticket pocket (James Bond’s Savile Row tailored suits often have ticket pockets as well.)
And how much? Both Pecoraro and Issac shrug. Of course, it’s like buying a car. You want the base model, or do you want it loaded with the heated leather seats, remote start, sunroof, upgraded rims and tires, special paint and premium sound system?
Each add-on, each upgrade has a price. Again, the $3,000 to $5,000 range is a starting point for lightweight wool suit and for many buyers that’s good enough. More extroverted clients however, might go for gold plated buttons or opt for more exotic fabrics, such as pure silk from Asia, cashmeres from southeast Asia or fine linen. Each fabric has characteristics which affect the drape, lustre, water resistance and durability.
That $5,000 suit can quickly escalate north of $15,000, even $20,000 depending on the bells and whistles. Each client is different, note Pecoraro and Issac, and bespoke is a buffet of choices, creating a suit unique to that customer’s sense of style and need for comfort.
While the choice of fabric certainly plays into the cost and details like a silk lining or, perchance, solid gold buttons might add up, it’s really down to the time it takes which doesn’t waver.
“You see here,” says Pecoraro, taking up a pair of pin striped pants casually lying on the coffee table. “There’s no sewing machine. It’s all done by hand. Every stitch. The pockets, lining, everything hand-sewn. It’s the time.”
WHERE TO SUIT UP
Selected custom tailors by city:
Shirts, suits. Off the rack and custom fitted to custom made from scratch.
Family-run, established in 1978. Suits, shirts, shoes and even knitwear.
Richard Bennett Custom Tailors & Shirtmakers
More than 80 years of history spanning three generations. Located in the heart of the city’s Financial District.
New to the scene; offers some interesting stylings.
Caters to the elite of Wall Street and the UN.
Martin Greenfield is considered by some to be the Dean of New York’s bespoke tailors.
Saint Laurie Merchant Tailors
Established in 1913, manufactured army officers’ suits during the Second World war.
Field English Custom Tailors
Purveyors of Savile Row-style suits since 1968. By appointment only.