Imagine commissioning a Savile Row suit from the comfort of your hometown–even if you don’t live in London. While this has been possible in places like New York City (because there are a few tailors like Leonard Logsdail) and even in Budapest (where you can visit the likes of Simon Skottowe)…cities in Germany are typically not on the radar for visits by London-trained tailors. Yet today, you can have this option in Berlin.
How the Story Began
The story started with two men in Berlin. Neither of the two was a tailor, nor English : one was in charge of a few sublime restaurants in Germany’s capital–among them Grill Royal and Pauly Saal, while the other had a vitae filled with accolades of a career in men’s fashion.
As friends for 20 years since meeting in their hometown of Düsseldorf (a sort of ‘capital’ for women’s fashion), both shared a love for handmade clothes and for years, had sought out an apt tailor in Germany to suit their taste, with no success..
Even though several tailors in Germany are known to be authentic, neither of the two friends felt convinced enough to commission a suit in their own country.
One day in 2011, they decided to do something unconventional–and promptly set up a bespoke tailoring business in Berlin aligned with their own preferences in suiting. The names of these two friends? Martin Purwin and Boris Radczun.
Berlin isn’t exactly a hotspot for classical menswear and handmade suits. Or not anymore.
However, in the 1960s and 70s, dozens of bespoke tailors made clothes in West Berlin, and some of them were very good. Among the last from this generation, still in business today, is Volkmar Arnulf. Now in his late seventies, Arnulf is best known for being the tailor of Helmut Kohl. After decades of running a shop on Kurfuerstendamm, the West Berlin’s version of the Champs Elysées–Arnulf recently decided to install his atelier in Potsdam. Nowadays, around half a dozen other younger bespoke tailors are also crafting suits in Berlin.
Yet, Purwin & Radczun have set themselves apart from others, particularly since the atelier cutter happens to be London’s own James Whitfield, trained at Anderson & Sheppard.
After Martin Purwin and Boris Radczun contacted Whitfield in 2012, they learned that he had a hankering to move to Berlin. Green lights flashed, and Whitfield was on staff at lightning speed. Whitfield embraces the cannons of Anderson & Sheppard tailoring, which means soft tailoring, even by Southern Italian standards, a choice which indubitably appeals to the taste of the sophisticated German man.
Yet if you meet James himself, you’ll likely find that he doesn’t emulate the typical cutter from Savile Row–with no three piece suit, no stuffiness, and no endless Cockney chitchat either.
Purwin & Radczun was not aiming to be just another German bespoke tailoring business. Instead, they wanted to bring international flair to the German capital. James provides such flair simply by being English. His approach to cutting and sense of style differs from the approach of a cutter trained and experienced in Germany.
A bit of history : Germany and Austrian tailors typically use a cutting system created by M. Müller & Sohn in Munich, a tailoring academy and publishing house founded in 1891. While this system was not the only one in existence at the time, since the 1950s, this particular approach has dominated tailoring practices in Germany and Austria–and been adopted by other countries as well.
The system hailing from Munich is updated regularly to adapt to current style preferences, and to appeal to the tastes of many ready-to-wear buyers. It is worth noting that suits based on the M. Müller & Sohn system appear less timeless, and one could say, more fashion-based than style-based.
On the flip side, James Whitfield cuts an English silhouette relying on the influence of Anderson & Sheppard and Edward Sexton…with what I would define as a slight Northern Italian accent.
If you glance Instagram, you may discern that the typical Purwin & Radczun suit will have a wider shoulder with a roped top, dramatic lapels (often peaked on single-breasted suits) and a pronounced waist. However, Martin Purwin refuses to name a house style–and insists that James’s suits should differ, according to each customer’s individual preference.
Presently, around 150 suits are turned out each year, with the majority being the low-profile, two-piece grey or navy business suit.
Nevertheless, Instagram portrays a defined ‘house style’, which is no doubt attractive. Purwin & Radczun is able to crafts suits with hints of the 1930s era, and lapels like no other German tailor would cut. In fact, it’s hard to believe these suits hail from Berlin and not London, Milan or even Paris.
Your First Visit
Purwin & Radczun is located in a spacious first floor installment at Tempelhofer Ufer, which is typical of Berlin, with windows looking across the Landwehrkanal in the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. The address may ring a bell with those in the fashion business, since a prominent Berlin trade show presents a Fashion Week here, just around the corner.
The nearest subway station to reach Purwin & Radczun is Gleisdreieck. While the area isn’t considered a shopping district, it’s not purely residential either. In fact, you’d never expect to find a bespoke tailor in this “destination location”. But Purwin & Radczun doesn’t need to rely on a passerby–with no shop window, you need only to spy the name at the entrance door to enter. When the buzzer sounds, walk up a half flight in order to be welcomed, either by Martin Purwin, James Whitfield or by one of the tailors.
One shouldn’t expect a formal welcome or to be addressed as Sir or Madam here, since the tone is more friendly and personal, rather than formal–which is quite in-line with this area of Berlin.
Should James Whitfield greet you, depending on the day, he can even appear slightly grumpy with a pin between his lips and a coat hanging on his arm, while mumbling a soft welcome. The reason being, because he is extremely busy most of the time and sincerely focused on his work. With short shaven hair, a moustache, and the occasional three-day stubble, not to mention huge frames–Whitfield could be confused with a painter, a fashion designer or an actor. Rather tall in stature, he has a dry sense of humor and a slight resemblance with John Cleese.
Framed on a wall in the workshop, is a drawing of a ME 109 from WWII, which a visiting cloth merchant employee had left behind, sketched on the wrapping paper of a cut of cloth sent to Purwin & Radczun.
To describe owner Martin Purwin, he could be English, German, Danish or Dutch, although he dresses in an Italian style. For example, when photographer Martin Smolka visited, Purwin wore a lightweight single breasted navy jacket (with an unvented back), grey worsted trousers and dark brown brogues.
Boris Radczun by chance can be spotted at trunkshows and occasionally in the shop. As marketing spearhead, Radczun is surprisingly well connected in the industry as well as being well-versed in the world of fine art.
Usually James Whitfield and Martin Purwin attend to first-time customers together. James will discuss the style of the suit and take measurements, while Martin Purwin assists with the choice of fabrics. If James Whitfield is out of the atelier for a trunkshow, then Martin Purwin will take the order alone.
The first fittings are always performed by James Whitfield. Then, Martin Purwin can do the second fitting on his own (if James Whitfield is not there). Two or even three fittings are typical for first orders; but, with future orders, one or two fittings are usually enough. In regard to the price, suits start at 3800 Euros for a two piece suit. Everything is made in-house by their own tailors, and Martin Purwin’s wife Marie-Cecile Purwin runs the finishing department and manages the place.
Purwin & Radczun visit Munich, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt regularly each month; thus, covering the most important towns in Germany. Only Stuttgart is missing on their list, but they will hopefully add it to the list very soon. Since Hamburg is so close to Berlin, most customers are willing to travel to the capital for a fitting. Future goals? Purwin & Radczun might try to get a foot into Scandinavia–but their biggest goal is New York City.
And what about a trunkshow in London? Sure…they’d do it any time.
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Official website : Purwin & Radczun
Contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
If you speak German, please visit Bernhard Roetzel’s blog : Der Feine Herr
Photos 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 © Martin Smolka
Other photos © Purwin & Radczun