Every so often, the New York Times reports on the growing market for ‘custom tailoring’. Sometimes their reporter is talking about a flurry of interest in a master tailor who has increased his visits from London to New York; sometimes the story is focused on one of the many attempts to personalise automated mass-production through made-to-order and made-to-measure systems. These topics make for good stories, which is presumably why they come around over and over. However true it may be, journalists like to imagine consumers turning en masse from alienated buyers to engaged partners, and tradespeople turning from mass production to more thoughtful, personal products.
There is something particularly enjoyable about a garment made on request. Communication is needed; a relationship is established. It’s a chance for the customer to communicate his interests and respect to a maker, and for the maker in turn to share his experience and attention. It’s the difference between a pre-packaged sandwich (of which, I am told, we Britons are still consuming in greater quantities every year) and a meal prepared with someone in mind.
The immediate gratification of ownership is sometimes blamed for the success of mass-market retailers, whose borderline disposable goods are sold not in order to be cheap and reliable, but rather to be instantly and infinitely replaceable. Clearly, at least for some consumers, the immediacy of retail is rewarding.
Slow products, if not taking a stand against this kind of immediate consumption, exactly, are at least an alternative to it. If you are interested in any field of art or culture, you will appreciate the results of deliberation: the musician’s slow, reflective practice; the writer agonizing for hours (as Oscar Wilde supposedly said he did) over the placement of a single punctuation mark. It’s not just that the achievement takes time, but that the measure of time is a measure of seriousness—proof that it’s worthwhile. This, it seems to me, is also the great seduction of hand-made clothing and shoes, over and above any functional value or exclusivity that handwork might confer. Somebody wanted to put the time in.
If there’s a hit from immediate gratification, there’s also pleasure in waiting: the dish you make over a few hours, pouring a glass of wine for yourself and putting one in the pot; the view that reveals itself only after a few hours hiking or running; the book that takes years to write. There is a kind of anticipatory pleasure which both lightens the obstacles on the way and sweetens the moment of completion.
I recently received the finished version of my Luxire suit, which was another of these moments of completion. I wrote about the company and their general offering in these columns in October.
The last time I had worn the unfinished jacket, it was more or less a replica of a Canali Kei model, which I’d provided as a guide.
Since then, Suman, the tailor working on my suit, tightened the collar slightly, nipped in the waist a little, lowered the buttoning point, and adjusted the shoulder pad on one side to accommodate the greater shoulder slope I have on one side by removing the pad and sewing in some additional wadding. Although the trousers were made to a finished state by the time of the fitting, I also had the waist taken in a little. Some of the changes were made at my suggestion, others by Suman, but all were discussed and executed only from photographs and email. That such a method can work so successfully is all the more remarkable when you consider the number of popular in-person MTM operations which still run into problems.
The jacket, as can be seen more clearly from the photos of the unfinished version, is almost entirely handmade. The pockets, chest canvas and sleeves are attached by hand. The pick stitching is precise yet subtle. Although Luxire originally had a more English sensibility, the increased Italian influence is noticeable. Rather than the stiff, sculpted chest piece of a Savile Row jacket, the canvas layer is soft and rolls gently. It’s soft enough that I can add a sweater underneath the jacket and feel no resistance, but without the sweater the jacket springs back towards the body.
The buttonholes are all finished in the Milanese style, to a high standard. The lapel buttonhole in particular is excellent. I do wonder if the Milanese finishing is the best idea for a buttonhole you will use several times per day, though, such as the main button on a suit: it’s a good deal stiffer to fasten than a regular handmade buttonhole. I certainly see the appeal of ‘the secret vice’, and some will find the luxury more than worth the inconvenience. These are, in any case, very fine buttonholes.
The whole process took under four months from our initial conversation to the final item. There was a week or so during this period when I had received the trial jacket but was travelling a lot and hadn’t found time to pack and return it (and a strange moment when DHL invoiced me for import duty for sending my Canali jacket—obviously not a commercial product, and not packed like one—to the tailors in Bangalore), but even so, the service was impressively quick.
Luxire’s suits are an attractive option to anyone who wants the care and limitless flexibility of traditional bespoke but does not want to travel to the tailor’s workshop or wait for him to visit their city. As I said in my previous article, this isn’t pretending to be traditional bespoke, but it is a remarkable service offering almost entirely handmade construction, with huge amounts of time and attention devoted to the garment. If you want to enter a particular tailoring tradition, you must go to London, Paris or one of the great Italian cities. But if you already have a developed sense of what you like (and have a few essential garments, perhaps through traditional bespoke), you will appreciate being able to deepen and expand that wardrobe conveniently and economically, perhaps commissioning linen and flannel seasonal suits from an existing worsted business suit, for instance.
Just like traditional bespoke, I now have a paper pattern on file for future orders. But better than that, I have a garment worth waiting for, one that speaks of the dedication of the tailor, cutter and finisher who spent their time bringing it into existence.
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