Bespoken Here: Pittsburgh custom clothiers service clientele seeking fine fit, style
June 12, 2012 10:35 AM
Robert Engel, left, of Tom James Co., shows samples to Emanuel DiNatale, chairman of accounting firm Alpern Rosenthal, at his office, Downtown.
Business partners Corey Brown and Carly Brown of C. Brown Custom Clothiers at Carly Brown's home in Brookline.
By Sara Bauknecht Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's been said that clothes make the man, but sometimes the man can make the clothes.
Bespoke, or custom-made, apparel puts the design power in the client's hands, allowing them to treat themselves or someone special (hint: Father's Day is coming up) to jackets, shirts, suits, vests or trousers that not only fit their physique but also their personal style.
"It's on the rise," said Larrimor's president Tom Michael. Custom requests comprise about a quarter of the business received by the upscale men and women's retailer with stores Downtown and at the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon.
Among men's stores offering custom options are Downtown-based Heinz Healey's and Joseph Orlando, with the latter soon to offer custom belts. Brooks Brothers sells made-to-measure menswear and boasts on its website that its flagship store on Manhattan's Madison Avenue houses a digital tailor, a device that captures a 3-D body image and uses it to detect and transmit measurements to a clothing producer.
Some tailors, particularly those in fashion megalopolises such as New York City, tend to romanticize the process as one requiring multiple one-on-one meetings and fittings to ensure a no-corners-cut, unique-to-you ensemble is created.
"It's a very luxurious experience," Mr. Michael said.
But busy clients are finding this multistep approach less appealing. Customers don't want to make three or four trips into the store, he said.
For the man who is too busy to shop, or just despises it, there are bespoke salespeople who strive to keep visits and manufacturing time to a minimum, without compromising quality.
"We're always about pushing the vendors to be faster," Mr. Michael said. Average production time is four weeks but can vary from about three to six weeks. A custom suit from Larrimor's can start at about $800, but the "sweet spot" is about $2,500.
At Montaj Hong Kong Custom Tailor, owned by NC Jetto in Monroeville, the turn-around time for orders also takes about three to four weeks. The 40-plus-year-old establishment offers special-made clothes for men and women, with suits starting at about $500 and shirts at $85. Another option is custom shoes in classic materials and exotic skins. People also can bring in a favorite piece, and the shop will try to replicate the style and fit, said manager Moe Romani.
Some clothiers bring the experience directly to the consumer. The Tom James Co., the world's largest custom clothing manufacturer, with more than 100 locations across the globe including one on Strawberry Way, Downtown, regularly conducts appointments at clients' offices for convenience.
"That's kind of our key premise, that we come to you," said regional vice president Bob Engel.
Suits typically range from about $799 to $3,000, while shirts start at about $105.
C. Brown Custom Clothiers, founded last year by local cousins Corey Brown and Carly Brown, similarly aim to marry style with low stress by seeing customers at a location of their choice, such as at home or work.
"We will travel anywhere in the United States for our clients," said Ms. Brown, who has had people in Ohio, Maryland, Florida and South Carolina seek her business's services, which tend to start at about $485 for suits.
Just as no two custom creations are the same, neither are the people who want them. While the traditional bespoke devotees are those who are difficult to fit, others consider the clothes a personal or professional investment.
"You never know who's walking in," said Mr. Romani, listing professional athletes, doctors, judges and lawyers as some of the shop's regulars. "We get all kinds of different people."