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Not all custom tailors are cut from the same cloth; we tried out a few of the best.
Mon Jul 19 2010
Suit by Mohan's Custom Tailors
This high-end method of tailoring has its roots in London’s Savile Row and dates back to the 17th century, when tailors held reams of fabric on the premises (if a client chose a length of cloth, it was said to have “been spoken for”). Today, the term refers to garments that have been handmade from an individualized pattern, as opposed to adjusting a pre-existing template (made-to-measure) or mass-producing standard sizes (ready-to-wear).
Photographs: Clotilde Testa
The tailors: CEO KJ Singh and owner Mohan “Michael” Ramchandani of Mohan’s Custom Tailors (The Lincoln Building, 60 E 42nd St between Madison and Park Aves, suite 1432; 212-697-0050, mohantailors.com). Suits start at $500; three- to four-week turnaround.
The process: TONY design director Adam Fulrath was in need of new duds for a ritzy affair. “I’ve had a hard time finding suits that don’t look too baggy or have ridiculously wide shoulders,” he explains. Which is why we sent him to this family-run business headed by Ramchandani and his nephew, KJ Singh, who are known for their wizardry in creating suits cut for hard-to-fit sizes. After a brief chat, they decided that a contemporary, slim-fitting suit would be most appropriate. Next, they discussed the smallest of details, from the choice of a two--horn-button front and a burgundy Bemberg silk lining to the addition of hidden interior pockets for stashing pens and business cards. When Fulrath expressed his desire for a black or dark grey suit, Singh pulled out three swatches: a cashmere, a British wool and an Italian wool. “The British wool was a bit stiffer, and since the wedding is in London, that seemed appropriate,” says Fulrath of his selection, a black Super 120 from English fabric house Charles Clayton. Next, in-house master tailor Kenny Wong took Fulrath’s head-to-toe measurements, which revealed something surprising. “My actual waist is not what I wear in jeans, but rather two sizes bigger,” Fulrath says. “The fashion industry is lying to me!” His specifications were sent to Hong Kong, where the pattern from which Fulrath’s suit was cut was created. Two weeks later, Fulrath returns to try on the loosely done, unfinished suit (only one sleeve is attached). Only one more fitting for minor adjustments (shortening the jacket, slimming down the pants) was required before the suit was complete.
The results: “I feel like I finally have a suit that fits my tall, lanky shape; I no longer look like I’m wearing a zoot suit, swimming in my pants, with oversize shoulder pads,” says Fulrath. “I had considered getting a custom suit before, but the cost was a bit prohibitive. Yet each time I pull out my off-the-rack suits to wear, I’m always frustrated. One good suit would have cost me the same as the three I have that weren’t right.” Final cost: $1,500.
Photographs: Clotilde Testa
The tailor: Alan David Horowitz, owner of Alan David Custom (16 E 40th St between Fifth and Madison Aves, suite 702; 212-227-4040, alandavidnyc.com). Suits start at $895; two- to three-week turnaround.
The process: During their initial hour-and-a-half meeting, TONY associate online producer Joe DeFranceschi sat with Horowitz to discuss colors and fabrics. They decided on a Super 120 gray cloth that requires delivery from Italy, which tacks on an extra week of waiting time. But the decision-making at this point had only begun. “There are so many options—from color and materials to buttonholes, pockets, monograms—that it’s hard to decide, especially for someone as blissfully ignorant about fashion as me,” says DeFranceschi. “Alan gave me guidance when choosing the details of the suit but let me have my way if we had a difference of opinion.” They agreed that the final product would be a slim-fitting, narrow-sleeved suit, lined in lavender Bemberg silk with flat-front pants and horn buttons. The in-house tailor, Clyde Ramadani, took DeFranceschi’s measurements as Horowitz explained why he’s the ideal client for a bespoke suit. “Joe’s a difficult fit: tall, lean and built with shoulders at different heights and slightly bow-legged knees,” Horowitz says. DeFranceschi’s specifications were sent to Alan David Custom’s workshop in Long Island City, and three weeks later, he returned to Horowitz’s showroom for a second fitting. At this point, the suit was 75 percent complete, and Horowitz inspected the suit, reviewing the back to ensure there is no bunching from shoulder to shoulder. “Watching him at work is watching a true artisan who has wielded the measuring tape his whole life,” says DeFranceschi. Minor alterations were made in a matter of days, and after DeFranceschi arrived for a final fitting, he left moments later with a garment bag in hand.
The results: “The fit, materials and design are in another league compared to off-the-rack suits,” says DeFranceschi. “This suit makes me feel great and sexy. I wore it on the train to work one day and was surprised that women—and men—weren’t throwing themselves at my feet. It gives me a confident swagger.” Final cost: $1,250.
Photographs: Clotilde Testa
The tailors: Owners Neal and Jonathan Boyarsky and director of custom clothing Steven Tabak at Beckenstein Bespoke (257 W 39th St between Seventh and Eighth Aves; 212-475-6666, fabricczar.com). Suits start at $1,500; three- to four-week turnaround.
The process: TONY Film editor David Fear likens stepping into the top-floor atelier of Beckenstein Men’s Fabrics to “going back in time and walking into 1940s New York.” The old boys-club vibe—mahogany shelves display collectibles such as classic toy cars, baseball caps and antique irons—is appropriate, considering that the company has serious history: Its founder, Neal Boyarsky’s grandfather Samuel Beckenstein, was one of the forefathers of the Lower East Side fabric trade and an icon within the industry. When Fear sat down for his design consultation, Boyarsky immediately sized up the intended look: “He’s a Midwest guy turned English.” Sartorially, this translated to a three-piece suit with a two-button, peaked-lapel jacket; a vest that repeats the jacket’s pattern and collar; and a pair of cuffed and pleated pants with hidden pockets for stashing money, obviating the need for a wallet that would otherwise ruin the line of the suit. Since Beckenstein Men’s Fabrics holds the sole U.S. license to distribute the ultraluxe fabric label Scabal, it’s only appropriate that the men chose a Super 120 bold pinstripe by the brand. “I left a number of details and choices in Steven’s hands,” admits Fear. “When you have an expert at your disposal, you’d be a moron not to take advantage of their knowledge and taste—and everything he came back with was impeccable.” Once the design basics were determined, Tabak spent 20 minutes taking Fear’s measurements. “I want the process to be quick, easy and not painful,” says Jonathan Boyarsky. And he succeeded: In less than a month, the garment was complete after a total of three fittings.
The results: “I normally dress like a 12-year-old skater kid: Converse sneakers and a T-shirt,” says Fear. “When I looked in the mirror, it was the first time in my 39 years of life that I felt like a gentleman. It made me want to hold the door open for strangers; speak proper, non-slang-inflected English; know the difference between a claret and a pinotage; stand up straight; walk in long strides; and act like an adult,” Fear admits. “It ain’t cheap, but if it makes you feel like a million bucks, then hell, you’re getting a bargain.” Final cost: $2,200.
Photographs: Clotilde Testa
The tailor: Kamaal Kadri, owner of Kamaal Kadri New York (327 W 30th St between Eighth and Ninth Aves, suite 6A; 646-688-3171, kamaalkadri.com). Suits start at $1,500; six- to eight-week turnaround.
The process: The first two fittings took place within Mood, the tri-level fabric emporium in the Garment District. “Meeting Kamaal was like meeting a superior artisan or craftsman,” says TONY senior Film writer Joshua Rothkopf. “I was fascinated by Kamaal’s almost scientific nature, his attention to detail and his scrutiny.” Clearly, such attributes were ingrained in Kadri from a young age: He grew up in a family of tailors, and his father would often tell him, “God makes men; tailors make gentlemen.” At the initial design consultation, Kadri and Rothkopf discussed style and fit, deciding to go with a modernized version of a traditional three-piece suit. “The look will be a bit James Bond--style,” explained Kadri. Since navigating Mood’s reams of cloth can be an overwhelming endeavor, Kadri had preselected fabrics for Rothkopf to peruse. Together, the pair decided to go with a faint-lavender--pin-striped gray and a lilac silk lining. Next, Kadri measured Rothkopf as shoppers in the store watched in awe—and not just because Rothkopf was standing around, unperturbed, in his boxers. “Kamaal was like a celebrity; everyone knew him,” says Rothkopf. “People thought it was a Project Runway [taping]!” Just two weeks passed before Rothkopf was summoned back to Mood to try on a basted garment made of half actual fabric and half dummy cloth; this blueprint pattern was created to judge how the suit will fit. After Kadri adjusted the shoulders and focused on the neck, which, he says, “is the most important part because it determines how the jacket hangs,” Rothkopf’s measurements and fabric selections were sent to Kadri’s team of tailors in India, where an estimated 10,000 stitches and 40 hours of work were poured into the handcrafted suit. Since Rothkopf also decided to create a shirt ($150) featuring French cuffs and a full cutaway collar, he met Kadri a third time at a different fabric shop for a full shirt fitting. Once the suit was near completion with only the sleeves left open for changes, Rothkopf joined Kadri at his apartment for a fourth and final fitting; after a few minor alterations, the suit was ready for delivery.
The results: “When I put the bespoke suit on, I feel like I’m changing into my superhero costume,” says Rothkopf. “My entire psychology changes; I feel like strutting.” Though he calls it “the kind of purchase that could change a man’s life,” Rothkopf acknowledges that the garment does have its drawbacks. “The suit is so fine-tuned to my body that even the smallest increase or decrease in weight—a single meal—would have an effect,” he explains. “You suffer for fashion.” Final cost: $1,550.
Photographs: Clotilde Testa
The tailor: Michael Mantegna, owner of Michael Andrews Bespoke (20 Clinton St between E Houston and Stanton Sts; 212-677-1755, michaelandrewsbespoke.com). Suits start at $895; six- to eight-week turnaround.
The process: TONY Eat Out writer Daniel Gritzer describes arriving at Mantegna’s atelier as if it were a speakeasy: Look for a discreet bronze plaque at the entrance. Press a buzzer. Then walk downstairs and through a sterile hallway to reach a small waiting area, where you’ll be offered bottomless top-shelf liquor from the full bar. He ventured down the rabbit hole in this manner a total of three times, with the first visit—a sit-down design consultation with Mantegna—being the most extensive. The session began with Gritzer filling out a form asking for his height, weight and desired fit (classic or slim cut), followed by a discussion about his goals and vision for the suit. After settling on a contemporary three-piece, Gritzer selected the finer details, from the lapels (a more formal peak lapel) and buttons (two made of horn to give the jacket a wider opening and showcase the vest) down to the blue floral lining—a compromise between Gritzer and Mantegna, who encourages clients to be a bit adventurous when it comes to accents. But Gritzer admits the most daunting task was choosing the fabric; he spent the majority of his time pouring over samples from fabric mills like Zegna and Vitale Barberis. “You can only pick one,” says Gritzer. “So what’s it going to be?” In his case, it was a slate-gray, lightweight Super 100 worsted wool by English house Holland & Sherry. To make it a full ensemble, Gritzer added a bespoke shirt ($165), tie ($69) and pocket square ($29) to his order. Once the individualized pattern was digitally created, Gritzer’s garments were constructed in a workshop outside of Shanghai; though production normally takes up to eight weeks, Gritzer was able to come in and try on the unhemmed garment just a month after his initial meeting. At the second session, Mantegna and his assistant examined every crease and fold, marking any areas in need of adjustment with white chalk. “As long as the shoulders fit, the rest can be altered easily,” assures Mantegna. Luckily, Gritzer’s shoulders are properly proportioned to his body, so he only required one more follow-up visit for minor tweaks.
The results: “It feels like the fabric has been draped over every contour of my body,” gushes Gritzer. “Even with three pieces, it feels more like pajamas than, say, a straight jacket. It’s the most natural-feeling suit I’ve ever worn.” The downside? “For me, it ended up being a somewhat dangerous experience because I can’t really afford to buy all of my dress clothes like this, but I also can’t imagine going back to off-the-rack after having a taste of the good stuff,” he says. “I’m ruined!” Final cost: $2,095.
Photographs: Clotilde Testa
The tailor: Jake Mueser, designer and co-owner of Against Nature Atelier (159 Chrystie St between Delancey and Rivington Sts; 212-228-4552, againstnaturenyc.com). Suits start at $3,250; six- to ten-week turnaround.
The process: “I’ve never owned a complete suit before; only pieces that I’ve put together through vintage shops and trendy stores like Topshop and H&M,” says Andrew Parks, editor and publisher of self-titled magazine (self-titledmag.com). A suit from this tin-ceilinged, taxidermy-filled shop is quite the departure: super luxe and customized for the client. Mueser and Parks launched the process by discussing their goal: to create a sleek, contemporary suit that is versatile and durable. “In 10 years, it should still look great,” says Mueser. The guys perused leather-bound sample books embossed with the names of some of the most luxurious and respected fabric houses, including Holland & Sherry and Dormeuil. Parks decided on a charcoal-gray wool from the latter line for his three-piece suit, and the pair discussed details, like the light-blue lining, adding a baby-blue pinstripe bespoke shirt ($325), royal-blue pocket square ($75) and silver cufflinks featuring a monogram with Parks’s initials ($275) for added flair. Mueser took Parks’s measurements and sent them to Against Nature’s local master tailor (a rarity, since most outfits rely on overseas tailors), who prepares the pattern. Parks returned in two weeks to try on the partially constructed garment and have Mueser mark areas that needed adjustment. Less than a week later, he arrived again for a third and final fitting to slip on the near-complete suit. At this point, Parks and Mueser decided to slim down the pant legs; though this would normally delay the process, Against Nature was able to complete the alterations in a matter of days due to the local craftsmanship.
The results: “You know how they say that once you’ve felt Egyptian cotton sheets, you can’t go back to the crap you slept on in college?” asks Parks. “That’s how I feel about suits now; if you’re going to make a sartorial commitment of this magnitude, and can afford it, you might as well not fuck around.” Parks also says he appreciated working with the brains behind Against Nature, who are “younger and hipper than the bespoke-tailor stereotype—that of a leathery old Italian man who may be an absolute expert at tailoring, but out of touch with what works on a client in their late twenties or early thirties.” Final cost: $3,500.
Photographs: Beth Levendis
Shot at The Wooly (11 Barclay St between Broadway and Church St (678-439-6659, the wooly.com).