By Susan Hauser
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the market for European custom suits is bursting at the seams. Bespoke tailors on London’s famed Savile Row are chalking up a huge surge in business, as are custom tailors throughout Italy, France and Britain.
|Bespoke: Made from scratch. The suit pattern is made from the customer’s measurements and style preferences. Garments are partly or completely made by hand.|
|Made-to-measure: A standard pattern is altered to fit the customer. Numerous style options are available for a custom-made suit.|
|Ready-to-wear: Also known as off-the-rack or off-the-peg.|
Mile Djuric, a made-to-measure specialist with the Kiton clothing company (left), and Jake Hanover of Mario's in downtown Portland review fabric swatches at a recent trunk show. Hanover is the director of made-to-measure clothing at Mario's. // Photo by Teresa Meier
Does this European bespoke trend translate into Oregon-speak? At Portland’s fine menswear shops, owners and managers briefly set aside their measuring tapes to share the news that yes, indeed, Oregon businessmen are again investing in their own suave style as the economy improves.
“We’re seeing a tremendous increase after a two-year drought,” says Tony Spear, owner of Este’s Men’s Clothing in Northwest Portland. “People were holding on to their clothes, so alterations were up. My tailor was making money, but we weren’t.”
Spear says business was off by 20% in 2007 and 2008, “and we were in better shape than most.” But it got even worse in 2009, dipping down 35%.
Now, he says, “There’s a huge resurgence in clothing sales because these guys didn’t buy stuff for two years.”
John Helmer III, third-generation president of John Helmer Haberdasher, reports the same at his store. “Sales of suits are way up, 47% above last year,” he says. “Of course, that’s from being kind of down.”
At Mario’s in downtown Portland, made-to-measure director Jake Hanover says men are apparently again willing to spend a considerable sum for a good suit. Even with an “entry-level” price of $1,400 for an Italian made-to-measure suit, Mario’s is seeing what could be called a boom — at least when compared to the past few years.
“Flat was the new up,” says Hanover, recalling the industrywide slump, when the recession brought losses from 35% to 50% to menswear specialty stores. “If you equaled the year before, it was a win. But now we’ve gone into a few quarters of actual gains — a steep enough slope that you could ski on it.”