Giorgio Armani, Jil Sander and Tom Ford are introducing fully hand-stitched, custom-made suits costing as much as $20,000 in a challenge to London’s renowned center of the bespoke. The target is a gent like George Clooney instead of Prince Charles.

Armani, Jil Sander and Ford hope to cater to richer clients in traditional markets and new wealth in emerging markets such as Russia, India and China. They are upping the ante with Savile Row by offering more hand-stitching, nontraditional styles and that other cachet: even loftier price tags.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand for true luxury in many of these emerging, peacock-male societies,” Ford says. “The men are getting rich first, and they want to deck themselves out before they deck out their wives.”

Customers can order Armani’s “Fatto a Mano,” or “made- by-hand,” service starting today. “Jil Sander Sartorial” will be available in November and is conceived by Raf Simons, a Belgian designer who says he creates for “confident outsiders.” Tom Ford’s line will appear next spring at his first store, which will be on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Delivery of the finished suit can take as little as three weeks for a Jil Sander. Prices range from $2,500 to $20,000.

`Rich and Demanding’

“There is a male customer out there who is rich and demanding and who doesn’t want a traditionally tailored suit or a Harris tweed,” Armani says in a telephone interview from his Milan headquarters. “We have the people, the know-how and the structure to give him what he wants.”

Several design houses, including Giorgio Armani SpA and Burberry Plc, have offered made-to-measure men’s lines that allow customers to choose fabrics and suit styles from a limited selection, but production is at least partly in factories. The custom services being introduced by Armani, Jil Sander and Ford represent a new concept for the labels, promising fully hand- stitched production as well as personal attention available only in the designers’ top stores.

“More men are buying made-to-measure, so now the bar is being raised,” said Michael Macko, men’s fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue. “It has to be more exclusive, more lux. A lot of it is one-upmanship.”

Lots of Labels

Detail and distinctive elements are big selling points. Armani offers to stitch a securing bar under the left lapel for a boutonniere. His labels will say “Giorgio Armani for (your name here).” Jil Sander has added a tuxedo with silk satin lapels and one-button fastening. Jil Sander also says, in a boast that might mystify some, that each of its suits will flaunt three separate labels, one of which will bear the suit owner’s name.

Jil Sander AG’s chief executive officer, Gian Giacomo Ferraris, predicted the service will boost the Hamburg-based company’s men’s wear sales, which came to $27 million in the year ending January 2005, by 15 percent in two years.

Armani already has delivered “Fatto a Mano” suits to Clooney for his new movie, “Ocean’s 13,” and to R&B star Usher for “Chicago” on Broadway, said Armani spokesman Robert Triefus.

The designer’s $20,000 versions will be made with lightweight wools — Super 180s and Super 200s — spokeswoman Gabriela Meriles says. The latter are even finer than cashmere, Armani said in a statement.

Months in the Making

Up to now, men looking for luxury suiting have turned to Italian makers like Brioni Roman Style SpA and Ermenegildo Zegna SpA, as well as Savile Row, for suits costing $2,000 to $6,000.

Savile Row bespoke suits start at about $3,800 and take two to three months to make. They are made to last a lifetime, with very big “inlays” in case clients get broader.

“My made-to-measure will be more traditional than what I was doing for Gucci,” says Ford (who designed for the brand from 1990 to 2004), in a telephone interview from New York, “but it won’t be old English style.”

Taking up that gauntlet, Mark Henderson, chief executive of Gieves & Hawkes, says: “There is really absolutely nothing that a designer can offer that can’t be done on Savile Row.” His establishment made uniforms for Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Savile Row tailor Tommy Nutter dressed the Beatles. Gucci Group designer Alexander McQueen trained there, and Ford himself has bought Savile Row suits, Henderson said.

`Off the Peg’

Henderson says Savile Row, which already makes about 10,000 bespoke suits annually, is seeing an increase in orders. It also sells customized suits made in a factory and standard factory- made suits sold “off the peg.”

A trade group called Savile Row Bespoke, formed two years ago, has grown to 12 members. To define more clearly what constitutes a Savile Row bespoke suit, it is writing a code based on rules compiled by France’s Federation de la Couture.

The code-in-progress dictates that only suits that are fully hand-made, that take at least 60 hours to make during a period of six to eight weeks and that are made within 100 yards of Savile Row rate as bespoke.

Armani has a code, too. He says a bespoke suit needs to embody at least 10 of 19 recognized characteristics, including “cross-stitch tacking on the welts of front pockets.”

And his will have all 19, the designer says.

By Cotten Timberlake and Sara Gay Forden


1 reply
  1. Dr Lars Hellström says:

    Dear Sir!

    I am a customer of a Savile Row tailor.

    Now, I have become interested in your tailoring.

    Please, help me how to get more information about one or more Tom Ford suits for me!

    Sincerely, Dr Lars Hellström, Pilotgatan 14, S-75337 Uppsala, Sweden

    (Why not a Nobel Prize in tailoring?)

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