The New Faces of Tailoring

About ten years ago, I traveled to Naples, Italy to interview bespoke tailors for some stories I was writing for various outlets. When you interview enough tailors, particularly those of an older generation, you will hear the same stories repeated. This typically happens over a strong cup of espresso, sometimes called na tazzulella e café in the local dialect, which is chased down with a small cup of water and a bite of dark chocolate. Whenever you walk into a tailor’s workshop, the first thing they’ll ask you is, “Ve site giè pigliato o’ cafè?” (Have you had coffee?). I was told by a Neapolitan friend that the polite thing to do is always answer in the affirmative. Since I had to interview three or four tailors each day, I went through every day shaking from caffeine. When a tailor makes you coffee, he or she will make two cups — one for you and one for them. Then they'll sit down with you and proceed to complain.

Neapolitan tailors are worried that the tailoring trade in their area will die out in a generation or two, as young people don’t want to make clothes for a living. They also believe that young people don’t have the time or temperament to perfect tedious tailoring techniques, which require years of practice. Many of these older tailors entered their trade when they were young, some as young as eight years old. Today, such practices are no longer possible because of compulsory schooling. One tailor swore to me that you have to train for at least twenty years before you can make a beautiful suit. “Once someone graduates from university, it’s too late for them to become a tailor,” he confidently told me. I wanted to believe him, so I nodded gravely.

While on that trip, however, I was allowed to tour the backrooms of some notable workshops, including those belonging to Rubinacci and Sartoria Formosa. There, I saw young tailors quietly sewing away. It’s true that the labor pool is shrinking — tailors are dying at a faster rate than they’re being replaced. Several cutters in the United States have told me about their difficulties finding skilled coatmakers in this country, so they’re left bundling pieces of cloth and sending them around the world for making. But young tailors exist, and their scarcity has only made it more exciting to see people entering this trade. In the ten years since I made that trip to Italy, I’ve come to know a few. Here are four operations that I think are particularly interesting.

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My Tailoring Wish List

A few weeks ago, Bruce Boyer emailed me a photo of his big day in Manhattan. He had just passed the two-week period after getting his second dose of the vaccine. Eager to get back to his normal life, Bruce took a trip to New York City -- for the first time since March 2020 -- and met with friends for a wine-soaked lunch. He also went to The Armoury to commission a new suit: a soft-shouldered Model 3 made from Dugdale's tan cavalry twill. In the photo, a clearly happy Bruce can be seen wearing his signature look: a brown sport coat with a button-down collar shirt, solid navy tie, pair of charcoal trousers, and what looked to be Edward Green Dovers in dark oak leather. 

The photo warmed my heart because it reminded me that normality is just around the corner. Soon, we'll be able to meet up with friends, make appointments, and go window shopping in the city. His photo also reminded me that trunk shows will resume sometime this year. When the Bay Area first went into lockdown last year, everything screeched to a standstill. Although I've bought some clothes since then, much of it is casualwear I can wear at home -- baggy shorts, ball caps, and some graphic tees. When Bruce emailed me his photo, it was the first time I've thought about buying custom-tailored clothing in a long time. "Hm, cavalry twill suits," I thought. "Interesting." 

I've since found myself going down the rabbit hole, daydreaming about new summer sport coats and casual fall suits. Since I often get inspired by friends' commissions, I thought I'd put together a list of clothes I'd like to order at some point. Hopefully soon, tailored clothing will once again be part of our normal lives. If you're looking for something new to wear, here are some suggestions that go beyond your basic navy sport coats and fall tweeds. 

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A Guide to Spring Tailoring

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Reginald Jeeves is a fictional, dry mannered valet in a series of comedic short stories by PG Wodehouse. He serves at the behest of a charmingly clueless man-child named Bertie Wooster, a wealthy, idle Londoner who’s the very definition of Baudelaire’s dandy (“The wealthy man, who, blasé though he may be, has no occupation in life but to chase along the highway of happiness”). Wooster’s immense wealth allows him to indulge every whim and fantasy, including matters involving his wardrobe, which he views purely through the lens of personal expression and sartorial originality. He wears grape-purple socks and green Alpine hats decorated with pink feathers, often to the chagrin of the more conservatively dressed Jeeves, who tries to steer him towards better decisions.

In the short story “Jeeves in the Springtime,” Wooster wakes up and asks his valet if his new mauve shirts have arrived. Jeeves confirms they did, but he sent them back because they would not “have become him.” “Well, I must say I thought fairly highly of those shirtings, but I bowed to superior knowledge,” Wooster silently reflects. Nevertheless, Wooster springs out of bed and heads to the park to do his pastoral dances, bringing with him his whangee, his yellowest of shoes, and an old green Homburg. You can almost sense Jeeves inclining his head gravely. “In the spring, Jeeves, a livelier iris gleams upon the burnished dove,” the young master’s voice cheesed. “So I have been informed, sir,” his valet dryly replied.

I thought about these stories recently as I was flipping through swatch books at an I Sarti Italiani trunk show. In the fall and winter months, it’s much easier to choose a tasteful tweed or corduroy sport coat. Fall materials are often conservative by nature. The colors are cooler and easier to wear, and even the boldest plaids are blunted by the fact that they’re expressed on fuzzy woolens, rather than hard-finished worsteds. But come springtime, it can be a challenge to find something beyond your basic tropical wools. When spring is in the air, it’s easy to swept up by the romance of a brightly colored, bold patterned linen or silk-blend. But most warm-weather fabrics are questionable, perhaps even Wooster-like.

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Tailoring for Younger Men

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In 1968, Tommy Nutter was exasperated with his sales job at Donaldson, Williamson, and G. Ward, a bespoke tailoring firm based in London’s Burlington Arcade. Nutter derisively described their house style as “little” and wanted to update it with some flair. The traditional-minded tailors in the workroom, however, dismissed his ideas as technically impossible and, in any case, tasteless. “People did not come here to be measured up for tents,” one journalist documented. So Tommy petitioned for a new job at Henry Poole. When the firm’s managing director, Samuel Cundey, saw Tommy’s fashionably long hair, however, he sent him away, horrified.

Tommy would save his ideas for himself. Shortly after quitting his job, he and Edward Sexton went on to form one of the most important tailoring houses of the 20th century, Nutters of Savile Row. If you believe menswear lore, many of the long-standing firms, such as Huntsman, viewed Nutters at first with suspicion. Bespoke tailoring at the time was a hush-hush and stuffy business. Tailoring shops didn’t even have display windows and firms such as Anderson & Sheppard considered publicity vulgar. The expression “it’s not done” not only sums up the hard-edged attitude of many in the solvent class, but also the tailors who served them.

Nutters not only displayed their goods to the public, they also talked to journalists and attracted younger customers into the then-stodgy precincts of Savile Row. They tailored for Elton John, Mick Jagger, and The Beatles, as well as women such as Twiggy and Diana Ross. Men walked out of the Nutters shop clad in box plaid suits, flared pants, and mini-platform shoes. As they strutted down the street, competing tailors stared, mouths agape. Perhaps they were offended by the garish designs. Or maybe they feared Nutters made them look stodgy by comparison.

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How to Wear Tailoring for Spring

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A few months ago, L Brands, formerly known as The Limited, shuttered all 23 of their Henri Bendel stores, including their Fifth Avenue flagship in New York City. Founded in 1895, the luxury womenswear retailer was the first in many categories — the first retailer to hold a fashion show, the first retailer to hold semi-annual sales, and the first retailer to carry Coco Chanel’s line in the United States. On their website, they also took credit for discovering Andy Warhol, who they hired early on as an in-house illustrator.

Henri Bendel’s profits, however, have been dipping for years as the upscale retailer struggled to find footing against online behemoths such as Net-a-Porter and FarFetch. Last September, when they finally announced that they would close all their locations by the end of January, The New York Times contacted Mark Cho of The Armoury to see how his brick-and-mortars have been able to thrive in this economy. Mark said it came down to people — having personal relationships with customers and hiring sales associates who know The Armoury’s products. “For some luxury brands, the customer comes in and knows exactly what he wants, and the salesperson is just a vending machine,” Mark said. “The Armoury has no aspiration to be a big brand.”

Some of their success can also be chalked up to how they make classic men’s style feel relevant, especially to a new generation of men who didn’t grow up wearing a coat-and-tie. Their clothes are traditional and sophisticated, but they don’t reach for the same tired tropes about luxury clothing and class pedigree. They’ve also done an impressive job of pulling together small makers, such as Ring Jacket, Carmina, and Liverano & Liverano, before these names became common reference points for menswear enthusiasts. I can’t tell you how many bespoke tailors have told me about clients who ask for curvy, Florentine quarters – no doubt because of The Armoury’s influence. 

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Tailoring for Younger Guys

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George Frazier, the famous jazz columnist and author of “The Art of Wearing Clothes,” had one of the most accurate and least helpful ways of describing style. He used the term duende, a Spanish word for a kind of mythological hobgoblin, but when used colloquially, at least by Frazier, it refers to a kind of irresistible magnetism. Some things have duende and some things, while they may still be good, simply do not.  

“It’s the thing that Fred Astaire had, but Gene Kelly did not; what made a Ted Williams strikeout more exciting than a Stan Musial home run,” Alex Belth once explained in Esquire. “It was difficult to even describe – you just knew it when you saw it – but Frazier never tired of trying. For him, style was a matter of utmost importance, as he revealed in a 1969 column: ‘It is my own conviction that there can be no style without … an immense honesty, and inviolability in the matter of one’s craft, a relentless being-true-to-one’s-own image.’”

Duende goes by many other names – it’s similar to sprezzatura in Italian and sang-froid in French. In any language, it points to a kind of naturalness that can’t be imitated. And after chatting with Dick and Ben for a couple of hours last week, trying to get at some helpful tips on how others may want to dress, I left with little practical advice. Dick and Ben wear many of the same things others do, they just look cooler.

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A Japanese-Italian Tailor

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Have you read “The Secret Vice?” It’s a wonderful article by the journalist dandy Tom Wolfe. Published in 1966 in the New York Herald Tribune, it’s about how men in the United States are hooked on the allure on custom tailoring.

“Practically all the most powerful men in New York,” Wolfe wrote, “especially on Wall Street, the people in investment houses, banks and law firms, the politicians, [and] especially Brooklyn Democrats, for some reason […] are fanatical about the marginal differences that go into custom tailoring. They are almost like a secret club insignia for them. And yet it is a taboo subject. […] At Yale and Harvard, boys think nothing of going over and picking up a copy of Leer, Poke, Feel, Prod, Tickle, Hot Whips, Modern Mammaries, and other such magazines, and reading them right out in the open. Sex is not taboo. But when the catalogue comes from Brooks Brothers or J. Press, that’s something they whip out only in private.”

Today, men with The Secret Vice find community online – where they can talk about tailors and clothes without shame. When possible, however, the world of bespoke tailoring is best explored through more traditional social networks. It’s always better to meet with another tailoring enthusiast in person, not only to see what his suits look like in real life, but also to get his thoughts. For a variety of reasons, clients are often eager to give praise, but reluctant to share criticism. To know how someone really feels about their tailor, you have to talk with him behind closed doors.


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When I met with George from BRIO last week, he was wearing a blue sport coat and grey overcoat from Sartoria Corcos, a bespoke tailoring shop based in Florence, Italy. George has been a client of many tailors over the years (he introduced many enthusiasts, including me, to Liverano, for example), but tells me that Sartoria Corcos is probably the one he’ll stick with for life.

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That Japanese-Italian Style

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The term “timeless style” can feel like such a cliché nowadays, but it’s genuinely amazing how little — and how awesome — Yukio Akamine’s style has changed since I first saw him on The Sartorialist nearly ten years ago. Granted, ten years is hardly timeless, but with how quickly fashion moves on the internet, that almost feels like a lifetime ago.

Akamine has described his style as being traditionally British, but I actually think of it as a Japanese-Italian interpretation of British clothes. The fabrics are heavy, but the tailoring – save for a few sharply cut double breasted jackets – mostly looks soft and rounded. The shoulders are unconstructed and sloping, the lapels slightly extended, and the quarters gently curved. His shirt collars also look soft and unfused, and the points are long in a way that you almost only see in Southern Italy nowadays. For casualwear, he seems to favor the kind of slim fitting suede A-1 blousons that Valstar made famous in the 1960s, and like many Italians, pairs them with tailored trousers.

And while much of what he wears feels conservative, there are some dandyish details. In several photos, he’s seen in a chunky rollneck sweater with a tweed sport coat, and a couple of his single-breasted jackets have both patch pockets and peak lapels (a daring combination). Plus, there are those deep, deep two-inch cuffs. On most men, these kind of things would seem affected, but on Akamine, they look so natural and good. Whether it’s because of that handsome face or his age, I don’t know. I’ll give them a try when I’m in my 70s so I can at least tell if you if it’s the latter.

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Taillour Comes to the US

Over the summer, I emailed Fred Nieddu, the skilled cutter behind the independent bespoke tailoring house taillour, to see if he would be willing to extend his US trunk show schedule to include California. After a bit of emailing back and forth, I'm delighted to report that he agreed. Next month, he and his business partner will be visiting San Francisco and New York City to meet with clients and take orders (subsequent trips will happen once every three or four months, as usual for traveling tailors). 

I became interested in Fred's work at the end of 2020, when I wrote a piece for the Vulture about how the Netflix series The Crown used Barbour jackets to represent each character's relationship with power. Although the article was about waxed cotton field coats, it was the tailoring in the show that truly captivated me. Josh O'Connor's Prince Charles wears the three-button, narrow-lapel suits that the real-life Prince favored as a youth before switching to drapey double-breasted numbers later in life. I remember thinking that the silhouettes were more faithful to the Golden Age of tailoring than the bespoke sport coat I commissioned from Anderson & Sheppard in 2016. 

I later learned that Fred made all of the menswear in the series. He's also made bespoke clothes for Ralph Fiennes in Bond and all of the lead actors in Murder on the Orient Express (along with countless other films and TV shows). This, combined with the fact that he teaches pattern drafting to third-year tailoring students at the London College of Fashion, makes him a rather unique tailor. Most tailors are known for a specific house style they've perfected over time, such as Anderson & Sheppard's soft drape cut, Huntsman's padded look, or Edward Sexton's strong, angular lines. While Fred has a signature style, he's much more adaptable, as evidenced by how his clothes fit like puzzle pieces into the worlds depicted in these shows. 

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No Man Walks Alone Weekend Sale

No Man Walks Alone is an advertiser on this site, but also one of my favorite online shops. I've always felt that guys can build an excellent wardrobe if they simply set aside some money to shop here every season. The store carries everything from classic Italian tailoring to Japanese workwear to even some avant-garde. And from now until Sunday night, you can take 20% off all full-priced items with the checkout code FALL20. Note, since No Man Walks Alone is an East Coast retailer, this promotion runs until 12 midnight Eastern Time. Some things that I think are particularly worth checking out: 

Kaptain Sunshine Traveler Coat

If I had a reduce my outerwear wardrobe to just three staple pieces, I'd keep my Lee 101-J, Margiela five-zip, and Kaptain Sunshine Traveler. Actually, I have two Travelers. I bought one in navy Melton wool a few years ago, and found that I wear it so much, I purchased a lighter version for autumn (the Melton can only be worn in the wintertime). For me, this is the Ultimate Long Coat (ULC). It's the one piece you can always grab from your wardrobe and feel confident about how you look. The coat's power is all in its cut. Kaptain Sunshine's Traveler is roomy and voluminous, comes down to your knees, and has an A-line silhouette. When worn, it covers almost your entire body, effectively making it your whole outfit. I wear it with everything from chunky Inis Meain sweaters and tailored trousers to stained J. Crew sweatshirts and repaired RRL work pants. It's literally impossible to look bad in this thing. No one can do it, not even me. 

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