Boisdale Life’s Editor at Large, Paddy Renouf seeks out a bespoke suit… and he doesn’t go to Savile Row
We are a starved society living in the midst of plenty’, said Laurie Lee when writing on craftsmen. ‘Our possessions are many, our serenities few’. The way we live today demands instant results and the virtue of ‘delayed-gratification’ is consigned to ‘back in the day’, that popular lament uttered, in their wisdom, by twenty-somethings.
Mobile phones sporting sophisticated cameras, mass self-publishing which can go ‘viral’ at the click of a button and online shopping. In short, never before have we wanted so much, so quickly and needed to present ourselves better. And our life is immediate, it’s impetuous and it’s largely mass-produced.
However, if we stop for a moment and look at beautiful objects fashioned by the hands of craftsmen, we instinctively recognise something we need, something we might yearn for, something we may almost have forgotten existed any more – something designed to keep us human.
One such beautiful object is the tailored suit. Clothes that are the result not of mass-production, but of human skills and judgements, carried to this moment, through unbroken generations of eyes and hands. They are the virtue of the handmade object, the loving product of the master craftsman, of silence and of slow time.
But how to go about getting such a suit?
“The mistake many people make when they go to a bespoke tailor is they think they need to do something special – either an interesting design feature, or a particularly interesting or unique-looking cloth. I say do the opposite. Stick to something really simple, because this will be a suit that you will really want to wear. Start with something very straightforward and you will get an enormous amount of joy wearing it” says Stephan Lindblom, a Swede who has lived and worked in tailoring in London, for 17 years.
Personally I have always found the idea of going to a tailor a little bit daunting. You don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like, it’s hard to know who to go to and it sounds an expensive proposition. That said, I accepted an invitation to visit Arbiter Bespoke, a collaboration of two partners with 35 years of Savile Row experience and now working out of their atelier on Bloomsbury Square. And here’s the best bit – a bespoke suit produced without the Savile Row overheads – a serious bargain. But it’s not imitating Savile Row, it is rather the best master tailor in Savile Row, with a different postcode.
Gordon is a fifth unbroken generation tailor in his family. He has produced an elegant house style that is unique to Arbiter; just because a suit fits, it doesn’t mean it looks good, you really need a tailor and to go bespoke means an outfit that is ‘bespoken to you’ and nobody else. Arbiter Bespoke use fine materials, be they cotton or tweeds and these are those divine materials of the earth, for which there are many substitutes today, but no replacements.
Being fitted for a suit is another part of the pleasure of going bespoke. You learn a lot about yourself (I have a shoulder that drops left, not something I had ever spotted before) and colours and fabrics best suited to your body-type and complexion. It is said that by the age of forty you have the face you deserve, well, just maybe a tailor can redeem with the rest of your look. Your style can be the window to your soul and thus when you see a well-cut suit, you notice the person not the clothes; and yet it is like armour, it somehow makes you empowered. This lends gravitas to your image, put simply, if you look a million dollars, you act a million dollars – not bad performance criteria in this fast moving world. There is an intrinsic value in exquisite quality. Anyone who loves a beautiful watch knows this already, but you don’t necessarily get to form a personal relationship with the man who made your watch, as you do with your tailor.
You join a club in bespoke tailoring and it is therapeutic. It’s about you, speaks for you, is designed to make you look good and will certainly make you feel better about yourself. As Laurie Lee concludes, “We are expensive; we took a long time to make. But we are beautiful, and will last for years. And there is not another one quite like us in the world, for we are made by hand.”