A Hand-Tailored Weekend in London: Bespoke Experiences

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You’re out for the evening with a client when you suddenly feel a surge of self-importance as your BlackBerry blips and beeps, flashing that you have received an email. In an age when everyone desires to appear busy and serious, and even the most junior staffer feels the need to interrupt dinner parties by attending to his cell phone, it’s about time to take a little “me-time,” extricate your face from your mobile, and pamper yourself. Gone are the days of dapper, well-dressed gentlemen; they have been cruelly replaced by shabby body doubles with five o’clock shadows. What today’s men have to realize is that refraining to keep up one’s appearance can take away much of the fun of being well-endowed (financially, of course) and powerful, especially when it results in having one’s clients (and, more important, one’s lady love) run for the hills. So what better way to fix all that than to get away from it all while simultaneously pampering yourself so you’ll look your best?

 If you have opted to bring a lady friend along with you to London (I always do), don’t forget to finish the day off by taking her to the nearby Dukes Hotel, where Fleming went for his martinis, and Charles and Diana went for theirs.

In the majority of American cities, you can purchase premium-quality suits at department stores. As long as the shoulders fit correctly, with a slight nip and a tuck, everything else usually gives the illusion of a proper fit. But no matter how well-constructed the suit may be and no matter how fine the quality of the cloth, it never sits quite right. Even if it should cost boatloads of money to buy a factory-made suit, there are too many minor adjustments that are needed to make it fit perfectly on anyone who doesn’t match the exact dimensions of the manufacturer’s standard form-which is to say almost no one. So stop blaming your body or your age; the industrialization of a process intended from the start to be handmade is truly at fault.

Custom-made suits are the obvious solution, and most American cities have a tailor or two on hand, but if you’re looking for perfection, when it comes to age-old crafts such as bespoke suits, there are only a few places that do it up right. If you’re the kind of man who gets his watch from Switzerland, goes to France (or an equally talented French expatriate) for a good meal, buys a German car, and expects his baseball to be served up domestically, then it’s only natural that you’d look to London’s Savile Row for your tailored suits. And men who wear custom-made suits can spot one on another man from across a crowded room, so be prepared to be noticed for your good taste.

Because London is located a hop, skip, and a jump across the pond, there are plenty of individuals that make it across the Atlantic for fittings with talented British tailors. If that level of coddling is perhaps a bit too much for you, simply combine your trip with something ostensibly less self-indulgent: make a long weekend of it. Upon arrival, sleep off your jet lag, then visit to the Tate Modern, a major destination for modern and contemporary art, installed at a former power station along the Thames-just a convenient walk by footbridge over the river to the freshly restored St. Paul’s Cathedral. From there, take a walk to the Globe Theatre, the re-creation of the open-air theater where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, and still are, from April through October. Keep walking and you’ll soon reach the Imperial War Museum, where you can have fun while attempting to educate yourself; the museum has mounted a major exhibition on the life and work of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, to commemorate the centenary of his birth. If that doesn’t get you in the mood for British style, nothing will.

Having now purged yourself of all Puritanical American guilt over self-indulgence, hail a black taxicab and cross the Thames for the true destination of your visit: Savile Row. There are many excellent tailors on “the Row,” and equally good ones off it, but to save you time and bother, try Henry Poole & Co., and for very good reason: there is a story that, after recording their early songs in England, The Rolling Stones tried the Chess Records studio in Chicago and immediately heard themselves sounding better; somehow, the American studio had got their rock ‘n’ roll just right. Dressing well for a man is a bit like rock ‘n’ roll: when it works right, you are often hard pressed to explain exactly why, but the result is exciting and sexy; your colleagues respect it, women totally love it, so why question it? In tailoring, the British just do it better.

Henry Poole’s cut is classically British: the shoulders are moderately padded, the armholes are high, and the waist is subtly shaped. There is hand stitching along almost every seam as well as know-how, which is something that can never be described, but can only be enjoyed-the inexplicable but critical element that experienced hands bring to fine suits.

The first step is to flip through the cloth samples. If you have not done that before, a simple rule of thumb is that when in doubt, go dark; darker suits tend to look better on most men. Many men like the extra personality that they get from options such as gently contrasted linings and strong fabrics (such as a bold chalk-striped flannel) that you rarely see on department store suits. As for cut, Henry Poole will gladly adjust their house cut to taste, however the choice of a tailor is usually based upon how that particular house does the job, so if it’s your first time out, trust the experts at Henry Poole and let them guide you.

Beyond cloth and cut, the only major decision you’ll have to make is whether to go with a single-breasted jacket in two or three buttons or a six-button double-breasted model. Sometimes, you have to say the heck with what the fashion magazines are saying or the department stores are carrying and choose something that flatters your body type. If you are tall and thin, a three-button model usually works well; if you are slightly, ahem, vertically challenged, a two-button will likely work wonders. While some men may strive to stay fashionable, you’ll trump them by embracing style, which is fashion’s smarter, more refined alter ego.

You will need to come back for two additional fittings, or visit with Henry Poole representatives as they rotate through a series of American cities on their thrice-yearly visits to the United States. The result is that, because it is made exactly for you, your suit will look like it was perfectly sculpted for your body, but it will move with you. And as any fashionable woman will verify (after struggling in tight, chic dresses that all but bandage knees together while balancing on spiked heels), comfort is the greatest form of luxury in luxury apparel. And what’s better is that you’ll completely bypass the arduous task of shopping: no racks, no salesmen, no checkout lines, and no hassle whatsoever.

If you have opted to bring a lady friend along with you to London (I always do), don’t forget to finish the day off by taking her to the nearby Dukes Hotel, where Fleming went for his martinis, and Charles and Diana went for theirs. For dinner, Hibiscus has recently migrated to town from Shropshire and already has a Michelin star, as does the newly opened Wild Honey. Both are a short walk away.

For the ultimate in London custom-made shirts-which is a story in and of itself-head over to Jermyn Street (which is to shirt making what Savile Row is to tailoring) and start the process anew the very next morning at Hilditch & Key. (Tip: After two days of fittings, head directly over to one of London’s great boutiques and buy something nice for your lady, because she deserves a little pampering too.)

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