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Tailoring in the Time of Coronavirus: How Bespoke Houses Are Making Suits and Jackets During Quarantine

How do you order bespoke and made-to-measure clothes during lockdown? We spoke to tailors around the globe about how they're keeping clients suited.

A BLVDier suit BLVDier

Master tailors are accustomed to taking their work home with them, says Filippo Ricci, creative director of Stefano Ricci, the Florentine label founded by his father in 1972. “A master tailor is more than a job; it’s a passion,” Ricci says. “You’ll always find them working on something, making an adjustment, taking on a little project. Most of our master tailors are home with their families, but they’re also trying out new models or exploring new ideas for a shoulder. It’s a time when everybody is using their skills, not just watching TV.”

Indeed, stay-at-home orders have pushed purveyors of bespoke and made-to-measure clothes, services that rely on personal contact, to improvise. While tailoring firms and luxury menswear labels around the world have temporarily closed their doors, and regular client trips to the U.S., China and other countries have ceased until further notice, the work continues, and client engagement is top of mind. “Most of our cutters have home workshops and are continuing to finish what work they can under the circumstances,” notes Ed Turco, the U.S. director of Huntsman, the Savile Row firm with a U.S. outpost on New York City’s 57th Street. “We’ve also put strategies in place—for example, things may be shipped to me, in case New York opens up before London—to ensure orders get into clients’ hands promptly.”

New orders aren’t difficult, of course, for existing clients whose sizes and measurements are kept on file, as face-to-face consultations have transitioned to video meetings via Skype or Zoom. Bespoke orders for new clients, though, prove trickier for tailors that prides themselves on exacting precision. “We had one prospective client ask if his wife could measure him while taking instructions from me via a video call, but I had to decline politely,” notes Matthew Deboise, managing partner of Savile Row’s Steed Bespoke Tailors. “It’s a lot harder than it seems to take the 40-odd measurements we require and also notice subtle differences in the client’s body shape. We call this ‘The Cutter’s Eye.’” Where a bespoke fitting is near impossible to recreate virtually, Steed, Huntsman and Ricci are all able to take on new clients for made-to-measure orders.

Many clients are using this time to rediscover their wardrobes, says Turco, who has been fielding requests via calls and texts. “I’ve got one client who probably doesn’t spend a lot of time examining what’s in his closet but, while being quarantined, he realized that a blazer really should be replaced,” he says. “Then there was a humorous text I got from a client in Virginia, chatting about his kids and joking about what we’re wearing while we’re in isolation, that turned into an order for two cashmere jackets. It gives people a sense of normalcy and purpose to have those conversations and make those plans.”

Zach Uttich, founder of BLVDier, a Chicago-based firm that has outfitted a half-dozen Chicago Cubs and famed chef Grant Achatz, says he’s not taking on new clients while his shop on North Halstead Street is closed. But if an existing client needs something, he’ll do everything he can to make it happen. “We were handling virtual second fittings on Skype before [the shutdown], because we already had quite a few clients not based in Chicago,” Uttich says. “If someone wants an order that was already in the works, we’ve also been arranging curbside pickup. But for the most part, people are happy to wait until we open up again.” With the need for suits greatly reduced in quarantine life, Uttich has designed a pair of drawstring trousers that can be made in stretch cotton or worsted wool for a casual look that’s a bit more polished. “I wore the sample pair on Easter Sunday,” he adds.

Stefano Ricci jogging suit

A Stefano Ricci jogging suit in wool and silk.  Stefano Ricci

Ricci, likewise, has seen an increased interest in comfort-driven luxury pieces among his clients. “We’ve gotten requests for knitwear or our jogging outfits in cashmere or silk,” he says. “In many cases, general managers of our stores are in touch directly with clients, so depending on the request, we make proposals based on what we’re able to access. We have permission to access our stores, so we’re able to send packages all around Europe. It’s good to keep the connection. People are worried, people are bored, and they can’t wait to start living again.”

Deboise says he’s experienced a slight trend of clients requesting unstructured, casual jackets. “I wouldn’t attribute that to the stay-at-home attitude, but just because we are coming into the warmer months of the year,” he says. “A few gents have mentioned that they are still making an effort to dress the same at home, to help keep them focused, rather than get distracted and allow bad habits to creep in. Another client said he and his wife are still doing a Friday night date night; they get dressed up formally and cook a nice meal at home, which was sweet to hear.”

Zach and Kirsten Uttich of BLVDier and their Chicago store.

Zach and Kirsten Uttich of BLVDier and their Chicago shop.  BLVDier

Deboise’s father, Edwin, Steed’s founder and head cutter, has been key to the firm’s strategy since it became clear that businesses would be closing for the duration. “My father has been cutting all of the commissions we took on our January and February visits to America, ensuring our tailors had a steady stream of work over the summer months and are still able to earn money during the lockdown,” he explains. “Tailors are paid for each piece of work in our industry and are all self-employed, so this was vital for them.”

As the month of May approaches, many firms are starting to make tentative plans for reopening. Turco has client appointments in Pennsylvania and Illinois in mid-May that he would like to keep, though he admits he may drive rather than fly to those destinations. Ricci says his Florence workshops have begun to prepare for Italy’s possible May 4th reopening. Measures at Stefano Ricci extend beyond social distancing and the use of masks and gloves to include temperature controls for each of his 300 employees, as well as plans to ensure everyone in the company is properly tested. “Our company is our family; we spend the better part of every day together,” Ricci says. “We have to be safe, but we also want to give people the confidence that they’re safe. It’s essential for quality of life.”

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