The case for the custom suit is well-known and irrefutable: It’s the last frontier of superior craftsmanship, entirely built by hand. The knowledge that goes into a Savile Row suit can rightly be deemed historic. Your cutter might have been taught by the man who cut suits for Winston Churchill. The sheer range of fabrics is just as astounding. You may think you know everything there is to know about tweed—think again. Some sheds in Scotland make only a handful of bolts of fabric a year. One of those bolts can be the yours.
That doesn’t make it any easier when the reckoning comes: it’s going to cost north of $4000, and you’re going to take it like a man. Once indoctrinated, however, there are few complaints. Rare is the man with only one handmade suit—he’ll do everything in his power to buy another.
That money does not go into an advertising campaign or a cologne destined for duty-free stores. Instead, it returns, as is right, to tailors who’ve apprenticed for years to become expert at what they do. In fact, the profit margins at Savile Row tailors are surprisingly small, and many have closed or left the Row. It takes clear thinking to run a traditional tailor in the modern age. Enter Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons. Grant purchased the venerable tailor (established 1821), in 2006, while still in his thirties. The Norton space at 16 Savile Row is a classic, but not everybody can be in London for the three requisite fittings. So Grant dispatches his head cutter, David Ward, to the US four times a year. ACL recently met with Mr. Ward in a midtown hotel, where he had taken a suite of rooms to conduct fittings.
Visiting a hotel room—especially in the town where you live—feels rather illicit. With large sums of money are involved, even more so. When the door opens you’re not sure if you should expect an upscale escort or Sigourney Weaver asking if you’re the Gatekeeper. On the contrary, it’s the engaging David Ward, who’s been expecting you. Entering the suite, you pass a rack of suits and sport coats and paper patterns, and sit near a table covered with swatches. It may be intimidating to be fitted at the house that made suits for Churchill, but David Ward is so disarming that you’re immediately at ease and can concentrate on the important things in life, like lightweight grey flannel.
Ward makes about 20 measurements and then steps back to assess your posture, which, as expected, is not that good. ‘Downward left shoulder slope.’ He takes these eccentricities into account when he cuts the pattern. Ward’s counsel for first-time buyers? “Get your basics in.” When you have solid three-season suits, “Then you can start building with stripes and plaids.” Common requests? “People ask about James Bond.” That would be Sean Connery, naturally, From Russia With Love vintage.
Norton now offers custom shirts from Stephen Lachter, whose private customers have included Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. That’s exalted company. You will want to wear your new clothes far and wide. When somebody tells you you’re overdressed, remember, if done correctly, it merely means you’re the best-dressed man in the room. That’s a burden you deserve to bear. —DAVID COGGINS