We know we have a few loyal friends of non-German idiom and extraction who do not shy away from a valiant struggle with the German language to follow our musings. It is to them we first and foremost dedicate this piece as a brief respite from their struggle and a thank you for their loyalty. We find our wit (if any) is best carried in the vessel of the complex German language, but we will give English a try just for a change. And, because we feel the topic “personal tailoring” warrants the change of idiom for once.
Our mission statement “style is a state of mind” in itself is not a testimony to meekness and as such in 2006 we had set out to report and thereby support on what we felt is an increasingly vanishing world of highly individual products. Where can I find the means to physically manifest what best suits my sense of style? The mainstream has you believe that all it takes is sufficient finances and the question of style will answer itself, because the luxury brands with a well-endowed marketing budget will tell you what style is. We don’t think so! We strongly feel that style needs diversity and that can best be achieved by a diversity on the supply side of fashion.
We understand financially why Berluti (a shoemaker) starts offering suits and a total look, why Brioni (a suit maker for ageing baby boomers 60+) offers women’s wear. But their claim to fame outside their legacy skill base is as good, but not better than that of anyone else, including Harry and his dog. To us it does not make aesthetic sense to hand the highly personal choice of choosing a wardrobe over to someone else. It is a bit like letting someone else chose your wife (that might actually not be a bad idea in some cases, come to think of it, provided that person knows you well enough). The total look strategy for the chosen few with a bulging wallet is nothing but a mainstream strategy on financial steroids. It aims to disenfranchise the consumer aesthetically by replacing a personal style with a look you can shop. Yes, we know that personal style is the result of a journey which is not always easy, but always personal. It is fraught with risk and mistakes are inevitable (remember that strawberry colored summer suit?), but it is always a very personal journey, which we feel can never be adequately replaced by a “total look”, regardless how well it is curated.
That is why we decided to do more than just complain about the erosion of the world of style and the shortcomings of the current value chain in the fashion industry, which is either the aforementioned total look or seems to be unable to cope with the pressure the internet is creating for their pricing model. We felt that it is simply no longer a viable model for the traditional supplier of sartorial guise to attend trade shows like the Pitti Uomo, fill order forms, and then more than triple this price ticket and try to sell the wares thus procured to the unsuspecting specimen who happens to end up in their shop. That does no longer work, and it is hardly surprising, once you accept what Google can do for your customers, namely expose the ludicrousness of this business model to everyone who cares to take a look.
Touch and feel something before if you plan to wear it
The flipside of this finds a number of small and creative producers in dire straits looking for a working distribution channel for their products. The trade is ossified and offers no way out. We strongly felt that there is a market with very interesting customers out there for an interesting product. The producers just did no longer manage to reach them. Web shops and internet presences with generous return policies are all nice and fine, but isn’t it nice to touch and feel something before you buy it if you plan to wear it close to your body for some time? Isn’t it blissful to experience a world of choice with all its moments of elation and depression?
Enter the world of personal tailoring. We are happy to report that we had some success this year in supporting a tiny producer of “su misura” attire, the Sartoria Colazzo. We embarked on a little field test and helped them form a slightly more enlightened view on the pricing of the value chain and to meet some interesting people in Frankfurt. This whole exercise would not have been possible without the interest and support from our readers turned Colazzo customers, so they deserve a big “Thank You”.
But we doubt they would have turned up as they did, if we had not convinced the Colazzo brothers to cut some red tape and slaughter the sacred cow of traditional pricing and replace it with a more sensible and consumer friendly pricing structure. It is all still work in progress, but the first leg of the journey has been successfully completed.
This has opened up the door to the world of bespoke tailoring for some, with all its joys and pitfalls. For others, they have seen that a world class suit can be had without asking for a home equity loan at their local bank first. A few challenges remain and a lot of opportunities await, but the first leg of the trip in 2015 was a great one, and we want to share some bites with you. In the world of sartorial guise, there is nothing quite like a piece of clothing made especially for you, according to your measurements. That is what you can read everywhere. And, it is true. But there are some pitfalls, and personal tailoring is a process that requires more than just simple retail therapy. It requires a dialogue and time, a personal relationship. Alessandro and Giovanni Colazzo are 36 and 35 respectively, their father, who founded the Sartoria in 1966, has just turned 70.
That is unusual in the world of bespoke tailoring, where the old guard usually rules until they are blue in the face. This usually leads to a world where there are more guardians of the ashes than keepers of the flame. Not so chez Colazzo. The brothers Colazzo are fully trained master tailors; they also attended the “school of hard knocks” where their father was the reigning, but benevolent principal. That created a unique situation. They are able to combine the world of rigorous craftsmanship with a little fresher style, which seems to resonate well with most clients. There are customers for navy blue and black suits, but there are also those who are happy with lighter blue or purple pants.
We had some young guys come in and go personal. Bravo! And those who need or want to stick with traditional color choices were able to discuss whether they want to add a dash of color by having just single button hole stitched in a different color, or set off the buttons with a different shade of color or a different material. So many choices, so many opportunities but also so many potential mistakes! The point here: a piece of bespoke clothing requires personal involvement and a dialogue, which is best had directly between client and tailor. It is personal, period! We are the sum of our experiences and that goes for taste as well. We cannot know what we have not seen, and we also have to learn to even dare to look. Along the way, we might lose our fear that a single burgundy buttonhole on a navy blue suit might be indicative of a proclivity for risky equity trading strategies or the lack of diligence in legal analysis. There is and will be something to be said for a classic and understated suit, but for us it is really the palette of color, material and finishing touches that create such a rich experience in personal tailoring. Even the most understated piece of personal tailoring can have some details which set it apart, not visible to anyone but known and enjoyed only by the owner.
Another very important point is the choice of material. It is a simple truth rarely told that it is hard to fully predict the color or design impression of the whole suit by looking at a cloth sample, unless it is black or dark blue (maybe that explains something about the evolution of classics as well). As a rule, the color will appear brighter on the suit than on the sample, and a design will appear busier. Some cloth just has a different drape. We had two pairs of pants from different material on a client, one pair seemed to have the perfect length, whereas the other one seemed slightly too long. They were re measured and came out at exactly the same length. Go figure, but the Colazzo boys did manage without changing the length of the pants.
On board of the bespoke train
If you board the bespoke train, then you also get to play with aspects like lining, which generally is just an afterthought. But the Colazzo brothers did a light grey winter suit in cotton flannel for a client, where a light blue cotton/cashmere shirting material was used as lining to add some warmth and color for those grey Frankfurt days. Again, this may be considered as too risqué by those who fear making the wrong impression in certain situations. But is a sky blue lining really an indicator that the particular banker/lawyer is less reliable than the one with a dark blue suit lining? No further speculation here, just a reminder that black and navy blue have not been able to prevent the meltdown in worldwide financial markets. Maybe it was the lack of ties that contributed to the reckless behavior? Form does not replace, but indicates substance, doesn’t it? Put on the ties, guys!
Anyway and on a more serious note, the world of personal tailoring offers so many choices. We are happy to have made a little contribution and hope that the journey will continue. The Sartoria Colazzo is ready to make Germany a focal point of their tiny production. There are only so many suits a team of five can finish in a year. They are planning to reserve around 100 suits, a very significant percentage of their production, for their German clients. Not even a full drop in the ocean of global suit supply, but aren’t we all just a drop in some ocean anyway? Let us at least enjoy our insignificance wearing something bespoke. With the Sartoria Colazzo, the exclusivity of the product is very real and bears proud testimony to the fact that exclusivity is not another word for expensive, but something entirely different. If we can source the right venue for them, there will be a set of two events in Munich and up to four in Frankfurt in 2016. The remainder of 2015 will be fittings and delivery only, exceptions apply for existing customers.
Those who are already on board of the personal tailoring train should stay on board and make themselves increasingly comfortable. They will be given the right of first refusal for the 2016 production. Those of you, who want to join and come on board, drop us a line and we will see what can be done. We are currently scouting for a shirt maker who is as long on keeps as he is on promises. Not that easy, we simply have heard too many stories to be running on blind faith there. We will keep you posted. Let us close this little piece by saying again that we do not have and will not have any financial interest in this enterprise. Slow Wear is and will remain to be financially independent from any entrepreneurial endeavor in the sartorial world. We have been poor and unimportant as a blog for almost 10 years, we have gotten used to its hidden blessings. Speaking our minds is one of them.