The Measure of a Man

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Byline: Nick Foulkes

A garment made especially for you is not necessarily better than one bought ready-made

"Bespoke" has a great deal to answer for. not since "executive" or "deluxe" has a word been so monstrously distorted, abused and otherwise mangled into near meaninglessness. Today it seems that any object with slightly more pretensions to exclusivity than a hamburger can be labeled bespoke. The irony, of course, is that in theory you can "bespeak"--"commission to be made," according to my Oxford dictionary--a burger.

Too often the term "bespoke" is used as marketing shorthand to delineate another quality level for which more can be charged and which, notionally at least, offers a greater degree of exclusivity.

Indeed, it is difficult to arrive at an absolute definition of bespoke. The Savile Row Bespoke Association has made a valiant start, laying down a set of requirements regarding hand-felling and prick-stitching to which a garment must adhere before it can be called bespoke. Even so, nomenclature varies from house to house; for instance, Kilgour offers a tiered system at the pinnacle of which lies the wonderful tautology "bespoke couture."

To complicate matters further, often what is presumed to be bespoke is not: made to order, for instance, is subtly different. What a traditional bespoke tailor--say Rubinacci, Anderson & Sheppard or Caraceni--offers is very different from the made-to-order system. With made to order, a customer is measured and the formula passed on to a factory using a sheet to indicate such things as body shape and stance. Then an approximation--often a very close approximation, to be sure--of a bespoke garment is produced, sometimes using plenty of hand stitching. So it can legitimately be called handmade but not bespoke.

I hate rules, but if there is one rule regarding bespoke, it must be this: just because something is made for you does not necessarily mean that it is better than an object that can be bought ready-made. To return to the burger: perhaps the humble meat patty is best left to an expert like Ronald McDonald, who has many decades of experience and knows how to balance relish and pickle and cheese and bun, rather than going wild yourself and garnishing your own bespoke quarter pounder with, say, mango, anchovies, marmalade, ice cream, toffee sauce and chocolate sprinkles.

Guidance is important; otherwise you go completely off the rails. And with the bespoke "boom" of recent years, there is the risk that those offering bespoke services might not have the experience necessary to guide their customers. Speak (or even bespeak) to an optician like Sheel Davison Lungley of Meyrowitz in London's Royal Arcade, and one enters a world of frame dimensions and lens weights, not to mention the technical aspect of getting the right glass to correct one's sight. …