There's Nothing Else like It in the World
Reddy, Sameer, Newsweek International
Byline: Sameer Reddy
Bespoke design is expanding to jewelry, vehicles, even doghouses. The latest 'it' bag is the 'me' bag.
In 1926, Jagatjit Singh, the Maharajah of Kapurthala-- A kingdom known as the Paris of Punjab--commissioned the house of Cartier to create an emerald tiara, the centerpiece of which was a 177-carat hexagonal stone. Singh was a connoisseur of luxury and a prodigious customer of Cartier and other fabled French brands. He was also a very exacting client, who took a hands-on role in shaping the realization of his material desires. "Here was a customer telling Monsieur Cartier what to do," recalls his great-grandson Tikkaraja Shatrujit Singh, the current Crown Prince of Kapurthala. "He told him what he wanted made, drew it himself, and the drawings are still in their archives. The tiara became one of the most famous pieces Cartier has made."
At the time, this kind of commission was the privilege of a select few, often royalty. Today, anyone with the means and the desire can live a bespoke life, in which every detail is customized and status is made-to-order. The emerging class of high-spending billionaires continues to grow; sales of superyachts, for one, rose 80 percent from 1999 to 2004. So top-tier consumers are looking for ways to stand out. Rather than signal their wealth with the latest Rolex, Ferrari or Prada bag, they seek a one-off, custom-made product--sometimes by an up-and-coming designer--that no one else will ever own. "It's a reaction against mass production," says filmmaker, jewelry designer and luxury insider Liz Goldwyn, the granddaughter of legendary Hollywood studio chief Samuel Goldwyn. "It's a wiser investment to buy one really well-made piece than five things that don't fit you well. It's almost a return to the past, to more personalized service, getting away from things that scream, 'Look at how much money I have!' "
The journey toward a bespoke lifestyle often starts with a suit. Savile Row is the most famous example of high-end men's tailoring, and remains one of the first splurges in which titans-in-training indulge as soon as their incomes allow. But it is hardly the only one. Today the traditional world of men's couture is being reinvigorated by one of fashion's biggest talents, Tom Ford, who brings a modern attitude to old-style dressing. The former Gucci designer--who helped spark the luxury craze of the '90s by turning logo-emblazoned leather goods into the decade's biggest trend--opened a flagship store in New York last year to launch a signature men's line. Ford intuited that the moment was right to focus on bespoke, the final frontier for luxury connoisseurs seeking the cachet of owning products unavailable to the masses. Though the Tom Ford line offers a selection of off-the-rack suits starting at $2,900, his latest venture specializes in made-to-measure. A custom-tailored suit can stretch to a stratospheric $8,600, while day shirts come in 350 colors, 35 fabrics, 10 different collars and 2 cuff styles.
Ford's store seeks to bring a ritualized grandeur to the shopping experience, with an in-store butler, a roped-off level for custom clientele and ready-made suits stored in glass cabins. "When a man gets dressed, he telegraphs something about himself to the world," writes Ford in an e-mail. "Each choice communicates a potent message. Hours of drafting, cutting, hand stitching, and finishing [are] poured into the process of [custom-] making clothes and shoes. The payoff for all this effort is something invaluable: effortlessness on the part of the wearer. It's not the designer or fashion house that is the focus of attention; it's the man himself." Ford's proposition--that made-to-measure luxury goods project a refined version of some essential inner self--is a seductive marketing pitch, and it encapsulates the mind-set that propels people to spend small fortunes on bespoke products.
He isn't the only menswear designer making inroads into the made-to-measure market. …