In her first exclusive article for WhichPLM, renowned Savile Row figure Katy Bowles explains the bespoke tailoring industry’s difficult relationship with technology.
Within every academic or creative field there are classifications, sub-divisions and niches, which help define an apex organisation. In the expert, creative field of pattern cutting within menswear, a classical niche is traditional British bespoke.
Predominantly based within Mayfair’s Savile Row, this institution is widely regarded throughout the world as the epicentre for gentleman’s sartorial couture. “The Row”, by definition, is a centre of excellence within menswear, steeped in historical construction methods and techniques accessible to the fortunate few who are able to take advantage of this iconic British cultural experience.
A Savile Row suit is intricately constructed from a hand-drafted pattern created through the deliberate application of anthropometrical measurements and figurations. Fittings are undertaken as plain architectural, skeletal frames and, through this development, progressively re-cut and refined until the suit meticulously displays all the owner’s desired elements of comfort, character, cut, style and personality; whilst taking into consideration the owner’s lifestyle and the purpose of the tailoring required. All garments are formed, canvassed and completed by hand with a sculptural finish adding definition, shape and support to the surrounding figuration. With the advice of experts and professionals, every area of initial design and component from cloth, buttons, linings, under-collars, lapel and pocket style are selected by the client ensuring that the creative vision can be established and fashioned into reality.
With such a tantalising prospect in mind, it is obvious why bespoke is commonly observed as the pinnacle of tailoring couture. It epitomizes tradition and romanticises the hand-produced drafting and construction systems of a bygone era. However it has recently been acknowledged by industry experts that the consumer desire of suiting is moving far beyond the intricately crafted niche mentality of Savile Row and more towards mass-manufactured garments.
[pullquote_left]…style will always outlive any consumer trend but it is quite evident that the technological bespoke era will soon be upon us.[/pullquote_left]Like science or mathematics, any academic or creative field must adapt and innovate to be truly sustainable and developmental. Currently, as the bespoke trade gradually becomes smaller and seemingly less significant within modern society, it needs to be acknowledged that there is a cultural evolution in progress with regards to its desired target audience. There is a huge element of competitive development in tailoring and selected areas of bespoke have successfully recognised this aggressive opposition and are developing transitionally to adjust to the society in which we live today. However most bespoke houses are seemingly maintaining tradition in the face of adversity from mass production.
Arguably, couture niche markets will always be successful within a selective subset of society; bespoke can offer individuality, limitless possibilities and ultimate perfection. However a large proportion of the current generation of style-conscious males feel intimidated by Savile Row and its haze of mysticism. As an alternative, they constantly expose themselves to fashion magazines, up-to-date consumer trends, celebrity styles and ever-shifting vogues to the point of saturation.
“The survival of the fittest is dependant on the most adaptable to change” — Charles Darwin
Gentlemen with a high disposable income now tend to spend £3,500 on six suits rather than one. Bespoke sustainability is encountering a transition to being largely financially dependant on a generation of fast-thinking, well-groomed individuals who want suits cut quickly, differently, according to the season and the fashion and with less regard to quality and longevity; all of which contradicts the conventional notion of intricate craftsmanship. The establishment of a wardrobe full of timeless, classic pieces has generally become an anachronism as gentleman wish to be seen in a variation of outfits rather than one or two.
This attitude towards clothing is completely contrary to the previous cohort of gentlemen, and their forefathers, who chose to experience bespoke tailoring. This means pattern cutters and companies have to be forward thinking, innovative and adjust from a 1950’s “make do and mend mentality” to a “throw away” one. This adds pressure to a Savile Row business to be competitive with designers, made to measure, ready to wear and even high street retailers who can offer well-constructed, crisp suits at less than half the price. Due to the current social perception of bespoke tailoring, the role of the pattern cutter has to slowly become evolutionary. In order to be successful, the role of the pattern cutter but adapt to the financial, technological and economic requirements necessary in order for production and business to remain sustainable and innovative. This adds great pressure to a dynasty aiming at a seemingly contradictory market.
[quote]“The Row”, by definition, is a centre of excellence within menswear, steeped in historical construction methods and techniques accessible to the fortunate few who are able to take advantage of this iconic British cultural experience.[/quote]
Of course, bespoke will always be the highest level of skill as currently the human mind is still more creative and inclined towards a greater level of perfection than a computerised CAM machine or a technological pattern-programming device, but the level of computer intelligence created by man has achieved a greater echelon of accuracy and is slowly becoming more intimidating to the artisans of the past. Suits are being manufactured more efficiently, cost-effectively, with fewer time constraints and to a higher degree of quality. All of which is undoubtedly impressive and has indisputably lead to a consumer surge in made to measure and ready to wear.
Modern consumers desire lifestyle products and branding that usually epitomise what bespoke cannot, bespoke can often be seen as the autonomous, free-thinking individual fashion where as suits “off the peg” can be regarded as conformist and socially comfortable. In the time it takes to make a bespoke suit, the ready to wear garment has already been purchased, worn and deemed “out of fashion” – effectively consumed. It would be logical to assume that bespoke will always have its safe, assured place in menswear because style will always outlive any consumer trend but it is quite evident that the technological bespoke era will soon be upon us.