The word ‘bespoke’ conjures up a sense of grandeur, pomp and ceremony that the majority of men have neither the time nor the inclination to entertain between all the meetings, deadlines and appointments. But away from the old-school connotations of cedar-lined Savile Row fitting rooms and dusty Dickensian tailors who demand a mournful ring of the bell before allowing entry, a new set of rules is now defining the world of menswear.
Bespoke no longer only applies to suiting: from belts to shoes, from ties to fragrances, a dynamic new guard of brands and designers are giving their customers products that are personalised in every way, allowing you to make your wardrobe a tailor-made model of pin-sharp perfection.
Begin your bespoke wardrobe at the feet, then work your way upwards. There’s no better place to start than Berluti (Berluti.com), where Olga Berluti has been overseeing the family business (founded in 1895) for more than 40 years. Visiting her Paris atelier is a thoroughly Through The Looking Glass experience as a cobbled courtyard leads to a workshop erupting with foot lasts and shoes in every colour. Having learned her craft from her grandfather, Olga’s London outpost offers a service whereby a last of the foot is produced, over which the final, handmade shoe is slipped before being submerged in water. The process ensures that the leather slides over the foot like butter, and the result is a seamless fit that warrants the price tag (£1,200 is the starting point). What’s more, the mould is kept as a reference point for returning customers.
Similarly artisan is insider tip Eric Cook (by appointment only; 01737-842957). Decidedly and reassuringly traditional in his methods, Cook eschews the notion of having a standalone shop and relies on word-of-mouth buzz that has seen celebrities, royalty and statesmen alike seek him out for his handmade, beautifully streamlined bespoke footwear.
The beauty of the Cook treatment is that he comes to you, making house calls or judicious office visits to construct his crafted, exacting shoes. His focus is on measurements; he takes more than the average (seven, rather than four, points of the foot) to ensure a glove-like fit. “I aim to make the most elegant shoes possible with the feet that I am offered,” says Cook, whose painstaking process takes six months to fine-tune.
Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop had nothing on the dizzying emporium of Elliot Rhodes (Elliotrhodes.com), a temple to the art of the humble belt. So often a sartorial afterthought, at Elliot Rhodes it is celebrated as the punctuation mark of a man’s wardrobe. Calfskins and crocodile-skin straps in shades from vermilion to cornflower blue are piled high, with buckles and metal emblems fashioned into lizards, creeping vines and artful geometric arrangements.
Founded by Justin Rhodes, every facet of Elliot Rhodes is bespoke and personalised. Its on-the-spot service means that any belt chosen is measured and customised there and then; no customer walks away with a belt that doesn’t fit perfectly.
If you’re seeking a belt that, say, exudes an air of James Dean or is sleek and streamlined with a skull-emblazoned lining to give it a secretly rebellious twist, you can opt for a more thoroughly personalised approach and have a handcrafted piece made in any material, colour and lining. Buckles and extraneous details are added on demand, with the highly individual pieces taking three to four months to craft by hand. The store has created belts bearing a family coat of arms; belts embossed with initials; a belt commemorating a wedding day; and a buckle with a golf ball motif for a Ryder Cup player.
The country idyll of Hawick on the Scottish borders may resemble the backdrop to Braveheart rather than a seething fashion cauldron, but from it springs the covetable and quirky menswear of Queene And Belle (Queeneandbelle.com). The hand-weaving techniques and liquid-soft cashmere that are inherent to the area have found a modern-day home at the knitwear label, which washes its cashmere in rainwater before it’s woven to ensure the softest touch imaginable. Don’t be fooled by the feminine moniker: designer Angela Bell’s bespoke knitwear for men is classic, with eccentric elements that add personality. Measurement details are sent via email, with sweaters and cardigans taking four to six weeks to create. Queene And Belle’s unique selling-point is its ability to add personalised insignias, logos, images or emblems to a piece. “We find that bespoke cashmere makes a fantastic gift,” says Bell, who can adorn her knits with images, initials, dates or just about anything. “It’s not just about getting the fitting ‘just so’ — it’s about creating an item that’s thoroughly unique and has that extra something.”
The gentlemanly traditions of Jermyn Street are given a 21st-century update at the hands of Emma Willis (Emmawillis.com), a mistress of shirt-making who has brought her neat way with a cuff and collar to the masses via her bespoke-service website. While her crisp shirts in 120- and 170-ply cottons can be nipped, tucked and worked around the body at her St James’s store, Willis has developed a function on her website that allows time poor men to input their measurement details and create a custom shirt in the fabric, colour and finishing flourishes of their choice, delivered in four to six weeks. Her ‘Bespoke In The City’ service brings the nimble hands of her seamstresses to your office; they’ll visit any workplace within Greater London to take measurements. The team even delivers socks and boxer shorts to offices, helping hedonistic, out-all-night City boys feel that little bit fresher the next morning.
Drakes ties (Drakes-london.com) are the equivalent of a Breitling around the neck. Founded in 1977, there’s nothing that this handmade-in-England accessories company doesn’t know about either tie etiquette or cutting edge style, having collaborated with hip magazine Monocle and fashion temple Dover Street Market. Its in-store bespoke service sees its refined ties (the knitted numbers are a favourite) moulded in your image; outer fabric, print, colour, width, length and internal lining are all ripe for the picking. For those who grapple with how near a tie sits to the waistband, their service makes all that morning tweaking and reworking a thing of the past. And with the service encompassing bow ties too, allusions to Rat Pack élan are but an order away.
These days, it’s no longer enough to splash out on a hint of Le Male before heading out of the door. In the battle to claim ownership of the modern man’s olfactory wardrobe, bespoke scents have become the benchmark of luxury grooming. At Pecksniff’s (Pecksniffs.com) in Brighton, a personalised service is the jewel in the aromatic crown. A crack team of consultants conduct a rigorous interview akin to a session on the therapist’s couch; likes, dislikes and favourite memories are dissected to build a personality profile. From there, a ‘fragrance pyramid’ is formed and the specialists create three samples that are passed on to the client. After further reworking, the scent is signed off, with the engraved bottle bearing a name of the client’s choice and any colour that he may be partial to — all for £250.
For the particularly high-maintenance gent, the bespoke aroma can also infuse Pecksniff’s body care and toiletries range. From juniper berries to freshly brewed coffee, from liquorice to Cuban cigars, whatever sets the nostrils tingling can be adapted into a made-to-measure scent as personal as a signature. Penhaligon’s (Penhaligons.com) and Miller Harris (Millerharris.com) also create individual scents — the latter even created one for Jane Birkin that smelled like her husband’s hair in the morning.