The tailor was used to customers who were highly particular about their clothes. He wielded his scissors at Richard James, a bright and modern storefront on Savile Row, the London street where men have been coming for years to get suits that will set them apart from the great unwashed. Yet even he had a hard time wrapping his head around Pete Doherty’s request. The rock star (and Kate Moss’ recently fired partner-in-debauchery) ordered two suits—at a cost of roughly $3,500 each—that were to be cut several sizes too small. “I don’t want them to look like they’ve been made for me,” he insisted.
“Pete’s become a real style icon, and that sort of person has a very good sense of self-perception,” says Sean Dixon, James’ 39-year-old business partner. “He knew exactly what he wanted, and we made the suits very, very tight.”
Getting exactly what you want is the whole point of bespoke tailoring, which is undergoing a renaissance as younger men realize there is a world of exclusivity beyond designer clothing. Patrons can select a custom dye for monogram stitching, create a hiding place for a Luger pistol, or simply wallow in the tactile pleasure of wearing trousers that really, truly fit. The recent passion for custom items extends to shirts, shoes, fragrances, and even suitcases. (Beretta of Italy, which creates individually tailored luggage, lists among its customers Tom Ford, Andre 3000, Kiefer Sutherland, and Donald Trump Jr.) Naturally, the chance to swan about in a one-of-a-kind outfit appeals to style-setters like Kanye West, Tom Cruise, Jude Law, Tim Roth, and Hugh Grant. But makers of bespoke goods have been struck by the demand among non-famous men in their twenties and thirties.
“There’s been a rediscovery that a well-made and -cut suit can improve your look,” says Nick Hart, the 42-year-old founder of Spencer Hart, the London-based tailor of choice for West and David Bowie. “The fact is that you can’t find fitted clothes off-the-rack. All designers design for a particular body shape that suits their aesthetic. At the same time, they want to sell as much as possible, so that means cutting things for the average size. In both cases, their clothes are less likely to fit a given individual.”
Hart did a fitting with Kanye West in London last year for jackets in beige and cream, to match the pastels West favors, along with a very shiny dress jacket with a shawl collar. Hart calls it “the sort of thing Sammy Davis Jr. would be wearing if he were around now.” Hart, whose handiwork costs anywhere from $2,500 to—for more complicated orders—$10,000 or more, is happiest when he’s tweaking tradition, using old “colonial” fabrics like heavy linen, or braiding his collars and cuffs.
The younger tailors have none of the haughtiness of some Savile Row establishments, which until a decade ago closed on Saturdays because the typical customer spent weekends at his country estate. To serve their self-made clients, they often jet around the world for fittings. Hart visits the United States every few months. Ozwald Boateng, the 38-year-old behind Bespoke Couture in London, shuttles to Moscow for appointments with thirtysomething oligarchs; this spring he went to Los Angeles to dress Jamie Foxx for Oscar night, adding the star of Ray to a client list that includes Laurence Fishburne and Will Smith. Such is the demand for these tailors’ services that they are also establishing outposts far from Savile Row: James is opening his first Tokyo store, and Hart’s garments are now sold by Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.