“There is not that much access to someone like me, and I think discerning guys find that attractive,” says Boateng, who at 19 was dressing Jimmy Page and who now divides his time between his shop in London and his post as creative director of Givenchy in Paris. He is known for his lean trouser legs, his linings in crimson or royal purple, and his obsession with getting the waistline exactly right. “My suits are very fitted, so when you put them on they feel completely different,” he says. “It’s a feeling you can’t define in words; it’s just a great intuitive process.”
Even as they propel Savile Row into the 21st century, these tailors retain deep roots in classicism. Yes, they will design pockets to carry your BlackBerry, your cell phone, or your iPod. They will even give in to the recent vogue for diamond pockets, those tiny openings that jewelers use to conceal precious stones when they travel but that can, of course, hide lighter substances as well. Just don’t expect them to be happy when men cram their jackets full of bulge-producing gadgets. “Of course, we can create all sorts of useful pockets,” Dixon explains. “But in the tailor’s ideal world, a client should not carry anything. Even a wallet or keys.”
Needless to say, one doesn’t go to all the trouble of getting a custom-fitted jacket only to slip it on over a baggy T-shirt. Clients still approach Charvet of Paris with scraps of fabric or color samples that they’d like replicated in a shirt—even though this sort of order pushes the price above $500. “There’s a big trend to getting monograms made in your signature color,” explains Jean-Claude Colban, whose family owns the 167-year-old business. “Or they want it moved closer to their heart. And some people want the year beside their initials.”
Britain’s most famous shirtmaker is Turnbull & Asser, the Jermyn Street house that outfits both Jay-Z and the British royal family. “There’s a huge difference between our U.S. and U.K. customer,” explains Simon Hobbs, 40, the manager of the firm’s 57th Street emporium. For one, he says, “the Americans are so much younger, everything from Upper East Side teenagers coming in with Daddy’s credit card to the hedge-fund boys.” Another difference, apparently, is that the Yanks have broader backs, thanks to their workout regimens. These gym rats will appreciate the more tailored fit of a Turnbull & Asser shirt, which starts at $290. Hobbs has little time for purists who gripe that his products, unlike Charvet’s, do not provide handmade belt loops or hand-cut buttonholes. “I ask you, what’s the point of those sort of things when pretty well all our customers take their shirts to a $2 Chinese laundry?” Hobbs says.
A bespoke suit or shirt does not materialize overnight. In the first meeting to discuss a new suit, the tailor takes seven or eight measurements. Seven- weeks later, the customer tries on the unfinished suit to double-check the structure, and one week later he has a jacket and pair of trousers that make him look like a million bucks. Should you instruct the tailor to create a template entirely from scratch, this is known as “full bespoke” and takes two weeks longer. But the complications of custom-ordering a shirt or suit are nothing compared with the ordeal of buying handmade shoes. Expect to wait up to a half-year and to pay nearly $5,000 for a pair of wing tips from British cobbler John Lobb. Despite such inconveniences, or perhaps because of them, the venerable London outfit that once shod Winston Churchill is now seeing a record number of clients. Philippe Atienza, who holds the title of maître bottier at Lobb’s Paris outpost, visits America three times a year. After taking five measurements of each foot and tracing them on paper, Atienza makes a last, from which two months later he produces a pair of plastic forms he calls “les try-ons.”