Mirror, Mirror: Fit for a king: Made-to-measure suiting on the rise in Philadelphia

Boxer Bryant Jennings (left) with Ron Wilch, an established haberdasher in Philadelphia.
Boxer Bryant Jennings (left) with Ron Wilch, an established haberdasher in Philadelphia. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff)
Posted: August 08, 2013

   The custom-suit comeback - replete with cuff links, pocket squares, suspenders, and gingham-checked dress shirts - has arrived in the City of Brotherly Love.

Within the last two years, three companies offering made-to-measure services hit the Philly streets: Indochino, Robbini Bespoke, and Suitsupply. Before those, Henry A. Davidsen Master Tailors & Image Consultants and Commonwealth Proper started making inroads as a new generation of tailors.

And don't forget the established haberdasheries we've come to know and love - Ron Wilch Custom Tailoring and Boyds Philadelphia.

Why the custom revival? If you didn't happen to notice the '20s and '40s and '60s takeover in women's wear, you're not too late to witness the male version as custom promises to be popular this fall. And just like their female counterparts, men want a modern spin on that old-school look. In a world where competition is fierce and jobs are scarce, what better way to make a good impression than having a suit crafted just for you - perhaps with your initials stitched into the lining of the jacket.

"I'm a small guy," said Thomas Foley, chief executive officer of Northern Liberties-based Sedso Design. Foley bought his first custom suit in the spring when the Vancouver-based Indochino set up a pop-up shop on Walnut Street.

"I can't fit into someone else's box. I need a suit that's made for me," Foley said.

Through the '70s, '80s, and '90s, suits were boxy and bland, more of a businessman's uniform than sartorial self-expression. Then in 1998, Allentown native Thom Browne - you may remember that he designed Michelle Obama's phenomenal inaugural coat in January - introduced the world to his signature shrunken suit with its high-water pants and short-sleeve jackets.

High fashion slipped it right on, but your everyday suit guy stayed away. As it is with most men, it takes a while - but they've finally caught up. And now, even if tiny isn't their thing, fit certainly is. Today, pop culture's affection for vintage images and movies like Man of Steel - Clark Kent doesn't duck into phone booths in baggy jeans - and The Great Gatsby fuels the retail shift.

Speaking of Gatsby, Philly Style hosted a party last month encouraging guests to come dressed in '20s garb. Women shimmied in tiered skirts while the men represented in baker boy caps, and, of course, tailored suits. Craig Arthur von Schroeder of Commonwealth Proper wore a midnight blue shawl-collar tuxedo jacket and matching tuxedo pants.

"We really have been riding this wave of men who want to dress better and dress like men," von Schroeder said. The five-year-old company has done so well in recent years that it plans this fall to move to a 2,000-square-foot space at 18th and Chestnut Streets, the same block as Boyds.

"Men don't like to shop so they want to have an experience. And if they find something that fits very well, it becomes the gold standard of their closet."

Not only does the new-to-Philly menswear come in different forms, the businesses look different as well: Brian Lipstein set up studio space in Center City to fit men for his Henry A. Davidsen suits, and Robert Fung is a traveling salesman for Robbini Bespoke. After noticing that Philadelphia was a hotbed for online custom-suit orders, Suitsupply opened a 4,300-square-foot store at 16th and Locust Streets in April.

"We'd see about 10 or 20 guys a week come to [the Washington, D.C., and New York stores] from Philadelphia," said Nish De Gruiter, a vice president for Amsterdam-based Suitsupply. He prefers to be called "market maker" because he's "not selling your grandfather's suit, you know."

"We sell about 70 to 100 suits a week now [in Philly]. That's pretty legit," De Gruiter said.

      


Indochino

Since 2007

www.indochino.com

Cost: $449 to $699

Brand manager Crystal Walton dresses Peter Breslow, 47, publicist; and Thomas Foley, 31, CEO of Sedso Design

This Canadian company took its custom-tailoring business on the road this year. For three weeks, Indochino hosted a pop-up at 15th and Walnut where about 3,000 men were measured, chose fabrics and cuts, and using iPads and other mobile devices, submitted orders. Indochino plans to come back to Philly next year.

Foley went for a fitted and classic look for his gray three-piece suit. But Breslow opted for a brown one with pink stitching on the lapel. He also had his lapel personalized with his name.

"I really liked the cool, customized accents," Breslow said. "I never would have picked that if they didn't suggest it."

Robbini Bespoke

Since 2011

Offering personal service as a traveling business, Cherry Hill, 609-685-3484

Cost: starting at $750

CEO Robert Fung dresses John "D.J. Johnny Looch" Luciano, 42, best known for his weekly party at Johnny's Cafe in Margate, N.J.

Fung, 32, worked as a senior financial analyst at Lockheed Martin in Moorestown for seven years before he found himself bored.

He turned to his uncle, with 40 years in the overseas textile business, for inspiration. His uncle, knowing Fung was a millennial who was smitten with name brands, introduced him to custom suiting.

Fung's company focuses on slim-cut suiting, but he says his niche is in high-quality fabric.

Looch came to Fung in search of the perfect three-piece suit, which is, by the way, coming back in style. The disc jockey and father of four already has lost 70 pounds and is still losing, so a vest, Fung said, is slimming.

"It gives him a more fitted look and a better shape."

Suitsupply

Since 2013 (in Philadelphia)

1601 Locust St.

Cost: starting at $400

Nish De Gruiter (right), vice president of marketing, and manager Sundar De Groot dress Bruno Pouget, 48, associate at Michael Salove Co.

Based in Amsterdam, Suitsupply brought its Euro-style suits to the States in 2011 by way of Manhattan. The store is arranged like an Intermix for guys - in outfits - but all of the items are private label.

Suitsupply has five basic suits that come in a variety of styles and fabrics. Pouget is in the Havana in wrinkle-free travel wool. This two-button suit with double vents gives the classic-cut suit an easy-to-wear feel.

Henry A. Davidsen Master Tailor & Image Consultants Since 2006

1701 Spruce St., second floor

Cost: $700 to $3,000

CEO Brian Lipstein dresses Michael Oxman, 30, IT sales at iCorps Technologies; and Ray Houston III, 41, associate account executive at Independence Blue Cross

When Lipstein, 30, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, he went to buy a custom suit for interviews, but he had a horrible experience. He thought they created a suit that was more fitting to a 50-year-old.

"It didn't help that I didn't know much, either," Lipstein said. "My father was the antithesis of suits. He was so very business casual."

The experience inspired Lipstein to learn all he could about the bespoke business so he could help his generation learn to suit up in a modern way. With 1,100 clients now in his Rolodex, he's definitely making a dent.

Right now, men's fashion is all about mixing prints and matching separates, so Lipstein dressed Oxman, who is 5-foot-3, in a gray pant and navy, three-button suit jacket (which makes him appear taller), and a small-print shirt and tie (small people need small prints).

At 6-foot-5, Houston doesn't need any height help, so Lipstein opted for a bold, wide-striped suit that he paired with this summer's breakout hit - the lavender, gingham checked button-down.

Ron Wilch Custom Clothing

Since 1992

www.fashionlab.com, 267-593-1864

Cost: $800 to $2,000

Owner Ron Wilch dresses Bryant Jennings, 28, a North Philly-based heavyweight boxer

In 1992, Wilch opened his first studio on Lombard Street, and in 1996 moved his headquarters to Germantown. Now he operates out of his house. The menswear designer, also known around town as the stepfather of rapper Eve, is now working to develop an expo that will bring shoppers, designers, and manufacturers together under one roof in September as part of the Philadelphia Collection.

Wilch chose for Jennings a 1930s- style black suit with four functional buttons on the cuffs. Wilch, 52, thinks the slim fit is nothing more than a fad, so he will continue to dress his clients in well-tailored comfortable trousers. Jackets are single- breasted with two buttons. And pants come in flat-front and pleated.

Boyds Philadelphia Since 1937

1818 Chestnut St.

Cost: $800 and up

Salesman John Clementi dresses Agile Cat CEO Peter Madden, 43

Boyds, the granddaddy of Philadelphia suiting, offers 20 suit brands including high-end Italian brands Brioni, Kiton, Canali, and Trussini, the store's private label. Customers can buy those suits off-the-rack, or have one custom-made to their measurements. More than a dozen tailors work in-house.

Clementi dressed Madden in a classic two-button blazer with a side vent and knotted lapel. Madden, a father of two, is a perfect 40 regular. In other words, he's your average guy. To keep his look fresh, modern, and trim as possible, Clementi suggested Madden go with a flat-front pant and a pink pocket square for a splash of color.

"I'm just not your casual Friday kind of guy," Madden said. "My foundation is old-school, just jazzed up a bit."


Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at ewellingtonphl.

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