Mirror, Mirror: Henry A. Davidsen, tailoring to the young gent

Brian Lipstein (left), owner of Henry A. Davidsen Master Tailors and Image Consultants, and master tailor Jay Tidwell. With the few skilled cutters, patternmakers, and sewers here in high demand, the labor-intensive suits mean a pricey process.
Brian Lipstein (left), owner of Henry A. Davidsen Master Tailors and Image Consultants, and master tailor Jay Tidwell. With the few skilled cutters, patternmakers, and sewers here in high demand, the labor-intensive suits mean a pricey process. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 15, 2014

It's much easier to create men's bespoke suits when they are designed and crafted under the same roof.

That's why Brian Lipstein is leasing an additional floor in his Henry A. Davidsen Spruce Street studio. With the extra 750 square feet, a second tailor, a shiny new pressing table, and a straight-stitch sewing machine, Lipstein is hoping to begin the long-term transition to making all of his suits in Philadelphia.

"We are going to start slow," he said. "We are going to start with the very special pieces, and we hope to make everything here within five to 10 years."

Lipstein believes he can inject life into the local manufacturing scene by giving more tailors jobs: With made-to-measure suits, offered at places like Macy's or Boyds, patterns are altered to fit customers' measurements. When it comes to bespoke suits - which have become exceedingly rare - tailors take clients' measurements, discuss styles, and then, like a couture dressmaker, they create a pattern from scratch. The pattern is kept on file for eternity - or until a weight gain.

Still, with the few skilled cutters, patternmakers, and sewers here in high demand, the labor-intensive suits mean a pricier process. The cost of the made-in-Philadelphia suits will start at about $3,500, Lipstein said, compared to the bespoke suits he currently has made in Rochester, N.Y., and sells for $3,000. The rest of his inventory is made in China, each suit selling for about $1,500. About 400 of his clients request bespoke suits, and he hopes to make about four of them a month in the new space.

"Brian is a very artisanal example of what the cutting and sewing industry can be in Philadelphia," said Patricia Blakely, executive director of the Merchants Fund.

Last month the fund, which works with the city's Commerce Department to spur local manufacturing, awarded Lipstein a $10,000 grant. "Henry A. Davidsen has had a steady, continuous growth pattern, and he has learned that doing things on a small scale is a less risky way to grow."

Lipstein's quest started in fall 2005 when he was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania and didn't have any job-hunting suits.

A friend's father was a master tailor, so he went to him to have a suit made. Lipstein liked the suit but as a millennial, he didn't feel the tailors related to him.

"My peers were going to New York and working in banking; they needed suits, too," Lipstein said. "So I saw this as an opportunity to improve on the process."

Lipstein launched Henry A. Davidsen (named after a World War II merchant marine who had impeccable taste) on Penn's campus as an image consultant/custom suit salesman in early 2006 - a time when men were just starting to shift from slovenly to slightly more sophisticated looks. By the time Lipstein graduated that June with a degree in economics and urban studies, he had 23 clients. Turns out he didn't need a suit for any interviews.

"I decided not to look for a job when I graduated because this business had some traction and showed promise."

He opened his Rittenhouse Square showroom in June 2007. Now Lipstein, 30, projects that 2016 sales of Henry A. Davidsen suits will near $1 million - he wouldn't discuss current sales numbers. Among his 1,500 customers are Las Vegas-based chef Jeff Henderson, star of the Food Network reality television show The Chef Jeff Project.  

"I was in Philadelphia giving a keynote speech and everyone was dressed to the nines," Henderson said. "Lipstein walked in. I was digging his shoes and his boots and his whole style. So I asked him where his suits were made. He told me, and later that day I ordered three suits from him."

Like most of today's fashion entrepreneurs, Lipstein's business mirrors his lifestyle. On a recent day he arrived at his Spruce Street showroom in a natty, royal blue windowpane three-piece suit, with bow tie. In his leather briefcase was a homemade green smoothie in a reusable thermos.

"I have to make sure I keep fitting into these suits," he says.

He sees his showroom - which includes a barber's chair and several whiskey selections - as a modern-day version of the men's tailoring shops of central London's Savile Row. During the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, fine menswear was fashioned on those premises from start to finish.

"As the traditional tailors in Philadelphia have died off, retired, or stopped making bespoke, we are excited to bring this tradition back," Lipstein said.


ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704

@ewellingtonphl

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