What is the value and relevance of the bespoke process against a backdrop of mass produced ready-to-wear fashion and a depressed global economy?

Have you noticed the word “bespoke” popping up all over the place?  From bespoke hairdressing to bespoke stationery and even cupcakes, there is an undeniable and growing prestige attached to something having been made just for you.   Although the word bespoke is now being applied across a variety of products and services, historically it applied to tailored clothing involving a high degree of customisation.  Its key defining features are the client’s control over design, fabrication and fit.

Despite the global economic downturn, sales on Savile Row, London’s mecca of bespoke tailoring, have steadily increased over recent years.  So why now, when most of the world’s major economies are struggling, is the bespoke industry continuing to thrive?  By its very nature, it is often far more costly than ready-to-wear.  Has the recession led people to reassess their value systems and refocus them towards a search for quality?

Today’s consumer is well equipped for this search, armed with knowledge like never before.

The internet has given us instant access to the information needed to guide us through many of life’s decisions.  In terms of fashion, we are able to see what designers are sending down their runways – often in real time.  For us in the southern hemisphere, this means we are no longer a season “behind” Europe.  No longer are we limited to the buying decisions of our local department stores and boutiques.  This expanded knowledge base means that today’s consumer has a very different voice and an expectation that they should be able to determine their own style.

The paradigm shift sits comfortably within the realm of bespoke as customers are not only able to see how their garment has been cut and constructed, but also it enables them to be heavily involved in the decision-making process.  In much the same way many restaurants now design their kitchens to be highly visible.  Restaurateurs recognise that today’s diner is not only interested in enjoying the food that is placed in front of them but also in experiencing the process of creation and styling.

With the shift in focus towards quality, consumers are recognising the value of bespoke.  It is the antithesis of the “fast fashion”; a mentality resulting from technological advances in manufacturing and cheap labour that have made fashion so affordable and readily available to the masses.    Our chain stores interpret runway trends so quickly that magazines can always present their readers with the designer look and how to “get the look for less”.  Perhaps now that we are used to everything being immediately available to us, waiting and anticipating have become desirable.  Has delayed gratification become the ultimate luxury?

Bespoke is anything but fast.  The biggest differentiating factor for bespoke is the collaboration between client and designer and an enjoyment of the process.  This focus on time and attention results in a garment that has been designed and produced specifically for one’s own measurements.  Rather than relying on standard sizing, bespoke acknowledges every curve and contour of the client’s body and either plays it up or tones it down.  The time taken to achieve this result means that bespoke can almost never compete with ready-to-wear on a cost basis.  However for clients who are dissatisfied with the fit of ready-to-wear garments, the benefits are clear.

Aside from the cost/benefit equation, the joy of wearing something created just for you is undeniable.  One of the highlights of the past twelve months was seeing a client of mine in her late 60s who, upon being zipped into her dress, looked in the mirror and spontaneously broke into the Charleston.  “Do you know how hard it is at my age to wear something that makes you feel like that?” she said.  For a garment to elicit that kind of response is invaluable.


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