From the 130-year-old Turnbull & Asser, through to the 10-year-young business founded by Michael Andrews, we take a closer look at the two leaders in the world of bespoke. This is the business of bespoke; the anti-retail revolution.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m as much in the hospitality business as I am in the apparel business.” That’s the view of former ‘suit’ Michael Andrews of Michael Andrews Bespoke, New York City. For seven years Michael was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer on Wall Street. His vacations away from the Financial District were spent scouring the streets of Thailand and India, obsessing over the vibrancy and eclecticism of southern Asia’s finesse for fine fabrics, much to the annoyance of his travel companions. “I was on a trip to Asia, where I had my first custom suit made, and fell in love with the idea,” Michael reminisces. Several trips and disgruntled travel buddies later, Andrews left Wall Street with more than a keen eye for detail, and a wardrobe brimming with the acquisitions of his Asiatic expeditions. In 2006, Michael Andrews graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and less than a year later, Michael Andrews Bespoke was born.
A self-proclaimed “recovering corporate attorney,” Andrews’ success is a mixture of excellent timing, selection of quality materials and passion for precision. He bemoans the ready-to- wear collections of high-street retailers, a scourge of post-industrial mass- marketing. Michael’s philosophy is simple; “If you’re a construction worker or a tech guy, you still need one good suit.” Riding the crest of a fashion wave engulfing the city, bespoke tailoring has become a popular market in the US, with more and more American men seeking personal service, superior fabrics, and individuality. Andrews describes it as the desire for a more “contemporary silhouette.” He credits the slimming down of the gentlemen’s dress to the popularised portrayal of business aesthetic in television series such as Mad Men. However, more recently, Andrews has recognised a shift in trend. Today’s discerning business professionals are in search of a more elegant, bolder and wider look, reverting to a style less Don Draper, more Fred Astaire.
M.A.B., for short, is situated in the NoHo district of New York, occupying a boutique studio nestled in an alley way off Great Jones Street, known as the Savile Row of New York. Images are conjured of tailors with spectacles on the tip of their noses, tape measures cracked like an enthusiastic jockey, but Michael dispels any notion of antiquity. “The studio is anything but old- fashioned” Michael insistently suggests, “our location is unconventional at best, we like to describe ourselves as the speakeasy of clothes.” Speakeasy being the operative word considering the disclosed location and striking antique liquor bar that welcomes clients with a glass of something dark and on the rocks, testament to Andrews’ love of fine, vintage whiskies and wines. The experience, though, couldn’t be more new world. None of Michael’s creations are formatted or stodgy; his collections have an air of modernity, reflecting their fashionable and vibrant location. “Our approach here is a little different,” Michael vows. “We’ll do a continental jacket, we’ll do a more classic structured Savile Row jacket, and we’ll do hunting gear or equestrian. Whatever it is, we’ll work with you to design it the way you want it.” True to his word, Michael Andrews has a collection of over ten thousand patterns and styles and cares about the intricacies of linings and detailing.
Michael Andrews excels in his new trade, but Turnbull & Asser are the long-standing grandmasters. 2015 marks Turnbull & Asser’s 130th anniversary. Holders of a Royal Warrant, the quintessentially British brand has been sewing its mark into the bespoke tailoring scene for thirteen decades and is the world renowned authority in gentlemen’s shirtmaking. “Patterns are made individually for each customer, on brown paper, just as they were for customers such as Laurence Olivier or Ronald Reagan,” explains Turnbull & Asser director Steven Quin, “The basics of shirt-making and pattern-making are the same as they have been for many years. A bespoke shirt represents an individual choice. The customer gets exactly what he wants from it. It’s something that reflects his character.” Throughout the years, Turnbull & Asser have served all manner of influential figures; from Winston Churchill to Charlie Chaplin, Picasso to the Prince of Wales. The company has built up a significant clientele and this is no where more attested than in the extraordinary archive of patterns and styles available, a historical timeline depicting the colourful and remarkable lives of each of its clients. Turnbull & Asser’s past designs often resurface in modern seasonal collections, as the Turnbull & Asser ideology remains both current and classic respectively.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the company soared in popularity for its innovative use of fine silks, building on an already solid reputation for supple cotton shirts. Resolute supporters of British tradition and craftsmanship, they remain based in Britain, from shirt-making in Gloucestershire to tie production in Sidcup, never out-sourcing at any stage of production. “Maintaining our UK manufacturing base will always be key for our business,” insists Managing Director Nigel Blow. For Turnbull & Asser, ‘Made in Britain’ is exactly that.
The company has also formed a bond with Ian Fleming’s 007 character. Director Terrence Young, a debonair ex- serviceman, dispatched Sean Connery to Turnbull & Asser in collaboration for the movie ‘Dr. No’, the film that sparked the beginning of the most identifiable spy series in modern day filmography. Even as recently as Casino Royale, Oscar-winning costume designers have sought after the London clothier to dress the heart throb, noting that “Turnbull & Asser is synonymous with Jermyn Street, gentlemen’s style, and so absolutely correct for James Bond.” Naturally, Fleming was a client himself.