“How’s That, Sir?”
Hisham Oumlil gives classic tailoring an international twist.
A first visit to Hisham Oumlil’s New York atelier does not involve many of the activities typically associated with a trip to a custom tailor. Most likely no measurements will be taken, no cloth chosen. Instead Oumlil and his prospective client will spend the time simply talking, sitting in an intimate and well-hidden space carved out of a loft above Beckenstein’s cavernous fabric store (Oumlil also does fittings in Los Angeles and London). The space is small and workmanlike with an old round wooden table in the middle for spreading cloth on, a wall full of swatch books, and a three-way mirror. But it’s a good place for serious discussion. “When I make something for a client,” Oumlil says, “it has to express who they are as an individual. The first step in tailoring a suit for someone is finding that out.” Taking measurements and choosing material can wait.
It’s not the typical approach to bespoke, but hardly anything about Oumlil is standard-issue. He’s young—in his thirties, for one thing—and something of a dandy. He wears his own designs—cut close to the body for a long, lean silhouette, with roped shoulders and relatively short double vents for a clean line—in peacock colors, which he pulls off with aplomb. While most of the men in his line of business claim a heritage that goes back to Italy or England, Oumlil was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco. When asked about his interest in men’s tailored clothing, he points to a photo on his desk, a picture of a young couple. The man wears a chalk-stripe suit: It’s his father. The suit is handmade, cut close and slim, with the jacket worn just a bit short. “My father had all his clothes made for him,” he says, “and the details were always perfect.”
A similar passion for the personal touch is what ultimately led Oumlil to be- spoke. After studying design in Casablanca, Oumlil eventually wound up working in Hermès’s and then Loro Piana’s New York offices. When he decided to strike out on his own, a tailor at Loro Piana recommended he talk to Rocco Ciccarelli—“the tailor’s tailor”—the man who now sews his suits. Over the next couple of years, Oumlil and Rocco worked together, and he learned how to take a series of two-dimensional measurements and combine those details with his own vision to produce a three-dimensional work of art. By 2005 he felt confident enough to strike out on his own. “I wanted to create something that was between meticulous craftsmanship and a more modern look,” the designer says. “Something uniquely American: a combination of all the best things from all the traditions around the world.”
Now, only a few years later, his ardent supporters include Andrew Malloy (scion of New York’s Bergdorf Goodman) and hotelier André Balazs, part of a high- profile clientele that found him purely via word of mouth. This is perhaps not as surprising as it may seem: Many of Oumlil’s clients say they cannot walk down the street in one of his suits without being stopped by people wanting to know who made it. For Balazs, who for years had his suits made at Anderson & Sheppard in London, meeting Oumlil renewed a flagging interest in clothes. “He combines classic English and Italian traditions with a modern point of view in a way that’s utterly exciting,” Balazs says. But, he adds, just as important is Oumlil’s capacity for paying absolute attention to the person in front of him, to take every detail into account. “It’s as close as you can get to an haute couture experience for men,” says Balazs.
As Andrew Malloy remembers it, during his first visit to Oumlil’s atelier, they hardly talked about clothes. It wasn’t until their second appointment a couple of weeks later that they even started discussing fabrics. And when Malloy started making his selections, Oumlil nodded and gently began recommending things that Malloy had never considered. He pulled out lush triple-stripe flannels and windowpane checks—he uses Scabal exclusively, best known for its ultraluxurious English-milled fabrics—and suggested a far-from-business-as-usual single-button peaked lapel. Malloy overcame his initial trepidation and took the plunge. Now the man who claims he went into banking so he could afford all the clothes in his family’s store has discovered that of the many items in his closet, the ones he loves most are Oumlil’s suits.
Inspired by this success, Oumlil has begun a line of ready-to-wear. The two collections he’s done so far have been somewhat less traditional than most of what he makes for his bespoke clientele, with details like grosgrain edging on lapels and tuxedo-shirt shirred collars on the dinner jackets, but the long, body-hugging silhouette is clearly visible. Regardless, Oumlil says he remains committed to bespoke. “Working with a client is my chance to create a piece of clothing that harmonizes with an entire life.”
While all of Oumlil’s suits are made the same way, prices vary according to materials. If you want a country sports coat in Scottish tweed, it will run about $2,400. The same coat in cashmere will cost you $5,000. Want cashmere pants to match? $3,900. In wool they’ll run about $750. A two-piece suit in, say, a super 150 wool is $6,800. The same suit in a vicuña silk blend will be $20,000. 212-730-0720; email@example.com.