The Perfect Fit
A bespoke suit is the most personal garment a man can own. But it's critical that you know two things: yourself and your tailor. You and your shrink can take care of you. We, however, have taken care of the second part: Meet six of the best custom tailors in New York.
My father and I had two things in common when I was growing up," Jon Green says, "music and clothes."
Music first brought Green to New York from Fort Worth after he was accepted at Juilliard to study conducting. After graduation he worked as a professional musician in the city for 15 years. "But," he says, "all I could think about was clothes."
After humble beginnings out of his apartment, Green opened a showroom on Madison Avenue, where he now sells bench-made suits which have developed an almost cult following for their impeccable workmanship and unparalleled quality. What's most distinctive about a Green suit is how it fits across the chest: A hand-felled front gives a stronger fit, no matter what the client's body type. Green also focuses on the lining, attaching it by hand so the edges are hand-picked, as they are on the pants pockets and fly. The attention to detail continues in the rest of the jacket, where he positions each pocket so that it falls perfectly with the shape of the wearer.
Customers are also drawn by Green's laid-back approach. "Many custom houses have a house style, and it's 'take it or leave it.' I like to work with the customer. I have what I call a 'house aesthetic,' based on the best of classic English and Italian style, but then I add features that American men prefer, like a softer shoulder." There's also the individuality Green brings to each suit—"My customers are men who have succeeded in business and life by following their vision. They don't want to be wearing someone else's clothes."
Green's customers are not only happy to have him create their wardrobes, they're men willing to put in the time to get the quality. First-time customers will usually have an in-depth consultation with Green before measurements are made, materials are chosen, and the team of craftsmen get down to work. From initial consultation to finished good, Green needs about seven weeks. By appointment only. From $4,600 for a suit; $3,450 for a sport jacket; $1,375 for pants; $5,000 for coats. At 24 East 71st Street; 212-861-9611.
The Italian Job
Domenico Vacca's store, tucked next to Cipriani's on Fifth Avenue, sets the tone for his traditional-meets-modern style: sisal carpet, blond wood shelves, a powder-blue leather club chair, fat ties laid out on a display table. A CD of Barry White's "Deeper and Deeper" was playing the day I visited.
Vacca was caught in traffic, returning from overseeing the opening of his new store in SoHo. Two salespeople showed me around. I had the usual response: great craftsmanship, great materials. Then they asked my size. Before I knew it, they had me dressed head to toe in Domenico Vacca.
"This," I said as I came out of the dressing room, "could become a dangerous addiction."
As I was standing there, admiring myself, The Man arrived.
"You see," Vacca said, "now you are not covering yourself in clothes—now you are dressing."
If Fellini were making La Dolce Vita today, these are the suits Marcello Mastroianni would wear. They're classic Neapolitan—a three-button with a soft shoulder and high notch lapel—but "with a twist," according to Vacca: The suits are cut a tad leaner. Which makes you look like you've sneaked off to a spa and lost 15 pounds.
"I like to say, 'This is the Ferrari of clothing,' " Vacca says.
Clothes are in the blood of this 41-year-old from Bari, Italy. He remembers his grandmother as "the best tailor in all of southern Italy." After college, he got a job with a law firm in New York, and while working full-time, started Italia magazine in 1992. The magazine, and his legal work for some of Italy's biggest fashion families, taught him about the business. He quit law in 1997 and worked solely on Italia until he helped Borrelli open their New York store. In 2002 he opened his own. "From the start I wanted it to be a very high-end collection," he says. "Nothing less."
"I think men are discovering that dressing well gets them compliments," Vacca says. "We make you bloom." At 781 Fifth Avenue; 212-759-6333.
IN THE DETAILS
Vacca's suits are distinguished by a close-fitting jacket, which nips in at the waist. Jackets also have a soft shoulder and a high armhole, as well as a trumpet sleeve, which gives the wearer great ease of movement. Trousers have a narrow leg and details such as a button cuff, hidden inside pocket, and a change pocket inside the waistband. From $3,900 for a suit; $3,400 for a sport jacket; $580 for pants; $5,400 for coats.
Ready for the Close-up
Spend time with Domenico Spano and you get a sense of how great Gary Cooper must have felt after an afternoon in the wardrobe department on the back lot of MGM. Once inside Spano's private, well-appointed salon in Saks Fifth Avenue's Manhattan store, you feel as though you've stepped back into another era—a better time, in fact, when suits were made for life and your relationship with your tailor was not just business—it was personal.
"I believe in the classics," Spano says. "Not everyone does. But the classic suit looks as good today as it did in the 1930s, and it will still look good in 2030."
He should know. If there is a more nattily attired man in the New York world of bespoke, let him come forth to challenge Spano for the title. From the full, lush cut of his suit to the richness of the material, right down to the fresh boutonniere he wears each day, Spano, as they say, has it all going on.
Each suit carries in it all that Spano—or Mimmo, as his good customers know him—has learned as a tailor: a well-defined shoulder, a full chest and trouser, and, naturally, a keeper-loop lapel begging for a flower. Clients usually plan on three visits for each garment—the first to discuss what they are looking for and to select fabric and be measured, the last two for fittings.
"I know clothes and I know what makes a man look good," Spano says. "That's all I need to know." At Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Avenue; 212-940-2676.
IN THE DETAILS
All of Spano's suits are cut along the elegant lines of garments from the 1930s. Jackets feature a full chest and well-defined shoulder that's slightly roped and pitched forward. Pants are cut with forward pleats and a longer rise, and feature side tabs and extension waistbands to be worn with suspenders. Fabrics are, for the most part, English weaves, and all are designed exclusively by Spano. From $2,200 for a suit; $1,750 for a sport jacket; $750 for pants; $2,750 for coats.
The Barber of Dunhill
Bruno Cosentino speaks with the same careful precision he uses to craft a suit. "The most important thing that I can do is listen," he says, thoughtfully measuring each word.
We are seated at a Chianti-red leather-covered desk in his red-walled showroom—traditional Italian atelier meets 21st-century modern. Here, around this stately desk, stacked high with swatch books as thick as the Manhattan directory, Cosentino meets with clients. With his elegant head of silvery hair, crisp blue shirt, gold cufflinks and confident manner, Cosentino could easily be mistaken for one of the CEOs he dresses. Or, better yet, a duke. But he's been a tailor almost all his life. Raised in the small town of San Andrea, Italy, he was nine years old when he began his apprenticeship—as a barber. "But fortunately," says Cosentino, "the same man in town who was the barber was also the tailor. I liked that much better."
Cosentino came to Dunhill in 1986, and has been creating custom clothes for a loyal clientele ever since. A Cosentino suit is a perfect marriage of English and Italian style: fitted jackets with a natural shoulder and fitted pants. The jacket is cut with high side vents that are kept closed with an interior strap, maintaining a clean line. The suit also has an air of authority about it, courtesy of the firm canvas lining in the chest of the jacket. After a customer chooses the fabric, Cosentino makes careful measurements and then cuts patterns that are updated through time when necessary. From start to finish, clients should plan on at least three fittings and an eight-week wait for a suit.
It's worth it. Spend time with Cosentino and you begin to see he has an almost sixth sense about what a customer wants, even if they can't articulate it. "My clients are important. I listen to what they tell me—who they are, how they want to see themselves. This is important." Indeed. From $3,400 for a suit; $2,700 for a sport jacket; $1,100 for pants; $3,400 for coats. At 711 Fifth Avenue; 212-753-9292.
Oxxford Couture by Jack Simpson
I was in Chicago," says Oxxford Couture's Jack Simpson, "and when I walked by the Wrigley Building I thought: The world is run by guys like Mr. Wrigley—American men who are strong and bold and visionary and confident. That's who we make clothes for."
Square-jawed, tall, and ruggedly handsome, Jack Simpson looks like he could have been a guard on one of John Wooden's legendary squads. "I went to UNC when Dean Smith was coach," says Simpson. "I was a huge basketball fan." He started working with clothes when he got a retail job while in high school. Then he hooked up with fellow North Carolinian Alexander Julian and was able to combine his two passions, fashion and basketball, when he helped Julian design uniforms for UNC and the Charlotte Hornets.
Since 2002 he has been with Oxxford Couture, creating some of the most distinctive custom clothes for men in America. "I believe in strongly shouldered garments," says Simpson. "They are the perfect suit for the American man." Simpson loves the classic American silhouette and is the master of the mixed pattern. This fall he is introducing the option of Escorial wool, which has the softness of cashmere but is much stronger, and, Simpson reminds us, "its lineage goes back to the Spanish nobility of the 1500s."
It's this knowledge of material, craftsmanship, and taste that have made Simpson such a trusted face to his clients. Like a great coach, he devises the strongest look for each individual. The result? A winning style to make Dean Smith proud. At 36 East 57th Street; 212-593-0230.
IN THE DETAILS
A softly roped shoulder and a sculpted chest create a strong profile. The sleeve is pitched forward and level; peak lapels complement and reinforce the strong shoulder. In the body of the suit, Simpson employs a gently cut-away front that ensures a longer line. Pants have a one-piece waistband that lies much flatter on the body. From $3,500 for a suit; $3,000 for a sport jacket; $750 for pants; $4,000 for coats.
Liana Lee greets you at the door of her cozy Lexington Avenue shop. She closes it behind you and draws the shade.
"When you're in here, I won't let anything or anyone interrupt us," she explains. "I only take one client at a time. If that means a new client can't walk in off the street, so be it. They can make an appointment and come back."
And they do. Lee's attention, and attention to detail, is well-known among her devoted circle. "I will do anything for my customers," Lee says. But before she'll even begin to show a new client what she can do, she meets with him for an hour to learn what he wants her to do.
Once measurements are taken and patterns have been selected, it takes about two months and three fittings before the suit is completed. Lee then archives measurements, preferences, and purchases for future reference.
A native of Korea and one of the few women in the traditionally male-dominated world of men's custom clothes, Lee says many of her clients like the fact that she's a woman. "I give them an honest perspective on how women want their men to be dressed."
Lee, who also offers off-the-rack, believes that what she calls the "British power suit" is the modern man's best choice. "The trimness," she says, "is perfect for today because men are in such great shape." She cuts a strong, roped shoulder and a higher gorge on the lapel. In the back, side vents are a tad higher than usual, and her matte buttons and hand-edged stitches are more pronounced than most. It all adds up to a neat, perfectly British look.
Still, for all her success, she says it was difficult at first to make it in the business. "When I started out, many of the old-time tailors wouldn't talk to me," she laughs. "Now the ones who've seen my work talk to me all the time. I guess I passed the test." By appointment only. From $4,500 for a suit; $3,250 for a jacket; $1,250 for pants; $4,500 for coats. At 828 Lexington Avenue; 212-588-9289.