Not all cut from the same cloth
Luxury menswear trends move at a bewildering pace these days. The upsurge in bespoke tailoring has pulled made-to-measure menswear and accessories into its slipstream.
At just 28, Angelo Di Febo is the youngest chief master tailor at venerated Italian fashion house Brioni. Dressed in a sharp Brioni suit, Di Febo discusses the future with youthful enthusiasm.
'The future is made-to-measure. More and more people here are interested in it,' he says, during a visit to Hong Kong - the penultimate stop of his tour of Asian cities that has also included Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Dalian.
Di Febo says this interest is due to the demand for more exclusivity. The newly wealthy tend to look to bespoke clothes offered by Savile Row tailors and traditional English and American shoemakers as the route to class and sophistication. But Di Febo points out that the Savile Row style is not for everyone.
'Savile Row culture is more aristocratic than Italian style, which is more fashion orientated,' he says. 'In Italian tailoring, we look to the fashions of the moment, the new linings, the new colours.'
Di Febo explains the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure. The latter sits somewhere between bespoke clothing and ready-to-wear. The difference is that, in made-to-measure clothing the alterations are made to a standard block pattern. In bespoke, the garment or accessory is made entirely from scratch. 'The method, the pattern is always the same,' Di Febo says. 'You can change some details such as the lining the length of the jacket, if you like the narrow style or the pattern. But the starting place is always the same.'
The advantages of made-to-measure over bespoke are clear. Time is saved on fitting, the cost is lower, and it can keep up with new fashions. 'Of course, the cost of made-to-measure is higher than ready-to-wear,' he says. 'But VIP customers like the exclusive service ... they don't want ready-to-wear.'
It isn't just men's clothing that has seen this upsurge. Salvatore Ferragamo launched its watch division into an increasingly crowded market in 2007. That was relatively late to take advantage of the trend for fashion watches. Paolo Marai - president of Timex Group Luxury Division, manufacturers of Salvatore Ferragamo watches - recognises the challenges involved in distinguishing his watches from the competition. 'It's not easy for fashion brands to translate their DNA into watches. First, space is limited; there's not much to personalise. Second, there are not too many risks you can take, or the watch could become totally crazy in terms of shape or size.'
For Marai, translating Salvatore Ferragamo's DNA meant customised timepieces. 'Made-to-order is one of the characteristics of the Salvatore Ferragamo business. People think it is restricted to suits, but they forget that Ferragamo has 300-400 patterns just for shoes, and 1,000 patterns for other things.'
The house recently launched its Colour on Time timepiece personalisation service in Hong Kong. For no extra charge, customers can download an app or use the iPads inside Ferragamo boutiques to customise their watch. This level of accessibility is rare for the high end of the watch market, where only the most exclusive Swiss ateliers manufacture personalised pieces - in small quantities and at sky-high prices. Marai sees it as an opportunity for the brand. 'Today, certain brands have expanded so much, that to grow further they have to offer something more. Made-to-order is a good way to expand. It gives the impression of exclusivity.'
Studies show there are now more than a million millionaires in China. As the ranks of the super-rich swell, consumers are looking to distinguish themselves in an affluent crowd. For luxury brands such as Brioni and Salvatore Ferragamo, made-to-order could be an innovative, personal and practical way to offer that exclusivity.