The shirt might be one of the most underestimated garments in the menswear wardrobe, despite having a strong impact on men’s fashion. The quality of the fabric, the balance of the fit, the shape of the collar, the length of the arms, and the details of the cuffs will define the lines of your silhouette. A beautifully made shirt has the power to transform your look.
Prestigious shirtmakers such as Charvet in Paris, Turnbull & Asser in London, Luca Avitabile in Naples and Ascot Chang in Hong Kong have long been considered the pinnacle of bespoke shirts. A bespoke experience by these shirtmakers is a compelling representation of true luxury.
Historically, Asia has been associated with cheap, mass-produced shirts. However, when we look at the Asian gentleman today, he is becoming the finest connoisseur of quality shirts. To meet this developing demand, an increasing number of bespoke shirtmakers are travelling to the East to meet their newest customers.
“Most of our customers are from Hong Kong, and certainly the interest in Turnbull & Asser bespoke shirts among Asian people is growing. These markets are developing very quickly, particularly among millennials who have come to realise that big luxury brands are not unique,” says Brandon Chau, co-founder of Attire House.
“You see the same brands in every shopping centre, in every city in Asia. They are not a guarantee of quality. Sophisticated customers are turning to bespoke tailors, especially to great shirtmakers like Turnbull & Asser, who have stood the test of time.”
The first and probably the most difficult step in the bespoke process is selecting the fabric. Shirts cover most of your upper body, and the fabric should be optimised for the weather, offering comfort throughout the day, while flattering the shape of your body.
Founded in 1838 and the world’s first shirtmaker, Charvet is one of the greatest style institutions for gentlemen. The Parisian shirtmaker responds to the evolving needs and desires of consumers by offering the finest fabrics.
“Our drawings, our fabrics and even our colours are exclusive,” says artistic director Jean-Claude Colban. “For the colours, we are inspired by our own archives. The range of colours before the second world war [was] more refined than those available today.”
At Charvet, the staff will help you select your fabric through guidance and generous sharing of knowledge. The rich choice of fabrics can be overwhelming for new customers. As a beginner, the trick is to choose by differentiation, discover the fabrics with natural light and feel them on your skin.
Once the fabric is chosen, the staff will take your measurements, draw your unique pattern, and one month later, the real work of art begins.
“The hallmark of bespoke tailoring is the fittings. Without adjusting on the first fitting with the customer, [the shirt] remains a two-dimensional piece of work. It’s not really bespoke,” Colban explains.
The fittings are the ultimate part of bespoke tailoring. Almost everyone has one arm that is longer or stronger than the other.
Recently, due to an obsession with smartphones, there has also been a rise in “Text Neck Syndrome”. With the head down and bent forward, the size and shape of the neck is changing dramatically, leaving many generic fits unflattering and ill fitting.
Founded in 1885, the quintessentially British shirtmaker, Turnbull & Asser, has previously dressed Winston Churchill, David Hockney and James Bond (from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig). The brand maintains the highest standards to get the perfect fit.
“We have been a shirtmaker for more than 130 years. Each customer is measured by our bespoke specialist,” explains James Cook, the general manager of Turnbull & Asser. “A staff [member] has to have worked here for at least six years before being allowed to measure a customer.”
He adds: “We get our pattern cutters to create an individual shirt pattern, which is then sent to our [atelier] where it will be hand cut and made from the fabric selected by the customer.”
If fitting is key, what about craftsmanship? Neapolitan tailor Luca Avitabile has grown to one of the most sought-after bespoke shirtmakers in Europe and North America.
Proud of the rich tailoring tradition and the craft heritage of handmade shirts, the master shirtmaker says: “Handmade shirts are something you can only find in Naples. We still have people able to hand-stitch them from the first to the last stage,” Avitabile says.
Declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1995, the vibrant southern Italian city of Naples has the biggest concentration of high-end, handmade menswear in the world.
The style is based on the signature Neapolitan jacket – unstructured, unlined and unpadded, which allows for easy movement beneath a jacket in warm weather like in Naples or in Hong Kong.
Shirtmakers have to pay attention to the smallest details to create the perfect shirt.
At Charvet, if you are a barrister writing speech drafts every day and you still want to wear the heavy cufflinks from your grandfather, the French house will optimise the cuffs to distribute the weight evenly and facilitate your handwriting.
Avitabile’s shirts are masterpieces made by hand. In his workshop, workers do about eight types of hand-stitching, such as buttonholes, buttons, collars, armholes, shoulders, front stitching, gussets and sleeves gauntlet stitched with bar-tacks.
On the Turnbull & Asser side, single-needle stitching and sustainable mother-of-pearl buttons are used.
The British shirtmaker makes every shirt at its atelier in Gloucester to reach its specifications. From humble beginnings at 34 Kimberley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui to luxurious New York and Beverly Hills stores, Ascot Chang delivers exquisite tailored garments.
“Our shirts are made with single-needle French seams, sewn at 21 to 22 stitches per inch. This is a very high stitch density to ensure that the stitches are as small as possible, so that especially on a white shirt, they are almost invisible to the eye,” explains Justin Chang, the brand’s business development manager and a third-generation member of the Ascot Chang family. “They also add to the strength and durability of the seams.”
Despite being strongly influenced by British style, Ascot Chang is evolving with a lighter Italian style that is suitable for the weather in Hong Kong and Macau. The style is popular among younger people who want a slimmer fit, a less rigid collar, and versatile shirts that can be worn casually at weekends.
While many luxury brands talk about storytelling with touch-screen tablets and e-commerce experiences, bespoke shirtmakers take a different route. By appointment only, it is a highly personal experience. Without an Instagram account or website, shopping at Charvet is a different experience.
The shop is in Place Vendôme, the most exclusive plaza in Paris. Alongside some of the world’s most prestigious high jewellery houses, the colourful window display of Charvet catches the eye. Without security guards at the door and no bell to ring, you enter a beautiful six-storey mansion, greeted by smiling staff. Via a private lift to the third floor, you will reach the heaven of bespoke shirts – a sea of more than 6,000 fabrics, including 400 white fabrics in more than 100 shades of white.
Staying true to their roots, siblings Jean-Claude Colban and Anne-Marie Colban push the boundaries of creativity for an enriching experience, while providing the finest shirts, luxurious neckties, handsome bow ties, exquisite pocket squares, soft pyjamas and gorgeous silk gowns.
But are bespoke shirts worth your time and money from a financial standpoint?
Whether you choose to enjoy the limitless library of fabrics at Charvet, the classic British elegance of Turnbull & Asser, the beautiful handwork of Luca Avitabile, or the family heritage of Ascot Chang, remember that a bespoke shirt is a one-off shirt which fits perfectly with your own will and vision.