Bespoke fashion, once a prerogative of style connoisseurs with deep pockets, is fast becoming a growing trend among professional men around the world, as prices fall, and awareness grows.
All it takes is just one look at the urbane and dapper men of today to realise that bespoke – made-to-measure or custom-made fashion – is the best personal style upgrade men can hope to gift themselves. After all, if fashion is all about glamour, then what can be more charismatic than having clothes tailored to your exact specifications, both in terms of size, style and individuality?
India has long harboured a rich bespoke tradition. Back in the day, bespoke was the norm and the only option, especially when it came to suits. It was only with the entry and expansion of international and domestic apparel brands in the early 90s, that the RTW segment increased in popularity, especially in urban centres, and ever since, the segment has grown rapidly. But a shift away from ready-to-wear back to bespoke has been registered in the last few years, mostly among the young, style conscious, financially stable men of today.
Lately, a profusion of socio-economic factors has culminated in the proliferation of this savvy consumer base which exhibits a conscious inclination towards unique, made-to-measure pieces; a part of what is being called ‘the new luxury’.
The growth of this segment within the Indian subcontinent is largely due to the emergence of the nouveau riche and the High Net-worth Individuals (HNIs). This section of society possesses an increased disposable income along with a keen desire for exclusivity. Apart from celebrating their personal and professional achievements, the owners of bespoke clothing often also see the exclusivity offered by a bespoke suit as an extension of their own personality.
“In recent times, bespoke suits have enjoyed lot of popularity with the young crowd aged 15 to 24 as at this age they want to try something unusual. Apart from this, those with high net worth individuals who live in a socially active society also enable the Indian bespoke industry as does the upper middle class,” says Rachit Sewani, Founder and Owner, Label It Custom.
A purposeful sense of individuality and uniqueness is what sets aside a bespoke experience from a homogeneous high street offering or even the expensive most factory produced apparel. In addition, bespoke suits are completely customized with utmost attention given to even the tiniest of detail.
“The whole point boils down to attention to the finest of details and the ability to customise even the smallest element. But in contemporary times, there is a growing awareness towards sustainability wherein clients would rather invest in a high quality product that is versatile and functional rather than selecting a low quality product that may be used only for a specific event or purpose,” says Sandeep Gonsalves, Director and Co-Founder, SS Homme.
Bespoke design in suits is a great concept for those who crave individuality.
“People who want to look great body-wise go for bespoke clothing as it assures them of 100 percent fit. Bespoke also opens the gate of imagination for the customers as they can design, experiment, innovate with colours and have a fit they desire which is next to impossible with ready to wear brands,” Sewani.
Bespoke clothing also serves to provide a more intimate relationship for the client with the brand, especially when it comes to luxury bespoke suits for these brands sell an experience.
“Bespoke clothing has evolved over the years to become more experience oriented than just being product specific. The main driver for this has being the explosion of the wedding market in India over the past decade and bespoke has made a huge come back. While fit still remains the biggest reason why people prefer bespoke, design has been getting a lot of relevance,” says Prem Dewan, Retail Head, OSL Luxury Collections Pvt. Ltd., the company which retails the brand Corneliani in India.
The Occasion Connection
When it comes to nuptials, nothing quite rivals the opulence of an Indian wedding. Big fat Indian weddings, as they are righteously referred to as, are epitome of grandiose and one of the biggest markets of exclusive fashion in India. Today, it is not just the bride and groom who prefer to sport something exquisite and unique, the kin and guests are at their exclusive best too.
“India requires a reason to wear a suit as opposed to other countries where suits are regular buys. But with events such as weddings and the availability of affordable customization, this market is slowly gaining in momentum,” says Sewani.
“Usually we see a lot of wedding wear and corporate clientele at the store. I would say the social demographic is split evenly amongst grooms, groomsmen looking for wedding garments and corporate clients looking for business suits,” reveals Gonsalves.
Bespoke suits are also popular among corporate workers since corporate offices emphasize on sharp dressing codes and bespoke suits fit the bill.
“The corporate world today accepts people who dress sharply for the workplace. The use of jackets is largely accepted, and they are often seen matched with fashionable formals, shirts and trousers. A wide range of jackets are available at all our PN Rao stores for the semi-formal line/fashion formal line with different hues, cuts and color with different fits suiting all body types and need. We see a lot of potential in this segment and are seriously looking at it to tap into the opportunity,” says Ketan Pishe, Partner, PN Rao.
The Bespoke Suits Market in India
The bespoke market in India is steadily scaling the ranks. The growing need for that perfect fit, awareness of best fabrics, quality international brands and companies offering impeccable bespoke products along with a higher detail of product understanding, have all led to this growth. It has been noticed that the customised suit segment is growing at a high rate, and its share is expected to increase in the next five years.
“Rising awareness in terms of fabrics, styles and fits especially in the professional space is largely becoming a huge audience for this market. The customised market in India is here to stay and is growing at a very fast rate due to the competitive pricing and the quality of the products,” says Gonsalves.
“Bespoke services are seeing a much higher demand. Customised services account for almost 15 percent of the US$ 250 million (Rs 1,300 crore) luxury apparel and accessories market in India,” states Sunil Mehra, Founder & Designer, House of Sunil Mehra.
Today, even small cities have the aspiration and the spending power so made-to-measure is no longer restricted to Tier-I cities. “Today, with the middle class becoming more affluent, the scope of customisation services in smaller cities is also growing at a rapid pace. The population of smaller cities have also started following the latest trends of the fashion market,” says Mehra.
According to Pishe, the trend starts from cities like Mumbai and Delhi for they have always stayed close to national and international fashion trends and then spreads out to rest of the country.
The big gap in the market between luxury brands and fast-fashion clothing has also been cited as a catalyst for the rapid growth of this industry. In a nutshell, the customised suits market in India is keeping pace with the elevated fashion conciseness of the Indian consumer. This has opened doors to a slew of breed of brands and designers who specialise in meeting the suave, modern consumer’s demand for a more fitted look. At the same time, it has also given rise to a healthy competition among the established names of this domain to up the ante on their products and services, stand out among their peers.
In contemporary times, investing in new technology has taken center stage in every industry across the globe. Rules of business are changing by the day and it is imperative that businesses identify and implement relevant technologies can create new value for them. Even industries like the bespoke suits industry, that draw chiefly on manual processes are impelled to utilise newfangled technology and machines to breast the sophistication and finesse that the cultivated modern consumers of this sphere demands.
“In terms of machinery and technology, we have a total of 10 machines, which are placed over the entire workshop space. We have eight sewing machines, one overlock machine and one fusing machine. With the advent of technology, there is a lot that can be offered in terms of bespoke clothing such as 3D technology and data storage to reinvent the entire process,” explains Gonsalves.
Brands like Label it Custom are also investing in the creative prowess of experienced designers to shell out unique products and create a niche. “We have our team of designers who innovate and churn out new styles every three months. We also heavily bank on cutting-edge laser cutting machines, button hole machines, etc., to ensure perfect finishing on the final product. We are very open to technical upgradations and would we definitely will be willing to try it out any new technology after having a pilot study,” says Sewani.
Label It Custom, which prides on dressing celebrities like Diljit Dosanjh, Akshay Kumar, and Shaan, stand out with an Omnichannel approach. The brand uses services of stylists to offer clients the luxury of ordering and giving measurements from the comfort of their homes. They have also introduced a digital measurement and trial machine through which clients can get the best possible fit and comfort.
PN Rao boasts of having a high first time right percentage and about 45 percent of its business consists of repeat customers. It also has a high referral of about 80 percent. “We offer the half canvas jacket as a standard at all our showrooms and the customer can opt for the full canvas jacket as well. There are very few tailors in the country who can make the full canvas jacket,” says Pishe.
At SS Homme – Sarah & Sandeep, design aesthetics that align with international standards and the influence of geometry is what makes the cut. “While our bespoke service is the most innovative and unique process, we also have a made-to-measure process which can get you a sharp garment in a span on 3-4 days,” states Gonsalves.
Corneliani aims to become the curators of Italian sophistication. Weightlessness is the dominant characteristic and specialty of the brand. Their garments are airy and built around an idea of subtle effortlessness.
While there are several elements that craft the perfect suit, there’s no doubt that the fabric is the soul of a suit. It is vital to appearance and can make or break a suit and it’s no wonder then that brands work on offering only the best fabric to their consumers.
“Fabrics are the major factor of our market leadership as we ship the best possible fabrics from the reputed mills like Arvind Mills, Raymond, Siyaram’s, etc. People trust the fine quality of Raymond and in addition to that they want experiment with the wool blended quality of Siyaram’s as well. Our premium customers do not hesitate to experiment with Australian Merino Wool in 150s and 160s fabric count. We also have introduced Holland and Sherry to our collection of fabrics of late,” says Sewani.
SS Homme – Sarah & Sandeep imports fabrics from England and Italy and it only sources fabrics locally for the ethnic garments. “We have an extensive variety of high quality English and Italian fabrics by Dormeuil, Scabal, Holland & Sherry, Loro Piana, Huddersfi eld, Vitale Barberis Canonico, etc. We stock exquisite worsted wool in super 100s to super 180s in mohair, cashmere, finest merino wool and linens that are suitable for various climates. These fabrics are ideal for suitings, blazers and trousering for business mens’ suits and special occasions that are perfect for the cosmopolitan man,” reveals Sandeep Gonsalves, whose repertoire of clients includes names like Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham, Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor to name just a few.
At House of Sunil Mehra, options range from 100 percent silk, cashmere silk, wool-silk, alpaca-linen-silk, cashmere silk with stretch. “Most preferred fabrics include wool silk, 100 percent silk/ cotton jersey wool-linen-silk blend etc., along with premium fabrics such as Vianna which is the epitome of luxury for menswear,” adds Mehra.
PN Rao holds about 1,000 varieties of fabric in-house, 500 of which are brand new for this season. “Apart from the new lot, we also have over 500 options all of which are made available on the PN Rao catalogue to showcase it to our customers this autumn-winter. To throw more light on our fabric options, we have broadly categorised in five different sections viz., poly wool is called Moxi; a combination of wool and little of polyester is Premio; all wool fabric is Gracia; premium wool fabric is Superio and fancy Jacquards and velvet is Elita. We will also be showcasing brands such as Vania, Dormy, Caval, and Europeana, shortly,” states Pishe.
Apart from the fabric, a well-tailored suit encompasses an array of other aspects that demand detailed attention to bring out the best in a man. All SS Homme orders are finished with a 1/4th inch burgundy pipping. We use horse hair on the chest piece as well as lapels. For closures, we use the fi nest zips sourced directly from Japan,” says Gonsalves.
Corneliani features a 150 step start-to-finish process, including 27 handmade phases. All processes are exercise under the able guidance of an expert in-house tailor and clients have the luxury of dictating every fundamental detail of the garment. “Clients can personally select each element, from the fabric, cuts, style, and shape, buttons, to the lapel and lining. A personal tailor will deliver a one-of-a-kind piece of artistry, executed with the utmost precision, to define your personal style,” says Dewan.
Another important aspect of a suit are accessories including lapel pins, cufflinks, tie bars, pocket squares, bags, shoes, bow ties, etc. The right mix of accessories can add texture, colour and potentially infuse personality into a suit. “We offer our clients a wide range in buttons, blazer brooches, inner linings, collars, vents and pocket types to select from,” says Sewani.
SS Homme – Sarah & Sandeep utilises accessories like buttons, zippers, linings, etc., to highlight every suit tailored. “Depending on the type of garment, there are a variety of decorative and classic buttons that we offer. A popular option that most clients go ahead with is Italian Corozo buttons due to its structure and it being ideal for varied conditions,” says Gonsalves.
House of Sunil Mehra offers handmade buttons, sterling silver, hand-painted, jewelled buttons, meenakari work, and bespoke buttons with branding.
Bespoke is freedom of choice! And as the saying goes, “Freedom has a price. Most people aren’t willing to pay it.” A bespoke suit generally tends to be on the higher side of the price spectrum. But considering the time and dexterous attention invested in the creation of a bespoke suit, its cost is well justified. Also, a multitude of options come into play in further enhancing the cost of a custom tailored suit; the paramount being the fabric used followed by the labour involved. “Mostly our fabrics are developed in Italy and ideated by us in terms of making the composition. So, the fabric costing is little above the notch as compared with the other brands in the market,” explains Mehra.
Design is another important influencer that determines the price of a final product. “There are several garments that are hand-embroidered that significantly drive up the price because of the added cost. Selecting a premium fabric usually is very expensive but with the bespoke process combined, it usually ends up being a balanced purchase,” says Gonsalves.
It also has to be noted that in the bespoke fashion word, brands deal mostly with a very cultivated clientele whose concerns converge more on product quality than pricing!
Talking about the latest styles in vogue in the bespoke suits segment, Gonsalves says, “The current trends are structured suits, sharp razor cuts, precise attention to sub structured silhouettes and neutral shades.”
Industry sentinels have also witnessed a steady transition towards powder blues, camel, taupe and teal to stand out from the crowd. “Colours are showing their presence in accents like pocket squares, patterned satin neck ties, socks, etc. Making headlines in global fashion circles are print, checks and jacquard. Everyone wants a high level of customization options with their names or initials on the product. The fit is still slim and would continue to be that for some more time,” expresses Dewan.
Suits are getting trendier every season as customers are open to experiment and innovate. “American style peak collar and tuxedo collar will be trendy this season with double vents and slanted patch pockets. Modern fit and tailored fit will be consumed most this season as skinny fit blazers go to trash. To stand out from the crowd, add blazer brooches as an essential part with silk pocket squares to get the next bond look,” says Sewani.
Mass Scale Manufacturing VS Bespoke
The mass scale manufacturing ready to wear brands are well equipped when it comes to technology/ machinery which results in immaculately manufactured products. The bigger question that has baffled men, including me, is that – has the bespoke industry, especially in India, evolved enough to match these production quality standards?
There is a clear diff erence between the two types of production based upon the purpose of the production, the costs involved, the business model, and lead times. The difference ultimately boils down to one single point – manufacturers vs makers. The custom making process would have more human fabrication as oppose to mass production which would rely solely on automation of machines. This enables bespoke brands to allow a plethora of option in terms of customisation and also allow them to create one-off novelty item products for an enthusiastic individual.
“Technology may have evolved, but the craftmanship of bespoke tailor is far superior than any manufacturing unit. A bespoke specialist takes the client’s body type into consideration while producing the garments which gives him the upper hand over any technology. The devil is in the details,” says Gonsalves.
The Indian bespoke industry is rapidly snowballing despite the growth of ready-to-wear and branded segment of the apparel market. A plethora of new brands, including a surprising number of regional and online players, have emerged in the recent past to lure consumers with their artistry in this domain. This itself stands as a testimonial to the demand and potential of bespoke services in India. It is also natural that, with increased competition, fulfilling consumer needs will be an important success factor for brands that will also have to design their go-to-market plan cautiously, identifying key pain points and ensuring that a superior experience is offered.