Your next bespoke suit
It’s easy to forget how much menswear has developed over the past decade. The luxury of choice and information has led us to an era where we rightly expect to be able to buy great products in any major city. But cast your mind back not much further than 10 years and it was still pretty hard to get a good bespoke suit — even in New York — unless you went to a very high class, and high cost, traditional tailor, who had probably made suits the same way for decades.
That’s why when you watch a film or TV show from that era, you see guys in suits that just didn’t fit right. They would be black, boxy and probably finished off with a sloppy shirt and terrible shoes. And they were on men who probably had the money to buy something decent if they had the option.
We’re being reminded of this situation by Michael Andrews, a New York tailor who saw this gap in the market and quit his career as a lawyer to set up his own tailoring establishment, Michael Andrews Bespoke (MAB), which he has now launched in the UAE. It’s a bright clear morning and the sun is shining through the windows of a sprawling suite at Emirates Towers where he arrived last night, on a trip to meet with clients in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
As you’d expect, Andrews is impeccably dressed in a pinstripe suit that has an air of Tom Ford-like elegance. He still has the no-nonsense air of a guy who has worked in the city. He’s bullish, but fun, calling himself a “recovering lawyer” and is able to poke fun at his decision to quit his lucrative job in favour of tailoring a month before the world economy nearly died in 2008. But this is the interesting thing about menswear — the Great Recession arguably had a hugely beneficial influence on the menswear industry, because guys needed to smarten up their act to keep their jobs or get a new one after being laid off. So MAB prospered by offering sharper, more modern cuts at reasonable prices, a tactic that persists to this day.
Andrews has three degrees (law, engineering, and an MBA) and says his engineering background influenced his interest in the technical construction of suits. He studied the craft, though of course he wasn’t actually making the suits himself. This leads us to the other interesting part of the story. When he first set up in New York, Andrews used the same production facilities employed by most of his competitors, both in New York and China. In New York he says it was expensive and didn’t necessarily result in outstanding quality because they, like most tailors in New York, didn’t have control of the facilities. Neither did they have enough control in China. So three years ago he made a decision to take complete control of his production chain by opening his own workshop, built from scratch, a decision he describes as “a game changer”.
He explains how there are dozens of small tailoring shops in Shenzhen, a result of many of the tailors in Hong Kong moving their businesses over to the mainland 20 years ago to save on costs. Andrews cherry-picked the best staff to come and work for him, offering them substantial wage increases. He says this has resulted in better quality outfits than they were getting from a couple of miles away across the river in New York — and at a more competitive price. “Having our own facilities is a huge differentiation for us,” he says. “They’re our employees, on our payroll, a three-digit phonecall away.”
The facilities are designed to exactly the same specs as his showroom in Manhattan. “We wanted it to be a place to see clients if they were overseas and wanted to come by,” he says.
“A place we could promote and show the world that just because it’s made in China doesn’t mean it’s not a luxury product, and it’s made in a luxury environment.”
His standard response to the question of whether good suits can really come from a factory in China is as follows. “The first thing I do is ask to borrow their phone. I tell them that if you trust the Chinese to make one of the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment in the world, they can probably sew something, seeing as they’ve been doing it for 4,000 years. Usually people feel silly at that point.”
The process for a suit works as follows: the pattern-making is principally done at his store in New York. The suit is then cut in Shenzhen, using mainly premium Italian and British fabrics from brands like Loro Piana, Holland & Sherry, Dormeuil, Vitale Barberis Canonico, and Zegna. He says that if it’s your first visit, they’ll actually make a trial suit out of inexpensive fabric. This means they’re not shipping expensive fabrics around the world, and also gives a better level of precision when it comes to the actual cut as they don’t have to leave in unnecessary seam allowances to allow for margins of error, which alters the final fit and feel of the suit.
We discuss the house style at MAB and he says they are careful not to restrict themselves to one approach, but rather “three or four different construction styles that match the client”. Andrews says this is different from the more traditional tailors who favour one particular approach, using Savile Row for reference. “If you want a heavily structured heavily canvassed military jacket you go to Huntsman. If you ask them for a soft shoulder jacket, they'll tell you to go to Anderson & Sheppard. So it’s bespoke in the sense that they’re going to cut it to you. But they’re going to make you a Huntsman or an Anderson jacket.” If pushed, he’ll say their default house approach is “a very good soft construction, but with a really good structure, heavily roped shoulders, wider lapels… it has that kind of Tom Ford look that we all find really appealing.”
If questioned on whether that will change as men’s style continues its trajectory towards a more deconstructed look, Andrews responds: “Where we play is far less fashion driven. Now, are things loosening up a little? Yeah. And I think that’s okay. We watch the trends, but at the same time, we’re not going to put a CEO in tailored sweatpants.”
And of course UAE residents now get to join those customers. Andrews first visited at the behest of Middle East clients who visit him in New York. He says he was asked at the F1 in Abu Dhabi why there weren’t more services like this in the UAE. So he’s made subsequent trips, working out of the St Regis in Abu Dhabi and is now committed to visit every couple of months to the capital and also Dubai. They’ll take the measurements, draft the pattern, cut the base garment, and fit it on the next trip. The final garment will then be made and delivered within eight to 10 weeks of the first appointment. Subsequent suits will require less than half that time and an average price is around $2,500 (Dhs9,182), which Andrews says is $1,000 (Dhs3,673) cheaper that anything comparable off the rack, although he stresses that “we don’t market on price”.
We finish the conversation by going back to the beginning, to his early motivation for setting up the business. “I just wanted something that fitted better,” he says of his passion for good tailoring. “You know how all the girls would look great in their clothes and the guys would look like slobs?”
He laughs when he think back to how that compelled him to ditch the day job in order to find what he was looking for. “When we first started I took tailoring classes for a year at FIT, part-time. Everyone was like, ‘I can’t believe you’re in the middle of a mergers and acquisitions deal and you’re taking three hours off on a Saturday to go sew!’”
More details about the UAE service can be found at michaelandrewsbespoke.com/uae-faq