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To date, London’s Savile Row has always been thought of as the premier address for top quality bespoke suits. However, there are more and more excellent men’s tailors in Germany, too
Alexa von Heyden
There is a story about Coco Chanel, who during a lunch at the Ritz Hotel in Paris is said to have taken a small pair of scissors from her handbag. She then cut off all the buttons from the sleeves of the jacket worn by her friend Gunter Sachs. “No buttons without buttonholes!” was the fashion designer’s reported justification for her intervention. Gunter Sachs must have worn an off-the-shelf suit that day. If it had been a tailor-made suit, the buttons on his jacket sleeve would have been functional, rather than purely decorative.
A bespoke suit is the most elegant item of clothing a man can wear. The term conjures up images of London’s Savile Row or of Neapolitan tailoring excellence. You definitely would not think of Leipzig, or of Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Hamburg’s Karolinenviertel neighborhoods. However, the number of excellent men’s tailors in Germany, who master their craft to the same levels of excellence as their British or Italian colleagues, is rising steadily.
The advantages of having a sartorial suit made are not just limited to its perfect fit, which deflects attention away from a client’s problem areas and accentuates their positive features. Being able to co-design a unique item of clothing is a special type of luxury: choosing the finest fabrics, selecting the shape of the lapels and the thread used for hand-stitching the buttonholes, and picking the color of the lining. Furthermore, having bespoke suits made is efficient: once you have been measured from head to toe by your tailor, you will never have to endure tedious clothes shopping again.
The perfect fit of a bespoke suit immediately stands out. But there is something else, says Martin Purwin. An effect that emanates from within: “This sensation doesn’t just make for comfortable wearing, it also puts you in a good mood.” And it shows!
Purwin, who is a draper, and his business partners the restaurateur Boris Radczun (Pauly Saal) and British tailor James Whitfield (Anderson & Sheppard) opened their studio “Purwin & Radzcun” not on Berlin’s high-end Kurfürstendamm avenue but in an old residential building in the Kreuzberg neighborhood, which makes their bespoke suits look even more desirable. However, Purwin & Radzcun also organize so-called “trunk shows” in Frankfurt and Munich. “Tailors are constantly travelling. That is an old tradition,” says Martin Purwin, who used to work for Armani. At these “measuring events” clients peruse books of samples containing 5,000 fabrics, and pick their favorite.
“There are many advantages to handmade clothing, especially jackets,” says Purwin. Collars, lapels and the lining made of canvas and horsehair are “pick stitched” by hand. This process makes the fabric drape softly and elegantly across the chest. “This is in complete contrast to the rigid, machine-sown suits, whose lapels are usually glued on.” So, rather than feeling like armor, your jacket feels like a second skin.
This is the case both for traditional items, like the blue double-breasted suit, and for more eccentric requests. Some time ago, a lady ordered a “white tie” for herself: a tailcoat which is normally only worn on very special occasions – by gentlemen.
The style of this Hamburg-based label is a tad more eccentric than that of traditional menswear specialists. Both music industry executives and many of its German stars – among them Jan Delay, Max Herre and the gents from Rammstein – have asked Herr von Eden (HvE for short) to dress them in made-to-measure clothing. “With some of our very loyal customers, I almost see a danger of a dependency developing,” says owner Bent Angelo Jensen. It sounds like he is only half-joking.
In the late 1990s, Jensen laid the foundations of his career in Hamburg’s Karolinenviertel neighborhood: he opened a secondhand boutique called “24 Hours – 24 Cabins” selling secondhand jeans and shirts. Subsequently, Jensen was one of the first to spot the trend away from casual jeans and sports coat combinations, and back to sophisticated menswear. He not only started selling vintage suits, but took pleasure in wearing them himself. Today, he is considered a style icon among German dandies, although he himself describes his style as “Windsor punk.”
Outstanding craftsmanship, high-quality materials and loving attention to detail are the hallmarks of his suits (starting from 899 euros). Twice a year there is a new HvE collection, from which clients pick a cut. The rest of the design is entirely up to the clients who choose the outer fabric and lining materials (from leading weaving mills like Scabal or Holland & Sherry). Clients also select the buttons, the color of the felt for the collar, the trimmings and embroidered initials. In order to be seen by Bent Angelo Jensen himself, clients simply make an appointment by email at email@example.com.
Jan Suchy considers himself to be a craftsman with a clear mission: creating a great product in a reasonable time and at a competitive price. This is why he focuses on the essentials.
People travel to Leipzig from all across Germany to have their suits made by him – and not only bankers, lawyers or executives, for whom a suit is an indispensable item of work clothing. “The interest in tailoring is steadily growing; every age and professional group is represented,” says Suchy. Some of his clients are fathers who would like to show their sons what quality craftsmanship looks like. “The boys are given their first suit as a present for their graduation ball.” It takes up to four appointments for him to take all the measurements of a new customer and to work out all the modifications required.
Bespoke tailoring is precision work. If the client’s shoulders slope a little more on one side or their belly protrudes a bit, the tailor integrates these characteristics into the suit. The tailor also has to master the skill of tactfully giving their honest opinion. Not every shape of jacket and pants is suitable for every physique. Jan Suchy talks of a process of “getting to know each other” in which mutual trust grows. There are men whose wardrobes boast 20 suits made by him.
Jan Suchy has combined his workshop and his sales space. “It may not always look all that tidy here. But my clients like to have their consultation with the person who is going to make their suit.” The look behind the scenes is an important ingredient in his recipe for success. “When I take my motorcycle to the repair shop, I prefer speaking to the mechanic rather then to a salesperson.”
When she was a little girl, Mehtap Hatipoglu looked over her mother’s shoulder when she was sewing, and so developed a fondness for fabrics, colors and patterns early on. She initially studied economics and management, but then followed her passion: Hatipoglu trained as a mobile clothier at Tom James in London, the biggest producer of bespoke clothing. Rather than working in a shop, she visited clients in their offices or at home.
Her early childhood enthusiasm for fabrics and the experience she gained in her first job allowed her to acquire the remarkable soft skills she has today. “When I look at someone, I immediately know which fabric suits them.” For Mehtap Hatipoglu, image consulting is an essential aspect of her job: “When you make people wear the wrong thing, you unintentionally affect their character. This is because if somebody does not feel comfortable in their clothes, they will act completely differently.”
She does not have to do any advertising for her “Hatipoglu Bespoke” label. Often new clients will come to her, because they have noticed her company logo when a fellow passenger on a plane took off their jacket. Hatipoglu’s brand label is a hummingbird. “It will always get the best nectar.” A Brioni or Kiton off-the-shelf suit costs 3,000 euros, “because you pay for the name,” she says. “For the same price you can get a bespoke suit, using high-quality brand fabrics produced by Loro Piana or Holland & Sherry, for example.” Whether she uses peaked or shawl collars not only depends on the client’s facial structure or on what body type they are, she says. Another crucial factor is which kind Daniel Craig was sporting in the latest James Bond movie.
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