Reported by Matthew Thomas
Not dissimilar to the act of commissioning a work of art, a bespoke suit is an extraordinary process that combines many creative stages resulting in something that will last for a lifetime. A true bespoke tailor is capable of outstanding artistry, skill, and workmanship and once discovered, will remain a gentleman’s best friend forever.
The knowledge and art of cutting and sewing cloth developed over time in Europe since the 12th century but it wasn’t until the 17th century that the word “bespoke” was first coined, deriving from the term “been spoken for”. Whereas the middle Ages had the notion that clothing is just a means of concealing the body, the flamboyant Renaissance era developed the expression of oneself through clothing.
Bespoke refers to the practice where a customer would choose cloth which was then made unavailable to any other client until the entire suit had been cut, assembled and sewn.
Henry Poole founded his Savile Row tailors in 1806 and can be regarded as the pioneer of bespoke tailoring. Tailoring at the time was largely for military battle uniform and it wasn’t until later in 1865, at the behest of Prince Albert that the dinner jacket started to take the more comfortable and less structured form we know today. Understanding the roots of “The Row” allows one to appreciate how it has evolved through four generations and that every detail of a suit today- like the single lapel hole for the Prince all those years ago – has a specific function and a history behind it.
This art of the bespoke is something close to the heart of brothers Ashish and Pawan from international tailors, Knights & Lords. Having trained on the famous Savile Row in London the proverbial mecca of true bespoke, they believe more than anyone the importance of a perfect fitting suit.
Invited on a journey by Knights & Lords to enlighten me on their craft, I felt privileged to be enlightened on the process of crafting a bespoke suit by the very best in the business. Having spent years learning from the crème de la crème in European tailoring, you know you’re in good hands.
My experience began by means of an education. Proudly showcasing their dedication to bespoke tailoring, both Ashish and Pawan are insistent that their customers understand the history behind their suit and what it means to wear one. It is, I am told, all about the importance of being a gentleman; when you put on your beautifully crafted suit you then possess a sense of duty to it to behave in the appropriate manner, as a gentleman of yesteryear would have done.
This is only the beginning.
Their studio located in Dubai Marina has been chosen to evoke a sense of accessibility. It is neither pretentious nor intimidating; in fact it’s a perfect contradiction of neatness and a chaos of fabric and colour. Immediately I am put at ease.
Ashish starts by enlightening me on Knights & Lord’s particular USP and what makes them different to any other tailor in the region. It’s all down to the ‘eye of the bespoke’ or the ‘cut’ to be more precise. The cut practised by Knights and Lords today and first championed over a century ago, is the Drape or London cut. The Drape’s creation is largely credited to Mr Frederick Scholte. Scholte, a Dutchman working out of Savile Row was somewhat of a revolutionary. The clean lines, a neat silhouette and a greater freedom of movement as if the material was simply “draped” over you was worlds away from the structured uniforms that had been seen before. The Drape offers the gentleman the best of both worlds, the appearance of being beautifully crafted to your physique without ever feeling tight or uncomfortable. This is the art of the drape silhouette. If a tailor is truly bespoke they will still adhere to these same strict guidelines which are monitored by Savile Row.
It is because of this that fabric is cut by eye. Ashish and Pawan hold the same belief as Frederick Scholte that anything and everything is possible when the mind is able to break down artistic boundaries that the mind conjures. They craft bespoke suits from the imagination and bring them into existence through tapping into creative energy through a meditative state. This technique signalled the birth of the unique drape cut.
Opting for a traditional Tuxedo, I wondered quite how different it would end up looking – would it really fit any different to those expensive designer offerings bought off the peg?
Firstly, it’s important to understand the background behind the tuxedo. The dinner suit originated in private members clubs in London and was worn exclusively for black tie events. Later, coined “the Tuxedo” in the US, it remains a symbol of formal attire in the 21st century. A classic look is what I wanted to achieve with this commission so the dinner suit style opted for is a traditional jet black fabric. Recently midnight blue as well as white dinner jacket colours have become increasingly popular, particularly due to the influence of American designer Tom Ford on the James Bond franchise. Sometimes this subtle change in colour can provide a powerful statement and these options are becoming increasingly popular among the style-savvy Middle Eastern audience.
My finished dinner suit was to be a two piece with no waistcoat. An alternative to the waistcoat is the cumber band, which has become synonymous with hotel waiter staff and has very much died out in recent years in the mainstream, so I decide – under the guidance of both tailors – to stick with a simple classic look. Tradition is tasteful after all. Lesson one.
Once we have chosen the fabric from the large array of colours and textures on offer, Ashish takes more than 20 of my measurements allowing him the most accurate picture possible for the cutting stage. Perhaps the most crucial part of the entire process.
The next step is the various configurations. Each commission evolves as you go through the process and starts to become a reflection of you, a second skin if you will. Personalisation has almost endless possibilities; different stitching, lining and lapel combinations, pocket configurations both inside and outside are just a few of the aspects that need to be considered to give the gentleman a suit that reflects not just the right occasion but their personality as well. To this end, Pawan informs me that accessorises are becoming even more prominent in addition to a bespoke suit and showcases different pocket square folds alongside a walking cane to complement my overall look. I politely decline.
It is of paramount importance that every detail must be considered at this stage, it feels so painstakingly precise and a world away from simply shopping in a store, but this kind of style education is not something you can buy off the rack. As this is a classic dinner suit I opted for the black-buttoned, winged collared dress shirt with a black silk bow tie and a white pocket square to match to be worn underneath. Black patent laced shoes will complete the outfit.
The initial consultation, from pleasantries to fabric choice and measurements takes only around 2 hours and I leave feeling informed, comfortable and optimistic.
The next stage of the process is for the tailor who took your measurements (this is something very important and something quite unique to Knights & Lords) to hand-draft the pattern onto the material. The following step is another crucial part of the process – cut diagonally against the grain of the fabric in keeping with true bespoke, Savile-row tradition. Remember, it’s all about the tradition here. This cut, as we mentioned earlier, is the key point of difference. This diagonal, free cut differs hugely from the practice used in made-to-measure suits where an adjustable template is used. These cutting skills are honed through years on Savile Row working on one element of the suit, perfecting your skills from the master tailor as you go. Bespoke is the next step up from made-to-measure, it is not the same thing.
The initial suit pattern is mapped directly onto the chosen fabric without the need for a paper pattern, something that only bespoke tailors with the highest level of skill and confidence can achieve; there is no margin for error in calculating the proportions. The only way one can master the drape cut method of suit tailoring is by seeking guidance from the “Eye of the bespoke” which gives the tailor the exact proportions pertaining to the specific suit requirements of a client.
Shoulders are constructed by measuring the angle of elevation of each shoulder separately – rarely are both shoulders of the human body symmetric – padding is then added to aid in the illusion of symmetry. Sleeves are then attached to the shoulders by raising the ends whilst simultaneously creating random pleats of stitching which gives it a traditional English roped shoulder effect. However, the lapel hole is the most significant feature in a bespoke suit. It is created by hand by placing a slim wired thread string in the shape of a lapel hole and then alternating the stitch, one over the wire and one under the suit fabric. The end result is a smooth and prominent lapel hole.
The lining in accordance with my choice, is cut in the Knights and Lords signature style which has a curved ‘S’ form. This is done to symbolise the curved silhouette of the drape cut. Finally, either the wearers name or in my case, a date of significance is embroidered in a place and colour of the wearers choice.
Of course, one cannot forget the trouser. As the tuxedo is a creation with lots of details it therefore demands little clutter. For this reason, the trouser has side fasteners so it does not require a belt keeping the entire look streamlined. The bottom of the trouser is made slightly narrow to elude a slimmer appearance and marry both modernity and tradition.
This is the first time as the client you really start to appreciate the importance of one of the key rules of bespoke tailoring. The gentleman who measures you is the one to cut the suit. A tailor with a clear picture of that individual in their mind can then harness the power of “The eye of the bespoke”. Ashish is able to draw on all the knowledge and wisdom of past and present Savile Row tailors as a guiding force along with his own exceptional craftsmanship to build a picture in his mind. It’s no surprise then that the jacket is a near perfect fit already, even at this early stage. I am without a doubt, quite astonished at his skill.
The shoulders and high arm holes are a near match already, with only minor alterations required to the sleeve width and length. These small adjustments are required to extenuate the drape without compromising elbow flection whilst also exposing the recommended amount of shirt cuff when the arms are relaxed by the side. Sleeves that are too long are a more obvious sign of a poorly fitting jacket but Ashish is such a perfectionist he is picking up on even the minutest of flaws, things that I would never have noticed myself. The back of the suit sits flush to my shoulders with only a minor alteration needed to remove excess material just below the collar to keep a smooth uninterrupted curve. The jacket length is a more personal preference, modern trends have moved towards a shorter length but given the shape and flow of this, I decide that I am entirely happy to keep the length as it is on my first fitting.
I have around three fittings in total, each one in quick succession from the last. With my Tuxedo really starting to take shape it’s a true pleasure to see it sitting better with each visit; this must be how brides feel in the lead up to their wedding.
Due to the exceptional skill demonstrated in the crafting of my suit, very little is left to tweak come the second fitting and these adjustments take just a matter of hours. You gain a sense that both Ashish and Pawan quite literally live and breathe in their studio. I’m reliably informed by Ashish that the trousers should be comfortable to sit in and allow a single break in the front and sit on the upper heel of the shoe – again, a hugely important tip that I have never been told before, even after buying tens of suits over the years. Due to my personal preference we lengthen the trousers by 1cm but the waist and fit are again taking shape nicely. All that remains is to keep practising tying my bow tie – for me, the hardest part of the entire process. A tricky skill to learn, but luckily Ashish patiently runs me through the process. At the mention of a clip-on bow-tie, he is so aghast, I never mention this again and instead vow to myself master the art of the bow-tie.
Standing in my newly curated dinner suit in the middle of the Knights & Lords showroom, I’m struck at how much better my posture is when wearing the suit – wearing something that has been so passionately crafted by hand really does make you want to do both it and its tailor proud. Not only does the tuxedo feel supportive to your shape, you naturally want the suit to be seen in the best light and therefore standing up straight becomes second nature.
Knights and Lords tailors trained on the infamous Savile Row and are championing the importance of true bespoke in the Middle East region. – They bring something to the UAE that has never been seen before and that isn’t just their passion for their craft.
To trust them with creating something that you will wear for a lifetime is one of the greatest pleasures I’ve experienced since living in the UAE. Their dedication to educating and enlightening their customer treats each person as an individual and showcases what it means to own a bespoke suit – it is a luxury that every gentleman should get to experience, even once.
The six week journey that we embarked on together will be remembered each and every time I put on my dinner jacket.
A bespoke suit is a reminder of the importance of being a true gentleman – something that today’s modern society could do with remembering. The word masterpiece by definition is; a work of outstanding artistry, skill, and workmanship. It seems fitting to sum it up in those terms.
A classic bespoke Dinner Suit from Knights and Lords should be a staple in any modern man’s wardrobe. For those few special occasions when it’s required it will make a powerful statement of traditional formal elegance and to answer my previous question – “Could I tell the difference?” – “I could feel the difference.”
Knights & Lords Trading LLC., Shop 20, 1st Floor, Al Fattan Shopping Center, Next To Movenpick Hotel, JBR-The Walk, Dubai, U.A.E
Toll Free No : 800 KNIGHTS ( 800 5644487)
Tel : +971 4 39 953 13
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org