Once upon a time, ‘bespoke’, meaning ‘made to measure’ or ‘custom made’, was a way of life. It’s the reason why people in old black-and-white pictures look so dapper. Back then, you either made your own clothes, or paid someone else to do it for you.
Today, ‘bespoke’ is a popular catch-word. Worse, it’s a tiresome branding lure that allows purveyors to add $50 to $100 on top of their price. The trouble is that what you’re getting is not truly bespoke, but rather a pre-determined set of options. Think of the many ‘bespoke’ cocktail bars that subscribe to this.
But if you believe that modern luxury means investing in something that takes time to perfect, then bespoke is where it’s at.
Is bespoke the same as haute couture?
No. Haute couture means ‘high sewing’. The use of traditional techniques, with sewing and other detailing work done by hand (no sewing machines), are typical. The pieces are also as expensive as they need to be.
Examples of haute couture houses are Chanel and Christian Dior. In fact, there are currently only 14 official members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the authority on the matter.
Bespoke does fall below this level of work, but remains far above off-the-rack fashion. It means well-crafted, well-designed, and custom.
Bespoke vs Personalisation
There’s a certain fluidity to the word ‘bespoke’. And in large part, what many fashion brands offer as ‘bespoke’ actually is ready-to-wear with personalisation.
The items are usually a piece of a collection that allows you to add a personal touch of some sort. You could add your initials to a bag, or choose the colour of stripes or soles for a pair of shoes. But this isn’t really bespoke. It’s the brand allowing its customer to have some say in a very specific part of item they’re buying.
Members of the Exclusive Hermès Horseshoe Club are invited to place an Hermès Special Order twice a year. They can create a version of their favourite Hermès bag using a limited number of styles, leathers and colours offered by the brand. But you can’t design a completely ‘new’ version of an Hermès bag.
Bespoke is entirely about you
Choosing bespoke means that you refuse to have a designer dictate what you wear. And if you want to have complete control over what you’re wearing, you need to find a tailor, dressmaker or cobbler to work with. When it comes to the end product, the quality of your pieces will be based on the talent and skill of the artisans you choose to work with.
It can be expensive depending on the materials you choose. But what you create will fit you perfectly, and you’ll never see anyone else wearing the same thing.
Where to find a brilliant tailor
For tailoring, Savile Row in Mayfair, London, retains its reputation for outstanding quality in both fabrics and finishes. For Savile Row womenswear tailoring, Gormley & Gamble is lauded for its suits to evening dresses, and everything in between.
In Singapore there are a number of extremely talented tailors, but perhaps the best known is Kevin Seah. Described as Singapore’s ‘top bespoke tailor’, Seah is a supremely stylish genius who turns out exquisite work with the potential to become family heirlooms.
In womenswear, Ong Shunmugam has a Custom Atelier where founder and designer Priscilla Shunmugam creates bespoke pieces based on her East-Meets-West aesthetic.
Where to find bespoke shoes
Wootten Cordwainer and Leather Craftsmen is a Melbourne store run by a second-generation shoemaker whose sports shoes, like cycling leathers, are highly rated. The company creates classic leather and canvas shoes for men, women and children. You will need to make an appointment to have a ‘last’ or template made for you, but you’ll be able to order whatever shoe you need once that’s created.
The cost of bespoke shoes from Singapore custom brand Custom Made start at just $250 – a rarity in the world of bespoke. Donovan Tan at Custom Made is obsessed with making dress shoes more comfortable to wear, and easier to buy.