Mavens of Made to Measure
Through several fashion cycles and a workplace that’s increasingly casual, Khaki’s of Carmel and its customers have enjoyed rediscovering the great paradox of modern men’s fashion: the steadily increasing popularity of made-to-measure suits, sportcoats, trousers and dress shirts. Those are the wardrobe items made specifically for individual customers – all starting with the personal input of the customer, Jim Ockert and the Khaki’s staff, and the expertise of some of the world’s leading tailoring houses.
Explaining the popularity, Ockert says, “more and more people have higher and higher expectations. And we welcome it. Luxury is not a premium at Khaki’s. It’s the baseline.”
“And more men have an understanding of how well a suit and sportcoast can and should fit. They’re more sophisticated in their tastes and they like the romance of having something made especially for them.”
The store’s longstanding relationships with premier Italian fashion houses Ermenegildo Zegna, Corneliani, Isaia, Etro and Canali, and Montreal-based Samuelsohn are only the beginning when it comes to made-to-measure. A made-to-measure suit or sportcoat is both a reflection of a customer;s taste and a tailoring house’s expression.
Furthermore, Ockert personally brings the eye (and soul) of a designer to considerations of fit, fabric, color and detail. “Some men are just learning how much fun they can have at Khaki’s,” Ockert says, “they come in seeking comfortable clothing and they may walk out with their eyes opened to the world of jackets wth triple open-patch pockets, with side vents, leather behind the collar, a working throat latch and a soft unconstructed shoulder in a wool or cashmere fabric.”
From the outset, creating a made-to-measure suit or sportcoat is a cooperative effort. “We begin by asking a few questions,” says Ockert. “We like a dialog. How often does the customer expect to wear it? Once a year or once a week? Is it a business suit, an occasion suit or both? Is the jacket going to wind up in an airplane’s overhead bin, or is the customer the type who takes it off at work and carefully hangs it on a valet or a thick wooden hanger in his office?
That information is going to help us figure out what the customer expects in terms of wearability and performance. Even if a customer loves Zegna, it might not be my first recommendation if the coat is going to be worn three times a week, dry cleaned every other week and tossed in a corner in between wearings.”
The store’s extensive in-store inventory is a starting place for fit, models, fabrics and brands. A Khaki’s sales consultant will take a dozen measurements, all while asking the customer where he prefers extra room or lack of restriction. Khaki’s then incorporates the customers input into three areas: design, model and fabric.
Design vs. Tailoring
There are misconceptions about made-to-measure. The first involves the work “bespoke.” A true bespoke suit – in the British sense – involves multiple fittings where a tailor creates a “basted garment. Khaki’s approach represents the modern evolution of that and an understanding that there’s a considerable different between tailoring and design.
Tailoring is the skilled craft of measuring, cutting and sewing fabric. While Khaki’s incorporates that, design represents the integration of fabric, suit silhouettes and models and the creative expression of leading Italian fashion houses like Zegna or Corneliani. It could be the width of the lapel, the graceful slope of a coat’s shoulder, the slight “rope” finish where the top of the sleeve joines the body, but a fashion house – unlike a bench tailor – specialized in hitting the right note season after season.
“Just because someone’s a tailor doesn’t mean he’s a designer,” says Ockert. “We have great tailors in our shop and we work closely with master tailors overseas to complete our garments. But a designer moves a lapel in our out by a half inch, and raises and lowers the shoulders with a little more or less padding. The designer’s job is to the silhouette – the shape – look new and fresh from ever season but never our of date.” A tailor, however talented, may be working off a 20-year-old pattern with the existing bolts of cloth at his disposal, while Zegna is developing exclusive fabrics from the best European mills, including its own. “We have customers who have expressed loyalty to their tailors, but they don’t understand that’s one man working from the same pattern he’s had for years. Zegna has more than 20 people in fabric research along. Corneliani has a room full of trained and talented design staff pushing innovation within a relatively classic context. Etro’s fabrics, for suits or custom shirts, will blow you away. These people are in and out of the two men’s fashion capitals, Milan and London, all the time, and when they make a design statement, it’s an informed one. These are global operations, and a lone tailor simply is no match for them.”
Here the options and combinations truly are a matter of personal preference, and Ockert, in particular, and his staff, generally, can open your sensibilities to a range of details, accents and stylistic expressions: single- or double-breasted is just the start of it. The roll-call of choices includes two- or three-button jackets; side, center or no vents; colorful one-of-a-kind satin linings; a ticket pocket for a British accent; working buttons on the sleeves; patch-and-flap or open-patch pockets; and pleats and cuffs or flat-front trousers.
Dress shirts, too, can be customized in a variety of collar styles: point, button-down, contrast-white, medium spread and cutaway spread. Personal choices on pockets, cuffs and monogramming are also accommodated.
Khaki’s maintains an up-to-date library of exclusive fabric from the great European mills: Loro Piana, Zegna, Dormeuil, Holland & Sherry and Scabal. The last 10 years has seen a virtual revolution in worsteds and woolen fabrics. High-twist yarns and super-fine wools make it possible for more suits and sportcoats to be worn year-round. Zegna, for instance, recently introduced suits and sportcoats with superfine Australian merino wool, known as 15 Milmil 15, that has the softness of cashmere but the durability of wool.
Selecting a fabric – pinstripes or chalk stripe, glen plain, herringbone or hounds tooth, window pane, shadow plaids – from Khaki’s of Carmel’s extensive library is probably the single aspect that gives the suit its visual character. As so it is a decision that should be make carefully.
“We’ll guide you in your choices,” Ockert says, “although ultimately it’s a personal decision. If you want conservative and classic, we’ll take you there. If you want to dial up the attitude, we’re with you 100 percent of the way.”
It can be a fine line between a banker’s distinguished (and confident) chalk stripe and a gangster’s too-bold pinstripe. “We can advise a customer when this is going to be a pretty bold look, or a fabric is heavier or it may have too much of a shine. If we can give a customer a heads-up on what a suit is going to look like, he’s much more comfortable going forward.”
Jim recalls one customer and how a made-to-measure brought a mutually satisfying outcome. “He was having a hard time because he had just come from a store where they reminded him he was a difficult fit. I tried a few things off the rack, took a few measurements and told him he wasn’t a difficult fit, he just had an expensive body. He enjoyed hearing that.”
- Fall 2007 Fashion & Lifestyle