NEW YORK—Today, Charles Brunold—tall, bespectacled, and soft-spoken with a French accent—runs one of Soho’s most beloved made-to-measure suit stores. And it was a thoroughly bad suit that led him to his present success.
It was 2007. Brunold, who holds a masters in business and a PhD in technology, was working in human resources in Asia. One day he decided to buy a custom suit. High on the winds of novelty, he chose for himself a wide gray pinstripe.
“I was very excited at first,” Brunold said. “But it made me look like a gangster. In retrospect I wish someone gave me advice when I was picking out the fabric.”
Worse still, it was not long before the suit began falling apart. It was a fake Armani fabric, Brunold recalls. The front panels started puckering and the lining became unglued. The suit cost $200, a small sum but a waste nonetheless.
The French-born businessman figured he could do better, and so began an online tailoring business.
“Quickly I realized you really do need the personal touch in this industry,” he said.
He later learned of a prospect to open the first United States location for Louis Purple, a French made-to-measure brand, and took the opportunity. Luckily, Brunold spent years training sales people in emotional intelligence and customer service. With this experience, he began building Louis Purple’s flagship in the country into a business based on a full customer experience.
Success came quickly. In 2010, Brunold opened the first American Louis Purple store on Lafayette Street. In 2013, New York Magazine awarded the store the “Best of New York” title.
“It was a milestone for us and [master tailor] Antonio Demarco,” Brunold said of the award.
“Off-the-rack suits offer men suits that fit, but very few men a suit that fits well,” said Brunold, who before his first unfortunate foray into custom suits was an off-the-rack consumer himself.
“[Custom suits are] slowly capturing more and more market share because there has been a price adjustment. If people are looking at an $800 budget, naturally they think, ‘Why don’t I just get it custom made and not have to do a single alteration?’”
Concept to Blueprint
The real foundation of a great custom or made-to-measure suit is a frank conversation between the client and style consultant.
“The first step is getting to know the client. We like them do the talking at first,” said Brunold.
The tailor’s output is only as good as the client’s input. The key is communicating what you need your suit to do. Is it for daily wear or special occasion? In what season and climate will you be wearing the suit? Will you be moving around very much in the suit? Often people come in with desires unsuited to their needs, or unrealistic expectations about the suit.
It’s helpful to bring visuals. Photos of men wearing suits you like can serve as reference points for further discussion.
Once the objectives are clear, it’s Brunold and his team’s turn to talk.
“We’re trying to transcribe personality into clothing they would like to wear; that looks like themselves and not standard off-the-rack clothing,” Brunold said.
The client has to place a good amount of trust in the style consultant to use his expertise to narrow down the options based on the client’s needs.
Louis Purple accesses thousands of fabrics from reputable mills in Europe. They works with some of the world’s most renowned mills like Cerruti, Dormeuil, Holland & Sherry, and Loro Piana for overcoats and Thomas Mason for shirts. To bring down the price point for most clients, Louis Purple stocks 150 of their most popular fabrics in large quantities. The rest can be special ordered by the meter.
The Perfect Fit
“During Louis Purple’s fitting process clients are often amazed with how their bodies’ peculiarities will affect how a suit will look,” said Brunold. “Shoulder blades protrude and the shoulders are often at different heights; they also slope differently. Posture and necklines vary greatly between people. These are things we can counter in made-to-measure suiting.”
At the core of it, custom tailored suits are a celebration of fit—a fit in personality, style, and body type. After years of wearing ill-fitting store-bought suits, many men try to hide aspects of their figures that don’t conform to mass produced patterns. They tend to look for boxier fits to obscure their size, only to achieve the opposite effect.
Style consultants at Louis Purple begin by having the client choose between English (padded), Italian (less padded), or French (non-padded) shoulders. The shoulder style largely determines the tone your suit takes—old fashioned or modern; formal or casual. Once you get the shoulders right, the suit will fall in a flattering way, no matter which elements you choose to mix and match, said Brunold.
When all the specifications are worked out, the in-house tailors hand the order to their European factories.
Quite a few made-to-measure establishments in New York send their work overseas, mostly to Asia, but few control their operations in Europe. All throughout the process, the Louis Purple tailor maintains control of the work, and manages a turnaround of about four weeks, assuming there are no hitches with shipment.
For first timers of custom suiting, the proof is in the mirror.
“Seriously, how do you go back to off-the-rack after you’ve experienced what can be done with a [made-to-measure] suit?” wrote Yelper Jonathan L.
“I’ve just picked up my first (ever) made to measure suit and while it may seem like the experience can be overwhelming, it turned out to be very smooth and something that every man should do at least once in his life… I’m happy to report that the suit fits exactly as I want and looks sharp. The best thing is that it costs about the same as something you’d find at Bloomingdales but is infinity times better.”
And certainly an improvement over gangster pinstripes.
Fit and Tailoring Guide
By Antonio Demarco, Louis Purple tailor
How to judge good fit
The cut of the suit revolves around the proportions of the garment and often include downsizing—buying overly large suits is counterproductive. Excess cloth makes you look larger than you are, which is seldom flattering.
Shoulders are essential and act like the foundation of the suit. The cloth drapes off them and they should fit neatly.
Armhole position is vital for creating a flattering silhouette. If you can place four or more fingers inside your jacket’s armhole when wearing it, it probably will not fit you very well.
Awareness of visual lines. These accentuate a good fit. For example, a two-button jacket will make your torso look longer and so can slanted pockets. Meanwhile, too long jackets make your legs look shorter.
Length and cut of pants. Any excess fabric, especially below the knees, will add pounds.
Your complexion. Not everyone can carry certain colors. Brighter shades often require a darker complexion in order to provide a contrast. Similarly, paler skin types often look better in darker color schemes.
How to judge good tailoring
Cloth and construction—picking quality fabrics from renowned mills is advisable. And for the suit’s inside construction, using canvassing throughout, rather than glue and fusing, is also a trademark for good tailoring.
Making sure the garments are fit for your purpose—good tailoring takes into account what the wearer is intending to use his suit for. Super fine Italian fabrics will feel great, but may not be as durable as a middle-weight cloth from an English mill. The clients’ intentions will tell the tailor what fabrics are favorable.
Knowing when to say stop—the tailor can blindly follow a client’s wishes, but a good tailor knows the traditions of suiting and gives sound advice to his client. Staying in the middle ground of trends and classic style will guarantee the longest wear from the owner’s suit.