As a millennial woman with a short bob, facial piercings and tattoos, I never expected to find myself being fitted for a suit in the opulent second-floor parlour of the historic Louis Copeland menswear studio. But here I am surrounded by the kinds of smells and textures that are as alien to my usual high street shopping experience as a 24-year-old woman is to Louis Copeland’s bespoke service. Deep-pile carpets and walnut cabinetry set a lavish tone, while beautifully textured, impeccably organised suits hang with absolute precision and make me smile at the idea of the jumble-sale rails I’ve rooted through in the past when buying a suit. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Zara anymore...
Niamh selects the fabric for her bespoke suit.
I’ve been invited in by the century-old tailors to have my own bespoke suit made. The first time I had anything tailored for me was by my mother – a seamstress by trade – several years ago. I grew up with a spinal deformity, meaning my body type doesn’t fit comfortably into conventional high street sizes. I come up a size 6 in some stores, and a size 12 or even 14 in others. My torso is short and I have long, gangly limbs, so most fashion buys require a major nip and tuck. But I adore clothes, and in order to wear the kinds of pieces I love, my mother, and her scissors and Singer, are needed to work their magic.
From sandwiches to luxury cars, we live in a customisable world, yet women have been slow to come round to the notion of made-to-measure clothing. Perhaps the cost is perceived to be prohibitive, although I think it has less to do with this and more to do with the fact that the service simply hasn’t been widely available for women; for men, buying a bespoke suit is the easiest thing in the world. However, the emergence of several bespoke tailoring brands internationally over the past few years, such as SuitKits, Koviem and Amanu, as well as Copeland’s recalibration to include women’s made-to-measure after 100 years of specialising in menswear, suggests that demand is rising.
Women today do want more choice, and control. I’m not alone in buying off-the-rack and then having to have sleeves adjusted, leg lengths shortened or buttons rearranged. Women come in all shapes and sizes, mass-produced clothes don’t. Also, when you choose off- the-rack, be it high street or luxury, you’re buying into the specific vision of that particular brand or designer. With made-to-measure, you’re buying into you.
To date, Louis Copeland has created in the region of 50 to 60 suits for women around the country. The fact that made-to-measure is so widely available for men is something of a conundrum to David O’Connor, general group manager at the heritage brand, because, as he explains, “men are quite uniform in shape, but no two women are the same”. My own made-to-measure experience begins with a choice of basic jacket offered in a variety of silhouettes and fabrics; cotton, wool, silk, or a blend of either. These materials are sourced from Italian mills, which also supply to European power houses like Herme?s, Versace and Chanel. A block suit is used to find the closest “fit profile” to my measurements. Some companies use mobile technology to acquire a 3D body scan, but at Copeland’s, they continue to take individual measurements by hand.
A block jacket and trousers are used for measuring purposes.
Next I get to decide exactly how I want the garment to fit. “Here’s the key point,” reveals O’Connor. “We make alterations at the cutting phase. So instead of the garment being made and then altered, it is instead made to the block, or pattern, and from there the suit is created especially for you.” I point out the parts of my body that are troublesome – misshapen shoulder caps and shoulder blades, raised hips – and the tailor gives these areas extra attention.
Then I pore through a Rolodex of fabrics in different weights, textures and colours before stopping on a small-check, wool-silk fabric in powder blue and soft cream. I choose a princess-cut jacket, characterised by its capped, strong shoulders, narrow, accentuated waistline and cropped, feminine hem length. This silhouette isn’t typical of my style, but I feel compelled to push my own boundaries, as well as Copeland’s, given this rare opportunity. For the trousers, I opt for a high-waist, kick are, and I make sure to ask about belt loops and pockets, both of which are absolute essentials. I choose a skirt style as well so that the suit is as transitional and wearable as possible. A set of pretty mother-of-pearl buttons and a blush pink satin lining finish the three-piece beautifully.
My final fitting is six weeks later and I bring my mother along for her council. My suit has no logo or emblems emblazoned anywhere. In fact, the only reference to any branding is the pint-sized Holland & Sherry patch on the inside front quarter of the jacket. It feels like this suit has been cut straight from my DNA; my mother agrees, and she has higher standards than anyone.
Made-to-measure suits start at €850. To make an appointment for a bespoke Louis Copeland suit, call 01 677 7038.