“Once you try custom, it’s hard to go back to off the rack.” These words, spoken by Vishal Mirpuri, owner of VM Clothiers, come back to me each time I slip into one of my still-new-to-me custom shirts.
Yes, I have finally entered the world of custom tailoring. However, I saved myself the airfare to London’s Savile Row and instead entrusted my sartorial needs to a talented young man right here in Washington, D.C.
VM Clothiers was founded in 2007 by Mr. Mirpuri with the goal of bringing custom tailoring to a younger crowd. For Mirpuri, tailoring is in the family. Back in Hong Kong, his has a 40 year history in this most personal of businesses. As a consultant by training, he saw the potential of bringing affordable custom tailoring to a new, style savvy generation.
After drawing up a business plan and sorting out the logistical details back in Hong Kong, V.M Clothiers was born. Offering a wide array of custom suits and shirts, Mirpuri is personally involved with each client. He is a hands’ on one-man show, from taking measurements to helping his customers sort though the more than 1,200 shirt fabrics and 1,500 suit fabrics. At the moment, VM Clothiers is offering two seasons – spring and fall – with additional seasonal fabrics added to the core lineup.
Custom shirts can be ordered through the website, but taking measurements for suits and tuxedos is a hands’ on process. While a shirt involves seven distinct measurements, a suit involves more than 25 – not to mention many intangibles like jacket length, lapel width or lining fabric.
Mirpuri regularly travels the New York-Washington corridor to meet with clients. At least on day a month, VM Clothiers holds exhibitions in downtown Washington, D.C. These face-to-face events allow him to connect with current clients and meet with new ones. Mirpuri understands that a good tailor is like a good barber or auto mechanic – when you find the right one, you keep them around for a long time.
This level of personal service sets Mirpuri apart from many of the automated custom shirt sites which have been popping up on the web. And the demand does exist; given its healthy supply of lawyers, bankers and consultants, Washington, D.C., is considered a top ten market for custom tailors.
With the professional business environment turning again to more formal dress, VM Clothiers’ market position is in good shape. It’s steadily growing client list is testament to the value of blending modern business sensibilities, quality products and a young attitude.
In my own case, I had already ordered two shirts from VM Clothiers, one of which I am presently wearing as I type. After washing, ironing and wearing these shirts at least six or seven times, I can say that I am a satisfied customer. Without a doubt, the fit and construction are better than most of my expensive off-the-rack shirts.
As for cost, the $55-$75 price range for a VM Clothiers’ custom shirt belies its quality and exceptional fit. So when I decided to move on to my first custom suit, I contacted Mirpuri and we set up the initial fitting session.
To clarify an important point, VM Clothiers is a custom tailor. This means that each garment is truly unique to the wearer. Where “made to measure” means that a pre-existing template is adjusted to fit a customer’s body, “custom” means that the clothing is cut specifically to the measurements of an individual and them assembled into a garment. With prices starting at around $550, Mirpuri’s suits are a relative bargain when compared to the $1,500 and $2,000 most other custom tailors in the area charge.
Sure, the suit is actually tailored in Hog Kong, but it is being constructed by dedicated craftsmen who work only for VM Clothiers. Mirpuri takes all the initial measurements and when the suit is ready, he will also do the final fitting and alterations. As I do not need this suit yesterday, the process works just fine for me. And if my shirt experience is any indication, I’m going to enjoy slipping on my new suit jacket.
Like a doctor making a sartorial house call, we met at my home and got right to work. I already knew that I wanted a two-button, single breasted grey suit with a notched collar, ticket pocket and double vents. For the trousers I wanted a flat front (no pleats) and cuffs. I also knew that I wanted working sleeve buttons on the suit jacket. It’s a personal preference that really serves no practical function, but I like it.
Lots of measurements
Whether you meet up with a tailor or head off to the store, it’s important to already have a general idea of what you want. Suits in particular can be overwhelming: single or double breasted, notched or peak lapel, single or double vents, pleats or no pleats, plain leg or cuffs? All these options form the starting point for your initial meeting. Once in order, they can help you pare down the process into manageable steps.
Though I chose to keep the standard interior pocket layout, VM Clothiers, like most custom tailors, can do almost anything –Blackberry pockets, flaps or no flaps, secure zippered pouches – the options are extensive. You can also select a unique jacket lining should you want to show a little personal flair.
I then settled into the process of sorting through a range of fabrics in innumerable weights and finishes. Try and have an idea of the color and pattern of fabric you want and stick with it. If you don’t have some kind of starting point, wandering through book after book of fabric swatches can be a confusing and distressing exercise.
For example, I liked many of the windowpanes we came across, but that was not my goal so to the grey sample book I went. My wife was the one who actually spotted the winner. It’s the nice three season medium grey super 120 shown here.
Mr. Mirpuri then started taking measurements – 27, to be exact. Collar and sleeves, chest and waist, inseam and cuff circumference – eventually I just lost track.
And then it was over.
Once we wrapped up our business and ironed out all the details, Mr. Mirpuri took my fabric selection and measurements with him on a long flight to Hong Kong. At this very moment, he is documenting the transformation of these numbers and sketches into a handmade suit.
This was a fascinating exercise and gave me a much deeper appreciation for the detail and exacting standards required by a good tailor. I’ll let you know how everything turns out so stay tuned for the next installment.
Click here for PART 2