This month, Michelsberg Tailoring sold it’s thousandth made-to-measure shirt.
Here are some new Michelsberg bobby dazzlers waiting to be collected before Christmas.
It all started five years ago, when I was approached by a company who offered to make me a free bespoke shirt, and experience their quality.
Whilst bespoke suits have been a part of my wardrobe since my late twenties, I’d been very happy with my ready-to-wear Eton shirts because a) I liked the fit and b) my ironer-in-chief found their ‘non-iron’ quality a joy to behold.
Needless to say, their ‘try-before-you-buy’ close worked a treat and it was the fit, above all else, that was something of a revelation. Little things I’d put up with, like too wide a cuff width, due to my skinny wrists, are now a distant memory.
A choice of collar and cuff styles, real mother of pearl buttons, stitching options and in-house fabrics, from mills like Thomas Mason and Albini, made their offering even more attractive.
Since then, it’s been a great addition to my business and more importantly, to my customers wardrobes.
With a retail price from £150, I think it’s incredible value for money, when you consider that you can easily pay more than that for an off-the-peg number, that doesn’t even fit properly.
Whilst I consider my knowledge of bespoke tailoring solid, I’ve found myself wanting to know more about the world of top-end shirt-makers.
Who are the best? Why? What are, arguably, the features worth paying for?
During a fact finding mission to the menswear show Pitti Uomo, I was pointed in the direction of an Italian family run shirt-making business, called Marol.
I spoke with a charming lady who informed me that their shirts are fully made-by-hand in their Bologna workroom, and would normally be priced from around £450, dependant on fabric. So, not quite your five shirts for ninety-nine quid at TM Lewin then.
After trawling through numerous style blogs and menswear forums, it’s clear they are widely regarded as one of the best in the world.
Other names that kept coming up included Charvet (Paris), Turnbull & Asser (London), Budd (London) Siniscalchi (Milan), Mr. Kabbaz (New York), Battistoni (Rome), Isaia (Naples), Anna Matuozzo (Naples), Ascot Chang (Hong Kong)
Some of the key things most of them seem to offer (like top-notch bespoke tailors) are:
a) the creation of a fully bespoke pattern, and therefore the option to customise everything, including collar length and shape.
b) fitting sessions before the shirt is delivered, and after the shirt has been washed a few times.
c) the collar and sleeve sewn into place by hand.
d) hand-sewn buttonholes, side seams and hems.
e) an extensive selection of buttons (often mother of pearl) and top-end (often rare / vintage) fabrics.
Of the above, I’ve had experience with Budd (lovely people, very warm and welcoming) and Turnbull & Asser, whom I bought a beautiful sea-island cotton dinner shirt with pleated front for my brother Edward’s wedding in Australia.
He’s recently used Ascot Chang in Hong Kong (and was pretty chuffed with all four of his shirts) and his brother in law (Paul) has tried both Anna Matuozzo and Charvet, with I believe the latter taking first place.
So what’s worth paying for?
Fit. It’s everything. The cloth can be woven from angels hair, but unless it fits right, the rest is nonsensical.
Style is a close second. The shape and depth of collar needs to suit not just personal taste, but to work in harmony with the size and proportion of a man’s face, neck and the tie-knot he likes to wear.
Hand-sewing. As far as stitching goes, the argument is that a hand-sewn stitch is softer than a machine stitch; this supposedly has a functional benefit on the sleeves and collar, providing a smoother shape and more ease of movement.
Put a gun to my head and ask me to tell the difference between two shirts in the same cloth and size, one hand-stitched, the other machine stitched, and to be honest, I think I might be struggling.
To me, the beauty of hand-sewing (like the Milanese buttonholes on our suits), is not about providing a practical benefit. It’s purely aesthetic, a celebration of the skill, patience and precision of the artisan, into producing something beautiful and understated, that is often only recognised by the connoisseur.
Service and experience. To me, the journey you take when having something made, is often more wonderful than the beauty of receiving the finished product itself.
Whether that’s a bespoke suit, a piece of furniture, a painting, or, a pair of shoes, it is that collaboration and shared vision with a passionate, like-minded soul, that makes creating something unique and personal together, so special.
In fact, thinking about it, what a fabulous Christmas present a Michelsberg bespoke shirt (or suit) would make, for a friend, or, loved one!
As the countdown to Santa-season begins, if you do find yourself in the Victoria Quarter on Thursday 15th December doing some last minute Christmas shopping, Charlie and I we will be serving minced-pies and mulled wine to customers from 5pm.
Hope you can make it!