CULTURE

Bespoke finds Athenian home

Is it the ultimate in dressing or simply a way of life? Bespoke, handmade menswear tailored exclusively on one’s body enjoys a long and varied history around the world. A niche market, it is all about pleasure and catering to specific, individual needs. «Our customers are not high-income clients, but hobby clients,» says Vassilis Bourtsalas, founder and owner of Bespoke Athens, a two-year-old venture which offers bespoke services as well as ready-to-wear apparel and accessories. At the Kolonaki premises, where clients may savor a glass of port or whisky while discussing their own specific garment requirements, the decidedly masculine atmosphere is further enhanced by the smell of wood. Coined in London’s traditional tailoring hub Savile Row, the term «bespoke» goes back to the days when fabrics were spoken for. Today, however, bespoke appears to be a confused area on a global scale. While the luxury industry’s ubiquitous brands are increasingly promoting the idea of customization as an extra service in a demanding field, at the opposite end of the scale, the essence of bespoke remains unaltered. Similarly to haute couture, it translates into limited production and inherited skill. «Confusion benefits all areas beginning from made-to-measure and below, but it does much damage to bespoke. This is because it has undervalued the craft to the point of annihilation,» says Bourtsalas. Take Greece, for instance, where a once-booming field of top-quality craftsmen has been reduced to about a dozen tailors operating around the city of Athens. According to Bourtsalas, an extraordinary tale of supreme craftsmanship led by the Greeks in Istanbul, for instance, seems to be coming to an end. This is one of the reasons why he decided to step in. Family history With a history in clothing, beginning with Bourtsalas’s grandfather running a textile outlet, and his parents taking over to develop a major women’s ready-to-wear store, by the age of 18, Bourtsalas was running his own menswear department within the family business, selling fused, ready-to-wear suits. Two years later, he left Greece and headed to the United States, where he studied business and marketing, studies which were followed by a 10-year stint working in corporate positions. Back in Athens, he was appointed general manager of a major publishing firm undergoing restructuring and went on to develop a consulting firm for local business. Reaching a turning point in his life, Bourtsalas left the corporate environment behind and returned to menswear, his great love. At Bespoke Athens, the readymade section is all about full-canvas, handmade suits. This is made-to-measure, where alterations include longer sleeves and even two to three button-holes, for instance. Customers choose a suit and, if alterations are in order, the company then contacts the brand to order a new suit which will incorporate the necessary changes. This kind of customization may include a fitting. «This is the most booming product in the industry. It’s something like bespoke, but it has nothing to do with bespoke. It is quicker,» says Bourtsalas, adding that «it works provided that the original pattern fits well.» In the bespoke department, the handmade, full-canvas suit is patterned from scratch on the body. The work is carried out by two or three local tailors as well as foreign tailors all collaborating with Bespoke Athens. Currently the international roster of professionals includes a tailor from London (in town every two months) and one from Istanbul. A work in progress, these collaborations are constantly developing according to Bourtsalas’s findings and needs. «This is a dying art and therefore we are constantly conducting research,» he comments. Suits are delivered in two months, following three fittings (local tailors) and three months when working with international tailors (and two fittings). As for the prices, bespoke suits begin from 2,000 euros for local tailoring and 3,500 euros for foreign craftsmanship. For Bourtsalas, immense pleasure derives from executing exclusive orders. So far, Bespoke Athens prides itself in the making of a vicuna coat in collaboration with Loro Piana as well as a suit made of a Moxon, Super 210, 180-gram fabric – the 81st to be made in the world. On the ready-to-wear brand level, the philosophy at Bespoke Athens is clear-cut: From shirts to suits and ties, everything is luxurious and handmade. «All our brands are on the high-end in terms of construction, some are very well known, others are lesser known, because this is an industry which does not advertise all that much,» says Bourtsalas. One the well-known end lies Oswald Boateng, the hip menswear designer who specializes in both bespoke and pret-a-porter. «He is new Savile Row blood, but one who keeps the basic principles of English tailoring,» says Bourtsalas of the London-born designer of Ghanaian provenance. Other brands at Bespoke Athens include Moxon and Loro Piana in the textile department; made-to-measure suits from Italy represented by firms such as Ravazzolo, Regent from Germany, Arnys from France and, of course, England, where old and new school coexist through Chester Barrie and Boateng, among others. Coming up in two months is a new collaboration with Chicago-based Oxford Clothes. On the accessories front, a broad range of items includes ties (seven and 11-fold pieces) from Robert Talbot and Turnbull & Asser, among others. At the age of two, Bespoke Athens is a toddler waiting to grow up, where a primarily youthful clientele – think 25- to 45-year-olds – is eager to experience the soft touch of what is truly personal. Inherited or acquired, the taste for bespoke has a future here, with Bourtsalas aiming to develop a signature style, a local school of bespoke made in Athens, which would ensure a new generation of tailors continuing the trade. «We can’t pull down all the awful buildings in town, but we can change our aesthetics,» says Bourtsalas. «We can change the way we dress.»