German traditional fine tailoring, unique scientific cutting on the table
Private Schneiderstube - Houston

The Love for making Suits — Bespoke Tailoring

  • Where to find a good suit?
  • What's MTM?
  • What's bespoke?

Well, in the range of prices and available design and construction options, there would be the "Ready to Wear" (RTW) industry in the malls, where the customer with a proportional figure can buy suits ready-made. In this scenario the client does not have any influence on the design and is buying the suit as it is offered/available. Certain shops may have tailors at hand to perform alterations if required. By the way, it happened to me once that I met two guests at a wedding wearing the same "cheap" suit...

For a customer with a disproportional figure the situation would be slightly different as "Made to Order" (MTO) would need to be applied. A default sized suit would be tried and the necessary changes being marked to fit the clients figure. In addition the customer could choose a suit fabric from a limited selection. However, the more demanding client could be disappointed by the fact that there would be no fitting later, unless he is maybe willing to pay an extra fee. This kind of suit would only fit slightly better than a RTW one. With increasing figure disproportion MTO would not be applicable any more. These clients should then consider ‘Made to Measure’ (MTM) industry, with prices at the highest range of industrial making.

Under certain circumstances MTO and MTM are very narrow and can even overlap at times. It depends on whether an individual pattern has to be designed or a block pattern derived from a default suit. In both cases the results could be fatal, if individual details of a correct fit could not adequately be implemented within the pattern.

In addition, coarse pattern construction errors within the basis constructions are possible, if the cutter had not gone through a traditional apprenticeship/cutting school and by applying designer programmed pattern software. Examples to be mentioned would be falsely justified front neck points, chest measurement ease and armholes too large in connection with false back- and scye depths.

One has to look behind the scenes. In fact, MTM is an industrialized version of many small custom tailors, which used to exist on mass in Berlin (where I had my apprenticeship) and around the world until the early 60ies. Sadly enough they could not compete from the prize point of view with the RTW industry and had to close down, hence the custom tailor craftsmanship was slowly dying out. Nowadays only a few tailors are holding the knowledge of this traditional custom tailoring. Clever business men have acknowledged that and have built up the MTM industry. Even though the client will be served and measurements are being taken by a trained sales rep., without having the knowledge of an educated tailor. The client would select a fabric from a very good range. This information would then be passed on to the industry which is named "Cut, Make and Trim" (CMT).

This kind of industry is mainly located in Italy and other parts of Europe, at places where the traditional custom tailor were used to be very popular. The MTM industry is dependent on high professional employees, which surely can still be found there. The cutter, who has never met the client face to face with his unique figure, would cut the suit on the basis of the ‘less precise’ data given to him. This ultimately leads to errors within the correct fit of the garment.

Even though CMT does produce on a very high level, it is still an industrialized replacement of a custom tailor craftsmanship to make a lot of profit. Traditional inside making is not being applied by CMT. Front canvases are flat fused and the fronts get their shape by the applied darts within the pattern construction. The industrial prefabricated suit pieces sewn together then arrive the show room where the customer will have his fitting for the first time.

If the customer is lucky, the suit will fit at the first fitting. Should the contrary be the case, the alteration tailor comes into actions trying to correct the damage or to line it, respectively, the letter mostly being the case. Nevertheless, the MTM suit will have the handmade buttonholes incorporated. This step mostly would then be the only craftsmanship within the whole production for a MTM suit after all being sold on average for about 3000$. I looked at and examined such suits in a mall in Houston. They are being manufactured on a very high industrialized level by chosen nice and adequate material. From the looks and design point of view, they at least appear to be more elegant than RTW or MTO suits.

However, the acquisition of an elegant suit can even reach a higher level if it is being pursued by a custom/bespoke tailor who produces handmade.

Custom/bespoke tailoring is the highest level of art of clothing to produce a suit. The custom tailor meets with his client, even within in his workshop, to discuss all the details such, suitable fabric design, lapel, shoulder forms, button positions, cuffs and so forth. The term "Bespoke" arose … when in the old days a customer would choose a bolt of cloth in a tailor’s shop, whereupon the tailor would mark it as being ‘bespoken for’.

The big difference between MTM and custom tailoring is that the letter will take the measurements himself and will draft your unique pattern taking into account the specific features of your body along with matters of fashion and personal taste for each client. Big masters of cutting are capable, by optimal pattern construction, to provide the prerequisite of producing a highest level fit, which allows the tailor to make the suit with a minimum of changes during the process of fitting with his client. The tailor produces the suit mainly by hand work, without applying any kind of adhesive bonding techniques which would run counter to the correct fit. The third dimension of body shape will be incorporated by a special kind of “Diagonal pulled Ironwork”. Furthermore the front parts of the suits are being basted with Canvas, which is in line with the body shape of the customer, merging into one unit with the fabric; so the optimal traditional tailoring techniques are used to realize the shape of the final garment.

It takes about 80 working hours until such a lounge suit is finished. In exchange the customer receives a master piece which the custom tailor has created with all his love and heart and People wearing such suits in public and media are easy being recognized. A few of such people would even travel to England to get their suits fitted and tailored. Good custom tailors are hard to find as there are only a few left worldwide. Has the customer found a suitable tailor and he cannot find any better, he mostly will be devoted to him until the rest of his life.

To make the decision with 23 to become a tailor was a relatively late for me. At that time I was driven by an overwhelming interest to get to know the draft of pattern. Talent and effort where the main reason why I learned very quickly the craftsmanship skills of custom tailoring. In fact, I got an entry level position as pattern maker before I even started a regular tailor apprenticeship. The fascination of cutting was to see how three dimensional body shapes could be transferred onto two-dimensional paper. I had some kind of Angel who guided me to the ‘Zuschneiderschule Berlin’, which unfortunately does not exist anymore. At that school I started a course and could extend the stay afterwards a few more months. The school supported my big interest and eagerness and discovered that I wanted to learn so much more after the course and I am still very thankful for to them.

There was not much money to make with tailoring. I only wanted to learn and study the art of making and constructing pattern. Trainees think they could earn money during their apprenticeship. Unfortunately this does not work within the tailor apprenticeship as it is too diffucilt to get recent results in the first 2 years. An apprentice could be even asked to pay a fee to be allowed to learn the tailoring profession. Even this would be very difficult as there are only very few master tailors are being able to explain the complicated secrets of pattern construction, making, fitting and completion of a whole piece of garment like a suit. One should not get the idea/illusion that this craftsmanship could be learned in an institute or while becoming a designer. They only can teach you some fundamental knowledge.

Only idealism and unconditional will to carry out this profession will be the basis for being successful.

As mentioned, I had so much favor to learn the Czujewicz-System of pattern craftsmanship which surmounts many other kinds of cutting systems I had come across so far from the systematic construction’s point of view. Today, with holding a degree in Engineering of Science I am educated and experienced enough to make such judgment. And this also is the reason why the master tailor Kurt Czujewicz of "Zuschneideschule Berlin" was one of the best within East Germany, former German Democratic Republic, GDR. In 1963 he became the fashion ward for the GDR. His outstanding work was acknowledged with a lot of awards. So it was possible since the fifties to perform precise patterns drafts on paper just with pencil and templates as precondition of excellent costume tailoring.

I also would like to acknowledge master cutter Hans Mayer beside the “Bekleidungs-Akademie Munich”, whose most important books by the way I all posses. In line with Kurt Czujewicz, he and Hans Mayer was the leading figure of technical publications for the GDR tailor magazine “Das Schneiderhandwerk” (1945 – 1968). From 1969 on these publications then were transferred and substituted by a new magazine of the GDR Tailor board. They established the “Zentraler Arbeitskreis” who published standardized cutting. This system was so complicated that a master tailor hardly wasn't able to comprehend it without almost holding a degree in math. However, from the mathematical point of view this complicated looking cutting system was very precise. High professional master tailors contributed to this system. I am also very familiar with this very nice cutting system and I use it as well in my daily life.

Drafting pattern at the Berlin cutting school made me wanting more after a few months. I was eager and driven by the fact and desire that I wanted to tailor the complete garment that I had drafted and constructed, because creating a correct pattern is only one part of the medal. I was lucky to find a master tailor who employed me as apprentice. Again I was lead by destiny as there were only 3 apprenticeship positions available in Berlin and there were only a couple of master tailors who considered in taking an apprentice if any at all. Of course, it was not a matter of earning money, the driven force were to learn and to amaze how all technical aspects of cutting and tailoring would merge altogether. My master tailor Mr. Dear in East-Berlin he is retired now) was an outstanding master in the tailoring field with about 40 years of experience.

He still followed the old marking with needles method for fittings. With the background of cutting construction it was easy for me to learn and to follow his explanations immediately. It was like as if I had been a tailor in a former life times, in case such should exist. For example the tailor showed me button holes and after a few attempts they looked exactly the same as the ones he taught me, in fact they looked quite excellent. Meanwhile I had my own tailor shop at home along with the apprenticeship. After my regular work shift I tailored suits for private customers. Of course, I then applied all the knowledge which I had learned from my master. Until the reunification of Germany in 1989 I stayed with the gracious master tailor and learned from his knowledge and experience as much as possible.

After 1989 a new area in Germany had started. People were not too much interested in expensive suits any longer. The custom tailoring business was in a sorry state and I enrolled at the University for engineering in order to get a degree.

The destiny now has led me to the USA, to spend the second part of my life here. I decided to jump back into tailoring heaven. I have moved my complete workshop with about 700 lb of books and tools which I had stored since 1989 in Berlin to the USA. Besides me: there are 2 more custom tailors from Berlin who have become busy in the USA. The West-Berliner master Tailor Arnulf, one of the best in Germany, equipollent to Kurt Czujewicz from East-Berlin, told me that 2 of his former apprentices are working in CA and NY respectively.