Photographer Patrick Snook attended his first bespoke suit fitting Thursday with an authentic Savile Row tailor - at the Hotel Sofitel Philadelphia.
"Really nice. Really nice," Snook said as he took in the full-length image of his natty silhouette at the Rittenhouse Square hotel suite.
Meanwhile, master tailor Steven Hitchcock drew perforated chalk lines under and over the navy suit jacket's armholes. He pinched the shoulders back and moved Snook's arms around: up, down, out.
"When your arm hangs back, you get a crease here," Hitchcock explained as he eyeballed the tiny bit of slack under the left armhole seam. "You don't want that."
With each fitting - and there will be at least two more - a complete paper pattern will emerge for Hitchcock to finish this three-piece, more than $4,000 ensemble. And if need be, he can make additional suits for Snook.
"It's so very special," Snook added. "It's a one-of-a-kind opportunity."
Bespoke tailoring is a very specific menswear artisanry that dates to the 19th century. The term comes from the words be spoken, as in the suits are "spoken into being." Many of the techniques were developed on Savile Row through the early 1900s.
A true bespoke suit - in contrast to one that is made to measure - takes 50 to 60 hours to construct and is fashioned almost completely by hand. Prices start at around $4,000 and can easily, depending on the fabric and details, run into the tens of thousands of dollars. A bespoke suit is the armor of very well-established men. Yesteryear's royalty, today's bankers and politicians.
An Englishman who now lives in Elkins Park, Snook grew up with an innate understanding of the value of bespoke and had always thought about getting one. So in honor of his 52nd birthday, his wife, Alison Reynolds, decided to gift him one. After all, thanks to Britain's controversial decision to secede from the European Union, the value of the British pound has fallen to its lowest level in decades. It would be a good time to take advantage of the discount.
So, during a trip to England, Snook made an appointment with Hitchcock for an initial consultation. The two hit it off.
And a suit was born.
Hitchcock's father, John, spent 52 years as a tailor at Anderson & Sheppard, a prestigious menswear firm that had been a part of the fabric of Savile Row since 1906. During his career, John was one of the few tailors who designed suits for Prince Charles.
Hitchcock landed a job there as an apprentice in 1990 where, for four years, he sat in the same chair once occupied by the late, legendary fashion designer Alexander McQueen. After nine years, Hitchcock launched his eponymous company in 1999. His expertise: soft, tailored suits with relaxed shoulders and a fluid drape.
In the beginning, business was slow. At the time, men's fashion - even in London - was a lot more casual. In 2001, just three months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Hitchcock decided to make quarterly business trips to New York to seek new clients among the city's high-rollers. Through connections, he landed lawyer, businessman, and journalist Eddie Hayes as a client. Hayes, in return, introduced him to many well-connected movers, and his clientele grew.
Around 2008, fashion started a pop culture shift that favored more tailored silhouettes. By 2010, still reeling from an economic recession, the fashion world began to focus in earnest on the stories behind the brands. Craftsmanship began to matter more. And with social media, new makers had a platform to reach broader audiences.
"Here is where we started to see classic artisan crafts starting to figure out ways to survive and flourish into the next century," said Volker Ketteniss, London menswear director of global trend forecasting firm WGSN.
Such value-driven shifts have continued in other significant ways. Shoppers - especially millennials - are willing to pay more for pieces of excellent quality. And, more increasingly, even the most fashion-forward among us favor cool experiences more than cool items.
"This becomes an opportunity for these kinds of tailors to straddle both worlds, the old school and the new," Ketteniss said.
At 42, Hitchcock doesn't look like the classic, bespoke tailor of old. His sports coat is a funky red-and-gray plaid, and his tape measure a bright red. He coolly asks people to take pictures for "the Gram" - Instagram to you - while doing fittings.
Steven Hitchcock fitting another very happy client in Philadelphia. @stevenhitchcockbespoke #savilerow #bespoke #tailor #tailors #tailoring #philadelphia #trunkshow #nyc #boston #classicstyle #mensstyle #styleformen #cutbysteven #madeinengland #handcut #handmade #softtailoring #comfort #style #shape #rakish #unique #artisan #craft
A photo posted by Savile Row Bespoke Tailors (@stevenhitchcockbespoke) on Oct 13, 2016 at 2:00pm PDT
That's because social media drives his business. In fact, it is primarily the reason he got to Philadelphia.
When members of the Philadelphia Club, a members-only private organization, asked Jeffers, now a Philadelphia high-end shoe designer, to bring in a speaker on men's fashion, he suggested Hitchcock.
"I thought, 'Why not?' " Hitchcock said. "I'm coming to New York and Boston. Philadelphia is the next logical stop."
Though he met lots of potential Philadelphia customers - younger men who one day might afford a $5,000 suit - he sealed the sartorial deal with four new clients, and met with three existing ones, including Lawrenceville, N.J., lawyer Joshua Markowitz, and, of course, Snook.
"You know how you decide to go shopping one afternoon and you just have lots of fun picking out clothes and creating a look?" asked Markowitz, 60, who owns at least a dozen Hitchcock suits.
"That's what it's like. I just love the process."