Beware. Once you’ve stepped over the threshold of young-gun tailor David Wilkes’s studio, you’ll never be able to wear an off-the-rack suit again without your soul dying a little.
Ready-made suits are often filled with foams, glues, and synthetic fibres. They’re built to fit a theoretically average-proportioned man. If your chest, waist, and torso measurements don’t match up, you’re out of luck.
Yet you wear them, because men have to don suits for certain work and special occasions. But rarely are they required to wear good-looking ones. So every day, a schlubby brotherhood ambles along Burrard, Howe, and Robson streets dressed in ill-fitting two-pieces with gaping necks, open vents, and sleeves that are too long.
Such suits are the fate of the male species unless they meet someone like Wilkes, a bespoke tailor (www.davidthetailor.com/).
On this day, he’s working on a black-linen coat. It will be worn to a k.d. lang concert in Sydney, Australia. It will feature Swarovski crystals and possibly sequins.
Wilkes pulls out a container of the crystals and points to a star chart sitting on the mantel beside two calla lilies streaking like fireworks out of a vase.
Says Wilkes, “The jacket is inspired by the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere”¦each crystal is picked to correspond with the brightness of a star”¦and it’ll have the Southern Cross, which is the constellation on the Australian flag.”
It’s unique, perfectly attuned to the needs of the wearer, and the epitome of bespoke. But it’s not embellishment that makes things bespoke. It’s about proportion and choice. With a tailor like Wilkes, you get to pick the fabric, the buttons, even the colour of the buttonholes. With him, a standard blue suit can be sublime.
“A bespoke suit can make you look six inches taller,” he says. “People say suits make them feel uncomfortable, and I feel sorry for them.”
That’s because fine tailors like Wilkes assert that the wearer of a bespoke suit will feel more comfortable and confident in it than in any other article of clothing he will ever wear.
If bespoke is an unfamiliar concept, it’s because almost no one does it in Vancouver. It is a demanding form of tailoring that requires every stitch (up to 10,000) be done by hand, unlike machine-sewn custom or made-to-measure tailoring. Paddings and shoulders are made of horse hair. Patterns are drafted for each customer.
The bespoke method also requires the tailor to create a toile, a try-on version of a suit that’s made of muslin. With the cheap mockup, tailor and client are able to perfect the cut before scissors are applied to any fine wool.
Wilkes pulls one out from behind a black curtain. “It’s for a customer who has very specific requirements. You can use up to two muslins in such cases.”
He explains that after one more fitting, he will be able to begin work on the real thing, in an ink-blue wool with a smoked-orange windowpane check. With angled ticket and hacking pockets rather than the usual horizontal side pockets, the suit promises to be quite dashing; Wilkes will match up the orange lines so that the verticals and horizontals meet at every seam on the suit.
“You’re only as good as your last suit,” Wilkes says. “And reputation is really important to me.”
Wilkes’s sartorial commitments fall at the extreme end. He makes all of the components of a suit himself. Which means he outdoes even Savile Row, London’s famous epicentre of bespoke tailoring. At least there, the legendary houses have the good sense to farm out the making of pants to subcontractors.
Wilkes says, “Sometimes, I see a perfectly good-looking guy, attractive, wearing a coat that’s too long for him, and I think, ”˜You could be so much more.’
“But I’ve given up wishing I was a superhero, swooping in and changing the world.”
Instead, he’ll settle for saving men one suit at a time.