When Hong Kong high-end suit tailor Moalo Tang comes to New York, he power lunches at one spot: Shake Shack in lower Tribeca.
“Many of my clients work [and] are extremely busy,” says Tang, sipping on a Diet Coke. “Sometimes if a client needs something quickly, we do a fitting right where we are eating lunch. You have to be able to multi-task in this business.”
Tang’s clients have no problem dropping $5,475 for an off-the-rack Brioni suit, contributing to the 20.8 percent increase in quarterly revenue for Brioni’s parent company, PPR. But is it really worth it? We decided to find out.
One Percent mecca Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s largest investment banks, is across the small alleyway from the burger joint. Ninety percent of Tang’s clients work here and include mostly partners and managing directors, plus a few low level associates. What do they all have in common? They have no problem dropping $5,475 for an off-the-rack Brioni suit—custom costs more—contributing to the 20.8 percent increase in quarterly revenue for Brioni’s parent company, PPR. But in this sluggish economy, is it really worth it?
“You bet your ass it’s worth it!” says Tara Fisher, a gregarious bottle blonde sales associate at Barneys New York. “For every suit produced it takes at least seven people working on it. You aren’t paying for the name, you are paying for the labor involved in making the piece.”
While hard work is never easy to place a monetary value on, we decided to deconstruct how much it would cost to create a Brioni suit—per hour.
The hand-crafted labor-of-love involves an estimated 32 to 35 hours of work per suit according to Ali Ansari, director of sales at Brioni on 57th Street in Manhattan. There is a specific person cutting the buttonholes on the jacket, which takes three to five hours and costs an estimated $900. The seamstress has at minimum four years of training and is taught how to handle the wool and silk for an additional two years before she is allowed to punch the holes on the jacket.
Another tailor is trained to do the pique stitching. This refers to the visible stitching around the buttonhole and on the seam of the jacket, the cuffs and the lapels. Stitching will take up to 10 hours to do and another $2,700 out of your wallet. In addition, there is a specific tailor (usually a man with seven years of training) designated to press the sleeves of the suit and roll the canvas just at the shoulder where it meets the sleeve. Tack on another seven hours and $800 to $900. This process can take up to 24 hours for just the jacket. Pants are seemingly easier. In seven to eight hours the tailor trained to handle, cut and sew the pant fabric will create front darting, a specifically measured rise, waistband and pant length at an estimated cost of $600.
Speaking of delicate materials, Ansari explains wools used for the suit are a Super 180 or a 200. Not sure what that means? You aren’t alone. The S- designation has been used for years to denote the type of weave used for wool fabrics. The higher number indicates wools are lighter with a higher twist. What was once a shorthand label for the feel has now become a way to rank the type of wool going into a suit. What’s more, special sheep have to be bred and managed in order to create the specific fleece. Anything above a 180 will go for top dollar.
Michael Londrigan, dean of students at LIM (Laboratory Institute of Merchandising) College and author of Menswear from Business to Style, says the wool used in a Brioni suit mostly comes from mills in the Biella region such as Lanificio Egidio Ferla SpA or Vitale Barberis Canonico SpA. Manufacturing costs to use these mills can add $700 to $900 per suit.
“Although the garment industry employs technology to create garments, the true craftsman, the tailor, is still a valued role, and if done properly like Brioni, the end product is worth the time,” says Londrigan. “Stitching, attention to detail, exquisite fabrics, the finishing of the garment and just the way it sits on the hanger can make the difference.”
If you want a made-to-measure or “bespoke” suit, get ready to add another nine hours of intense labor and another $2,000, but you can rest assured the suit will be a perfect fit. It will come with custom detailing such as a specific lining, hidden pockets and maybe an extra buttonhole for a flower, if you are that guy.
With so much effort put into creating a suit that’s often described as “a work of art,” would anyone refuse to wear one?
Athanis, a Men’s Wearhouse salesperson who did not wish to reveal his last name, would. “Brioni suits are not for everyday use,” he says. “The wool is way too thin and if you rip it or it gets worn down from too much wear, the cost of repair will run you about the same as the cost of a new suit. Not to mention those suits are cut for skinny men. If you’ve got an American build, you are buying here. If you are a skinny European dude, you go to Brioni.”
Tell that one to Tang’s clients.