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NEW DELHI :

Patrick Grant, creative director of Norton & Sons on Savile Row, a street in London, UK, known for its traditional bespoke tailoring for men, was in India earlier this month to conduct tailoring workshops, titled “Crafting Customer Delight", in Bengaluru, Jaipur, Patna, Kolkata and Lucknow. The aim of the workshops was to train and educate tailors across the country through lectures, demonstrations, mock plays and tailoring guides. These were conceptualized by The Woolmark Co., an Australian firm, in association with Raymond, a retailer of worsted suiting fabrics. In a phone interview, Grant, winner of the British Fashion Council’s Menswear Designer of the Year 2010, explains how the term “bespoke" is sometimes misunderstood and misinterpreted, and why wool is the best fabric for formal suits even in countries like India. Edited excerpts:

Define the term “bespoke" for a layman. Is it different in India?

What it (bespoke) means literally is to select or reserve a piece of cloth for oneself. It is “to be spoken of", or “I have spoken of this cloth". In general, it means every suit has to have a hand-cut pattern, be hand-tailored by the Savile Row method and made there. Savile Row then offers services—general maintenance and alteration and repair. We also keep a record of the cloth. We can go back to the same piece of cloth after years.

But what it means here (India) and everywhere else is different. From what we have seen so far, most of the tailors working in India are not doing it by hand any more. They are using tardy machines and fusible canvases. Hand-stitching takes longer and is more costly. There are cheaper and faster ways (to make a suit), but no better way than making it by hand, which probably takes about three months (per piece).

What is the relevance of European formal dressing in India?

Most countries I have visited have their own historic way of dressing, based on the climate and social situation. But it is a great shame to see extreme Western aesthetic in dressing in some countries. Most formal dressing is dictated by a European sensibility. I would love a mix, a balance of sort. If you look at the photograph of leaders from 20 nations at a recent summit, you would notice most of them wearing the same clothes. You would get more appreciation if you get some tradition into your clothing. Integration of the Western and the Eastern garment can be done in a number of ways. It takes a personal style and a sense of confidence to carry off this integration.

What is the best fabric for suits?

My background is in material science and engineering. I understand fabrics from a micro level. By far the best fabric for warm weather is a fine wool fabric. Somehow we associate wool with knit or insulation. But it is a lightweight, breathable fabric. It can be woven in an open way and still have a robust feel. Twill fabrics feel incredibly smooth and silky. If you feel simple 120s (the number of threads per square inch) twill and 120s fresco, fresco will feel coarser. But that open structure makes it more breathable. Most men walk into a store and ask, “What is the best fabric you have?" What do you mean by “best"? Superfine fabrics are not necessarily the best for suits, and they do not have the longevity. (Choosing) fabric (for a suit) is not based on the price but on the job you do, or your lifestyle.

Do linens work as formal wear?

I love the look of linen. You have to always understand the look and the social context. Linen is a plant fibre. Natural (plant) fibres do not have the natural spring that animal fibres (mohair or wool) have. They cannot bounce back into shape. But it is about what you want from it. Linen will crease. In certain instances, or jobs, it is okay to wear a crumpled suit. For example, in England, if you are going to a polo match in summer, it is perfectly acceptable to wear a linen suit.

Could you list a few suit styles for Indian body types?

It could be any style. But it has to be in line with your body. What we are looking for is balance. The point about going to a bespoke tailor is to make sure this is understood. It’s not about masking the imperfections or flaws or whatever you call them, it’s about working with them. Normally, ready-made suits use the same standard fit. If you find one that works for you, stick to it. Even made-to-measure is all about alterations of a prototype pattern. It is not all measured or made from scratch. So go for bespoke in suits, always.

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