By Christian Chensvold
When all around us are signs of casual dress slippery-sloping its way into a yawning abyss, what would make a Millennial launch his own custom-suit business catering to that tiny slice of the men’s wear pie that can afford $5,000 suits?
Precociousness combined with a touch of insanity, most likely. But that's exactly what Paolo Martorano did last October at the tender age of 25. After five years in the made-to-measure department at Paul Stuart, then one year at Dunhill as head of bespoke and MTM for North America (which, he jokes, consisted of one store), what's the sense in postponing your dream when you already know what it is? "There are just too many obstacles at a large corporation," he says, "and I wanted to be in control."
There was also more logic to it than lark, Martorano says. He doesn't see any growth on the horizon among established retailers. "The high-end consumer wants to work with the person making the product," he says, "and the lower-end wants more bang for the buck, and I'd like to think that I'm in between and can work with both." Also, big spenders respect independent entrepreneurs. "I get more referrals than I did working for the bigger brands, because clients enjoy helping and working with someone who's on their own. So far things are going well, better than expected."
Martorano rented an office in a fine Midtown Manhattan high-rise that can comfortably squeeze in three people so long as no one's had lunch yet. But the modest accommodations mean the customer isn't paying a real-estate surcharge as he does with luxury retailers. "I'm able to give people a much more competitive price," he says.
Raised on Long Island and descended from three generations of Neopolitan tailors, Martorano is oddly enough not a fan of Naples style, finding it a bit too casual for New York, where customers of custom clothing want something more formal. His house suit style features a natural shoulder and slightly roped sleeve with an "extremely high" armhole. There's no drape in the chest and there's a lot of shape, "but it isn't overly designed and complicated," he says. "I want to represent something, but I don't want to alienate people. There are a lot of guys trying to copy the Neopolitan fad and it's just ridiculous." And like a true bespoke tailor, Martorano believes that the client's physique should dictate the most flattering cut options.
Available fabrics come primarily from English firms. As for manufacturing, everything is made in New York City, spread among several contractors, one of whom, a hobbyist with a day job, does great work though a suit takes six months. Martorano uses a different tailoring shop for quicker-turnaround orders.
The next step of the next level is to start offering a bespoke raincoat program with Loro Piana fabrics and a special tailoring shop he found. The price of staying dry in style will run $3,000, he says, which is not so expensive as to rain on the parade of his upscale clientele.
Man About Town is an ongoing series of dispatches from New York-based men’s wear writer Christian Chensvold. A longtime Apparel contributor, Chensvold is the founder of Ivy-Style.com, a contributor to The Rake, The Wall Street Journal and Ralph Lauren Magazine, and is the author of "The Stylish Life: Golf."