Crisis? They want to dress up for it

Toby Luper, couturier to the stars and head of one of the UK’s top tailoring businesses, on why work attire becomes increasingly important in tough times.

By Candice Krieger, September 28, 2010

The world may still be recovering from a financial crisis but that has not stopped businessmen across the globe from splashing out on bespoke suits. In fact, according to Leeds-based veteran tailor Toby Luper, work attire becomes increasingly important in a recession.

He says: "Over the years I have always noted that suits have become more important to people when times are difficult. It gives them confidence, certain gravitas and credibility.

"I believe people don't cut back on buying suits in hard times. If you are in business today, you have to have a differential - something that makes you stand out. There are very few things that a man can do to himself make him look good. Men don't wear different jewellery or handbags to dress up a look, so the suit is a very important accoutrement."

It is perhaps unsurprising then that Mr Luper's business, Hemingway, which offers bespoke and made-to-measure clothes, is somewhat in vogue at the moment. He says: "We are picking up new clients every week." Launched four years ago, the firm has more than 170 clients across the globe, including premiership footballers, sports stars, TV personalities, bankers and royalty. Mr Luper, 57, prides himself on visiting all clients personally. "I will see people at 6am, 9pm or at the weekend. I go to them. That's the basis of the whole business model - around convenience and value for money." Hemingway, which makes around 30 suits a month, does not supply stores, only individuals.

Mr Luper has been working in the textile industry for more than three decades. He spent a majority of that time working with his brother John, manufacturing made-to-measure suits. But he was forced to change direction in 2004 after his brother was murdered during a robbery at his home. "When something like that happens to you, your whole life changes. It was like losing my right-arm.

People are still spending money on suits, says Leeds-based tailor Toby Luper of Hemingway

People are still spending money on suits, says Leeds-based tailor Toby Luper of Hemingway

"I closed everything down and thought about what I would do next. The only things I knew about were property and clothing. So I decided to go and make things by hand."

Mr Luper, who has been trading solo under the Hemingway brand since 2006, says he can spend up to around 55 hours making a bespoke suit, costing from £1,950.

A Carmel College old boy, Mr Luper started in the textile industry aged 19 after abandoning his law degree because he "got bored with it". He went into business on his own selling some of his father's redundant stock from a small, rented warehouse. He sold that company and, at the age of 23, joined his father in the family firm, Executex Clothes Plc. "He handed me a brush and told me to go and sweep the warehouse." He continued working there until 1991 when the loss of a major contract with Burberry forced the company into liquidation.

Fortunately, the father-of-two says Hemingway has not suffered in the recent global crisis. "Obviously I have had to work a lot harder. People are still buying but they are maybe spreading it out over the year as opposed to buying a few in one go.

"There is plenty of business about. You just have to get up and go for it.

"It's exciting times. There aren't many people starting new businesses at this time."

And the bullish Yorkshireman has been launching a series of expansion initiatives. He has teamed up with Jaguar to give car buyers a Hemingway "suit in a box" - something he is planning to roll out nationally. Together with a former client, he has also established the Hemingway Club, a lifestyle management service. Membership prices range from £600 up to £2,400. As for other opportunities, he cites made-to-measure ladies' suits and made-to-measure jeans as growing areas - a service he soon hopes to launch.

Asked if he can compete with the likes of high street retailers TM Lewin and Pink, he remains just as positive. "It's a different product. There is room for everybody in the market. Mine is a very niche market. It's highly geared to personal service and convenience."

And what about competition from China for cheaper manufacturing? "You can't tell people where to buy their products. I believe my bespoke workroom is one of the best in the world. You get what you pay for.

"There is nothing wrong with buying a product from China. One particular Savile Row tailor is already buying garments from China. My made-to-measure products are from abroad, so I can't saying buying from abroad is wrong, it's not wrong. But what I do object to is some tailors advertising their product as bespoke when it's not bespoke. You can not buy a bespoke suit for £400 to £600. It's impossible."

Last updated: 11:22am, September 28 2010