Just what you want

Part 4: Tailor made

In the living room of a hip Toronto apartment, a group of twenty- and thirty- something women try on flouncy tops and admire fabric swatches while they sip lychee martinis and nibble sushi. This is a fashion party: Laura Koot, a newspaper designer, has invited her friends over to meet a fashion designer who creates custom clothing.

After the women settle into their seats, designer Elizabeth Oliveira shows off her samples and explains her fashion philosophy. Clothes should be stylish, comfortable and made to fit your body. Oliveira says it’s rare you will find all three at the mall. “Customizing is just essential,” she says.

Oliveira launched her “clothes catering” company, labl, five years ago. These days, she hosts three fashion parties a month and can barely keep up with the orders. For prices starting at $550 and three fittings, she will design a suit that will emphasize a woman’s best features. Clients become co-designers, approving fabrics and alterations so their garments fit their lifestyles and their exact dimensions.

The approach works for Heidi Carter, a 30-year-old esthetician who met Oliveira through work four years ago. Today, about a third of Carter’s wardrobe is custom-made.

Because Carter is only 5’2″, Oliveira shortens inseams accordingly. “I’m addicted to custom stuff,” Carter says. “She can make pants that perfectly fit. They fit better at the waist, and I can pick out the fabric that I actually want, rather than going into a store and picking from whatever they have.”

Men are also seeking out custom-made business suits and tuxedos. Sam Abouhassan, widely known as Edmonton’s “tailor to the stars,” says the past two years have been the best of his 25-year career. With designer suits fetching more than $2,000, men are realizing they can order custom suits that hang perfectly without paying more. “If you are going to spend that kind of money for a suit off the rack, why wouldn’t you go custom?” Abouhassan says. “None of us is a perfect mannequin.” With classic styles becoming popular again, Abouhassan says his custom service is attracting younger men who recognize the value of hand-crafted finery.

It is wisdom that Vancouver lawyer Alan Schapiro has passed on to his 28-year-old son. When Schapiro was a student, he worked at an upscale clothing store and measured clients for custom suits, but he waited until he was in his fifties to order one of his own. One suit quickly became four, and Alan says he will never buy a pre-made suit again. “I wish I would have done it sooner.”

Schapiro stressed the importance of owning a well-made suit to his eldest son, who is embarking on his own career. He took the advice to heart and ordered his first custom suit in England last year. “I said to him, ‘Don’t be like your dad,'” Schapiro recalls. “‘Start young, set aside money and go get yourself a suit custom made.’ He did, and the suit looks terrific.”

There is no substitute for getting exactly what you want.

Have it your way — these tips can help you get the custom product you want.

Part 1: Introduction Part 2: Furniture Part 3: Jewelry Part 4: Clothes

From the September/October 2004 issue.

Subscribe to MoneySense magazine