For most of us, a bespoke suit is out of reach. It’s expensive. Most guys probably grab a 40R off the rack, figuring the fit is close enough, and perhaps take it to a tailor for some refinements and hope for the best. These days, we have some terrific – and very affordable – online resources that get us closer to the custom suit experience with more made-to-order refinements in the fit. While we are lucky to have those solid, well-executed and affordable options, there is something irreplaceably special to be said for the hands-on experience with a custom tailor in person.
I had such an experience with Imparali Custom Tailors here in New York.
Matt Harpalani is the extremely personable and knowledgeable tailor-in-residence at the New York extension of Imparali, a family business started in 1967 by his father, Bob Harpalani. Originally from India, Bob Harpalani moved to Hong Kong at age 12 where he started his trade. At 18, he moved to the U.S. and branded Imparali in Florida, ultimately settling in Houston, Texas, where the original Imparali Custom Tailor business lives. Primarily taught by his father, Matt moved to New York City in 2006 to work with a local tailor and learn about the particular sartorial preferences of New York men.
Though he certainly has the know-how and skill to build a suit on his own, his focus these days is running the New York business and tending to customer service out of his intimate atelier at 608 Fifth Avenue, where he oversees the custom making of suits, shirts and topcoats. When you make your appointment, Matt is actually the guy who answers the phone, does your measurements, helps you select your fabrics and customizations, and personally oversees every detail of your custom process.
The typical Imparali customer is the young professional – analyst, associate, banker, lawyer, V.P. – ranging from about 23 to 45 years old. With such close proximity to NBC and all its satellites, Matt also caters to a healthy crop of media men. (At Fifth Avenue and 49th Street, Imparali is literally on the southwest border of Rockefeller Center.)
Then I rolled in…
On my first appointment at Imparali, Matt walked me through the process, from measurement, to fabric selection and customization, to build and fittings, to, ultimately, completion. After Matt took detailed measurements, he helped me select a fabric. I already have an essential navy suit, but I wanted an alternate with a few tweaks. Matt showed me a nice, light, all-season wool/cashmere blend in navy with a beautiful hand. I customized the jacket with a peak lapel, pick stitching, slanted pockets and a ticket pocket, going even further with functional cuff buttons and a working boutonniere on the lapel. For the trousers, I went with a flat front with no cuffs.
Four weeks later, Matt sent me an email telling me that my suit was ready for a first fitting. It was love at first sight as I took in the suit’s beautiful, finely-detailed simplicity. When I put it on, it was nearly perfect. I say “nearly” because I apparently lost a pound or two in the four weeks that had passed since my measurement. Matt took in the jacket around my midsection and the trousers around the waist, and lifted the front of the trouser cuff to give a gentler break over the top of the shoe, leaving the back of the cuffs to hover just over the shoe heel.
The following week, the suit was ready for another fitting. In a word: wow. He was ready to make further adjustments if necessary, but he had nailed it. I had never worn anything that fit this perfectly or felt this good. I was wearing my first custom suit that was made specifically for me, and it felt and looked incredible. Now I just have to make sure I don’t gain a pound.
One of the many pleasant surprises of my custom suit experience with Harpalani was the cost. In New York, London and other capitals of fine men’s custom tailoring, a bespoke suit can run (and even start) well into the thousands. At Imparali, the custom suit prices start at $700 and can run up to about $5,000. What drives up the cost? Fabric. Customization, details and workmanship don’t affect the price, but an extremely fine Italian fabric will. Matt says “the average suit we make runs around $1,000.” My all-season navy wool/cashmere blend put the price tag of my suit at $900. For a fully custom suit measured in person and built by hand, I’d say that’s pretty damn good.
On men and tailoring now, in a time where Mad Men is immeasurably popular, he feels men are definitely becoming more attentive to their tailoring. He further observes that more and more men are paying closer attention to finer details with things like pocket squares and ties. Instead of grabbing any $5.00 off the street, they seem to be giving the choice more careful considerations.
On my last visit to Imparali, Matt and I had an interesting discussion about constraints. Men have fewer options than women when it comes to what we wear. Some may consider that constraint a blessing or a limitation. It turns out that Matt and I are both fans of the constraints of a man’s wardrobe. Those constraints force us to be more resourceful when distinguishing ourselves and expressing some flare. Along with interesting color, fabric and pattern choices, men can get creative with things like ties, pocket squares, cufflinks, shoelaces.
As I mentioned at the start of this piece, most men just grab the nearest fit off the rack and assume it works. (Most American men actually wear suit jackets that are too large.) But another terrific way to work with our constraints and discern ourselves from the crowd is with a truly special suit… one that is beautifully tailored by a master craftsman.
Imparali Custom Tailors
608 Fifth Avenue (at 49th Street)
New York, NY 10020
212-245-5555 or 888-880-SUIT