Wednesday, August 01, 2007

He bespoke, she got shirty, now she's hooked

Women are challenging men in the made-to-measure style stakes. Rachel Wells reports.
THERE was a time when weeks, often months, would pass before a woman would set foot inside Pino Carbone's Brunswick workroom.

Back in those days — the 1950s and '60s — the tailor, now 67, would spend his days cutting, pinning and stitching made-to-measure shirts and suits for the city's powerbrokers — bankers, barristers, stockbrokers and CEOs — all of whom were men.

"Every now and then we would get one woman, but very few … not like now," says Mr Carbone, who opened his tailoring business in 1957.

These days, well-heeled female clients make up a quarter of his business.

"It has changed a lot. Right now we're doing a lot of work for corporate women like lawyers and managers and successful executives," he says.

"There are a lot of women wanting made-to-measure (garments) now."

Mr Carbone is not the only Melbourne tailor to have noticed a boom in business for bespoke corporate wear for women, which can cost anywhere between $1600 and $6000 for a two-piece suit and from $250 to $400 for a shirt.

Carlo Nave, of Sarti Tailors in the city, says their women's wear business has doubled in the past year.

"I guess there are more and more corporate women out there who are earning a little bit more money," Mr Nave says. "They're up there with the big boys now and they want to dress just as well. They want the same quality that the men are getting."

Property manager Melissa Dunk, 29, is a recent convert to bespoke corporate wear. She owns close to 20 made-to-measure shirts from Zentini, a Melbourne-based business set up just over three years ago that specialises in tailor-made shirts for women.

"You can't beat made-to-measure, because it means you can get exactly what you want, in terms of colours and prints and cuffs and collars. It fits perfectly and it means, at last, we can get the same kind of quality as the guys," she says.

"Some of the clothes that the guys are wearing are phenomenal and, in the past, us girls just had nowhere to go to match that and achieve that same level of professionalism."

Ms Dunk says a growing number of her colleagues are now opting for bespoke over ready-to-wear in order to give the men a run for their money in the style stakes.

"Oh yeah. Everyone's getting into it now," she says.

Herringbone's Josh McNicol says the company's made-to-measure shirting business for women has increased five-fold in the past three years and the company plans to introduce bespoke suiting for women within the next 12 months.

"There are so many variations in women's shapes, particularly in terms of bust size, and so I think women are beginning to see the benefits in paying a bit extra for something that fits properly," he says.

Danielle Marmot, of Bespoke by Ganton, a Sydney-based company specialising in made-to-measure shirts, has also noted a significant increase in female clients and now visits Melbourne up to eight times a year to keep up with demand.

Hemden, in Armadale, says it hopes to offer customers bespoke women's shirting by the end of the year due to the increasing demand.

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