James Bond’s suits over the past five decades have come from a variety of sources, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. The most notable providers of James Bond’s suits have been luxury brands such as Tom Ford and Brioni as well as off-Savile Row English bespoke tailors such as Anthony Sinclair, Dimi Major, Cyril Castle and Douglas Hayward. So now you want a suit from one of the same makers who made James Bond’s suits. Should you chose a ready-to-wear or made-to-measure suit from Tom Ford or Brioni, or should you go with a bespoke suit from an English tailor?
Ready-to-wear vs made-to-measure vs bespoke
Tom Ford and Brioni produce ready-to-wear and made-to-measure suits whilst proper English tailors—such as the tailors James Bond has used—make bespoke suits. Brioni also has a bespoke service available in Milan and Rome that has been used for the James Bond films.
Ready-to-wear suits are suits in standard sizes and lengths that are already made, which can be altered. You are limited to the cloths and cuts already made. Brioni’s cuts are somewhat full while Tom Ford’s cuts have a lot of waist suppression, but both have a variety of models with different fits. A full-cut suit can be taken in more easily than a more fitted suit can be let out. Even with tailoring, a full cut suit will almost never be able to have the kind of shape most Tom Ford suits have. There are limits to alterations. But for some people, the right ready-to-wear suit can have an almost perfect fit.
Made-to-measure suits start with the ready-to-wear suit models a brand sells and alter the pattern at the factory for a better fit than can be achieved by altering a ready-to-wear suit. Made-to-measure also allows you to chose from a variety of cloths as well as from different details, such as vent styles, pocket styles, trouser front styles, side adjusters or belt loops, and much more, depending on the made-to-measure system. You are limited to what the made-to-measure system can do, both in the ways the pattern can be altered and in the styles that are available. If you like either the Tom Ford or Brioni aesthetic but can’t fit well into their ready-to-wear suits or want something slightly different from what they offer ready-to-wear, you can take advantage of their made-to-measure programmes. Made-to-measure suits typically come in eight to ten weeks.
Bespoke suits are something entirely different from made-to-measure. What sets a bespoke suit apart is that a bespoke tailor makes a unique pattern for the client. Bespoke is about the process to achieve the best fit, including the tailor draughting a pattern for the client and having multiple fittings. The biggest downside to the process is how long it takes, which can be anywhere from two months, for uniquely fast tailors, to a year, if you must wait for a tailor’s overseas visits.
A bespoke tailor knows how to make a suit that will best fit and flatter the client, and this is the reason to go bespoke over made-to-measure. But just because a suit is bespoke, it doesn’t mean you have free reign to specify whatever you want. When it comes to Savile Row bespoke suits, different tailors will take different amount of input from the customer.
Most English tailors have a house style. The house style primarily refers to the silhouette, which includes the shoulders, chest and overall shape of the jacket and trousers. For instance, the house style of Anthony Sinclair (Sean Connery’s tailor in his James Bond films) is defined by soft shoulders, roped sleeve heads, a full chest and a low button stance. The house style does not usually refer to single-breasted or double-breasted, the number of buttons on the front, the number of vents in the back or the style of the pockets, though every tailor has their defaults. If a tailor has a very specific house style, like H. Huntsman’s famous single-button jackets, that’s always flexible. You can tell any tailor you want a suit with two buttons on the front, peaked lapels, two vents in back, a ticket pocket, no pleats on the trousers, side adjusters on the trousers, and so on. But how those things are done are usually up to the tailor, who may determine where the buttons are placed, how the lapel notches and peaks are shaped, how the pockets and side adjusters are crafted and where they are placed, and how much taper the trousers will have. A bespoke tailor should consider the client’s opinion on some of these matters, but the client should also ensure that he likes and agrees with the tailor’s style before bespeaking a suit.
Choosing a suit by style is a personal decision. Tom Ford’s style is very different from Brioni’s. Both Tom Ford and Brioni have different models you can choose from, for different styles and different silhouettes. With their suits you can see what you’re getting without any question. Tom Ford’s suits are mostly influenced by English tailoring while Brioni is purely Italian. Both are very structured suits, but Tom Ford makes a rather stiff and heavy suit whilst Brioni’s tailoring is much softer and lighter. Despite the shrunken suits we’ve seen Daniel Craig wear as James Bond in Skyfall and Spectre, Tom Ford’s suits are not meant to fit like that. They are meant to be fitted and are shaped conform to the body rather than fight against it. Most of Tom Ford’s models are decently, but uniquely, proportioned.
Bespoke tailors, like ready-to-wear brands, often have their own, unique house styles. They typically have examples of their house style on display, though how a house style translates to each person’s body isn’t always so clear. When choosing a bespoke tailor, being familiar with their house style is very important. There is much variety in the cuts different English bespoke tailors make, and on a walk down Savile Row—London’s iconic street of tailors—you can see a wide variety of cuts. Off Savile Row you can find an even wider variety of cuts.
As I wrote above, getting a bespoke suit does not mean you can ask the tailor to make whatever style you want. One tailor cannot always cut a suit in the style of another tailor. Straight shoulders with roped sleeve heads are made much differently from soft shoulders with natural sleeve heads, and English bespoke tailors usually specialise in one style or another and will only make small changes from their speciality. This is sometimes due to the tailor’s ability and often due to the tailor’s opinions. If you ask a tailor who makes heavily padded shoulders to make a suit with unpadded shoulders, he’ll likely tell you to find a different tailor because it’s neither what he specialises in nor what he believes in. You wouldn’t ask Picasso for painting in Monet’s style. Tailors always have their own innate ways of doing things, and that’s just the nature of being an artist. A good tailor is judged in his ability to fit a suit, not his ability to cut in a wide variety of styles. But there are tailors and firms that are very flexible, though it’s best to not test their flexibility until you’ve already had a suit made by them.
You cannot go to any bespoke tailor and ask for a suit that looks like a Tom Ford or Brioni suit. It’s an insult to tailors who have a house style they are known for, which would be any bespoke tailor in Mayfair. However, Tom Ford is very much inspired by the Savile Row tailors who specialise in more structured cuts. You could go to Maurice Sedwell or Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row and get something very reminiscent of a Tom Ford suit. Edward Sexton and Chittleborough & Morgan off Savile Row can really give you the Tom Ford Windsor look, which Tom Ford stole from them. With these tailors you can get a bespoke suit for the same price as Tom Ford with the Tom Ford look and yet a personalised fit. Though you won’t have the Tom Ford “street cred” from a bespoke tailor, you’ll be getting something more special and more unique to you.
If you want the shrunken look from Skyfall and Spectre, most bespoke tailors with any reputation probably won’t do that but I’m sure some will. For the most ease in getting this look, you’ll have to get a size too small from Tom Ford instead. Also, many English tailors also may not be willing to tailor a jacket with the lapel cleanly rolled to the middle button like on the Tom Ford suits in Quantum of Solace and Spectre. The English drape tailors are the most likely to make this style, though they do a softer cut overall than the military and equestrian tailors Tom Ford’s cuts are more inspired by.
Brioni’s master tailor in Rome Checchino Fonticoli fitted Pierce Brosnan for at least some of his Bond suits in a bespoke manner. A bespoke suit from Brioni will follow Brioni’s style and resemble the style of their ready-to-wear and made-to-measure suits, with the differences being in the way the suit in fitted. Small adjustments are possible from Brioni’s house style, such as the lower button stance costume designer specified for Brosnan’s suits in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies. For other bespoke alternatives to Brioni, Roman tailors such as the various Caracenis make a similar style, but they won’t be the same.
Tom Ford, Brioni and English bespoke tailors all make high quality suits that should last decades if the cloth is hardy enough. This means not getting suits in delicate high super number wools or cashmere. The handwork on Brioni is the best of any suit James Bond has worn. But Tom Ford suits also feature excellent handwork and may be better than the handwork on many Savile Row suits. Savile Row tailors have been paying more attention to finer points of quality in recent years to compete with the type of craftsmanship found in Italy, but the British were never known for the same attention to detail as the Italian are. The attention put into Tom Ford, Brioni and English bespoke suits is all on high enough a level that it should not be a deciding factor when choosing between them.
Many people make the mistake of comparing Tom Ford suits to Zegna suits because the Zegna factories in Switzerland and Italy produce Tom Ford suits. A Tom Ford suit is not a more expensive Zegna suit. Ermenegildo Zegna mainline suits are of excellent quality but nowhere close to the quality of a Tom Ford suit. The rare Ermenegildo Zegna Couture line quality is at the same level as Tom Ford’s quality, but the price is also at the same level. Even though the price and quality of a Zegna Couture suit and a Tom Ford suit are comparable, they are considerably different suits. Tom Ford’s suits are unique to Tom Ford and are very different from anything you’ll find from Zegna. They are designed by Tom Ford. Tom Ford’s suits are influenced by English tailoring whilst Zegna’s suits looks decidedly more Italian. Tom Ford suits are made from exclusive cloths designed by Tom Ford that you won’t find Zegna’s suits made from.
One area where English bespoke tailors excel is in the shaping of their suits. They will stretch and shrink the cloth to get it to fit a person’s body in ways that only bespoke tailors can do. They also use internal padding and canvas to shape a suit to a client in a personal way that factory made suits like Tom Ford and Brioni cannot. Bespoke tailors know your body whilst made-to-measure factories reduce your body to mere measurements and variations on their standard pattern. This personal attention that goes into a bespoke suit is an immeasurable quality. Tom Ford suits, however, come close to English bespoke suits in the amount of shape they have. They have more shape than any other factory-made suit I’ve seen and are the closest thing to an English bespoke suit. Brioni does not come close. A Brioni suit, however, will not feel as stiff and structured as the typical Savile Row or Tom Ford suit, but it also won’t conform to the body in quite the same way.
When deciding which James Bond-level suit-makers to purchase a suit from, fit and style should be the defining factors. Get to know which style you like best and which works best for your body. If going with Tom Ford or Brioni ready-to-wear, your choice should be first what fits you best and second what you like best.
The values of Tom Ford, Brioni and English bespoke are difficult to compare. They all cost in the same price range. Some will say that English bespoke is the best value because it’s being made especially for you. The same could be said for bespoke Brioni. But if you really want a ready-to-wear suit from Tom Ford or Brioni and it fits your body type well, that’s what you should get because it will be more meaningful to you. As I mentioned above, there are bespoke tailors who make suits that very closely resemble Tom Ford’s, but true Tom Ford suits are still unique in the own ways. Brioni suits are also unique, whether they are ready-to-wear, made-to-measure or bespoke. Other bespoke tailors in Rome—and maybe some in Milan—can make a suit that looks similar to Brioni, but Brioni still has their own unique way of constructing a suit.
You may have an odd body type and truly need bespoke, or the right ready-to-wear suit with a few alterations may be a perfect fit for you. Tom Ford’s dramatically-shaped suits work better on Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace than Brioni’s boxier suits do in Casino Royale. The soft shoulders that are a part of Anthony Sinclair’s house style looked great on Sean Connery’s already imposing physique, but Pierce Brosnan benefited from Brioni’s typical shoulder padding to build up his slight physique. The right suit may help you look more like your favourite James Bond, but also be aware that what your favourite James Bond wears may not make you look like him.
So who wins between Tom Ford, Brioni and English bespoke? There’s no clear winner because they all make superb suits and you should get what you want. With my fit-first mentality, bespoke always wins.