Among the many forms of self-abuse that we iGents need to disabuse ourselves at some point in our sartorial Ausbildung is the idea that because anything is theoretically possible in custom clothing, we should try for it. We should shoot the moon, ordering complicated details because we’re not locked into the Hobson’s Choice of ready-to-wear clothing, where options like side adjusters, slant pockets, turnback cuffs, and the like just aren’t available. As with other such abuse, I’ve come to believe that the only way past this stage is through sating the urge, and then eventually growing out of it. Learn that life is too short, and focus instead on what styling and detailing you like, what you can’t live without, and stipulate those as you order – if you’re lucky – your third, fourth, fifth items of custom clothing. And hope that in several years’ time, you can look back in amusement on the lengths you went to indulging the initial gratifying, ultimately solipsistic passions of having something made just for you.
I confess to having succumbed in my early orders to these temptations. My first tailor bore with equanimity – and selective inattention – my requests for things like colored undercollars on my early suit jackets, which could only be seen if I flipped the collar up. (In my defense I plead that I’ve never actually turned up any of those collars.) Since custom jackets often come with working sleeve buttons, I did, however, spend a few months leaving one sleeve button unbuttoned, just because I could, until I caught noted clothing author and erstwhile adult film star Nicholas Antongiavanni staring balefully at it the first time I met him. Lesson learned.
Antongiavanni was not around the first time I ordered custom shoes, from the talented Tony Gaziano of Gaziano & Girling. Tony pronounced himself happy to make whatever I wanted, with all the finicky elements I asked for based on a dozen inspirations: a convex half-blacking pattern on the sensually contoured, beveled sole, an especially elaborate and trailing medallion at the toe – itself sleekly chiseled like I’d seen on one of the Japanese shoe collector websites (back in the day, they were all Japanese) – and so on. And (because custom) I asked him to add this punched circular wheeled design towards the back of one shoe. Most ready-to-wear shoemakers use pre-made dies for any of their punched medallion patterns and can’t do a one-off like this. Looking back, the shoes are still as gorgeous as when I received the finished pair a decade ago, excellently fitting, light, able to conceal feet that another shoemaker called “squat” in elegant gracefulness. And I can’t quite remember why I asked for this punched design, except because I could, and it was a pleasure to have the sum total of my whims, all the details carefully trawled from various enthusiast websites and magazines, realized. Come to think of it, the design does look a bit like the symbol of DC Comics hero Martian Manhunter (and like him, the shoes are green – another indulgence), so perhaps I should look for a vintage suit from defunct Savile Row tailor John Jones (or J'onn J'onzz) to wear with it.
Tony’s happy to indulge customers to the point of folly. A Hindu customer once had him add an Om symbol to his pair of custom shoes, realizing only years later the dire irony that it was punched into calf.
Still, a good relationship with a good maker should permit the beginning custom customer to have his overcomplicated, overthought, overdesigned daydreams translated into something both wearable and, even after we’ve outgrown the initial period of wanting every flamboyant flounce possible, bearable. I don’t believe in the timelessness of garments, but we can aspire to having some pieces of clothing we turn to time and again because they feel, somehow, us. Even the bizarre parts.