Dubai is a popular city for shopping but is it one of the best cities for bespoke tailoring?
Dubai is a popular city for shopping but is it one of the best cities for bespoke tailoring? Photo credit: Juhn Maing

Confession: I am not actually a believer in “best of” lists and rankings whether they are applied to universities, wines or films. Nor do I put much stock in them mainly because they inhibit any hint of nuance and promote confirmation bias. Yet these very drawbacks also explain I why have decided to concoct my own list of the best cities for bespoke tailoring. Fight fire with fire I suppose.

My underlying motivation is countering the accumulation and accretion of conventional wisdom about bespoke tailoring. This has led to a kind of implicit ranking and reputation of tailors and tailoring traditions built up over the last few decades. In my view, this received wisdom has led to a few unfortunate side effects. One result has been a kind of assumptive complacency about what counts as heritage bespoke tailoring and who fits in the tailoring pantheon. The other is repetitive, almost mechanical coverage of well-known tailors* as opposed to exploratory, insightful coverage of other players on the field.

With this “revisionist” ranking, my hope is that you begin to entertain the possibility of a counter-narrative when it comes to Western bespoke tailoring.

It is perhaps unfair to use a straw man list as a point of departure but it does illustrate both a certain futility and utility in making such lists.

Every year Travel + Leisure publishes a list of the best cities for shopping as voted by readers. Keep in mind this is a “best cities for shopping in general” as opposed to best cities for bespoke tailoring. T+L’s 2018 shopping list looks like the following:

  1. New York
  2. Tokyo
  3. Dubai
  4. Paris
  5. Hong Kong
  6. Singapore
  7. Florence
  8. Milan
  9. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
  10. London

Judged on its own merits the list looks a bit puzzling to me. Dubai’s shopping malls are second to none but is the shopping really better than in Paris? If we narrow our scope further to menswear or bespoke tailoring, the list looks even stranger. Actually, it seems wildly off. In particular, the last place ranking of London needs to be fixed, as well as the complete absence of Naples.

If done with greater focus, what would such a list look like for men’s bespoke tailoring?

Below is my ranking of best cities for bespoke tailoring. This is based primarily on a city’s range and availability of tailors across the full masculine tailoring spectrum as described in SGST. Unlike a ranking based on purely personal preference for certain tailors over others, my ranking is based on a systematic framework and empirical assessment of what I call “tailoring strategies” described in SGST. This is the first assessment of its kind as far as I know.

  1. Sicily (Palermo, Catania, Messina)**
  2. London
  3. Naples
  4. New York
  5. Milan
  6. Florence & Rome (tied)
  7. Paris
  8. Tokyo
  9. Hong Kong
  10. Seoul

In my book, I make the case for Sicily for being in the top three of heritage bespoke tailoring along with Savile Row and Naples. Ultimately, I would posit that Sicily takes the top spot because of its native ability to offer the most diversity across tailoring strategies. London and Naples occupy the next two spots because of their unique heritage and depth in the tailoring strategy they specialize in.

New York is next for its unrivaled (though mostly non-native) access to tailors from around the world including London, Naples, Paris and Sicily (thanks to Sicilian Reserve).

So who are the “best tailors in the world”? Perhaps the better question would be: What are the best cities for bespoke tailoring and bespoke tailors? This more narrow (but still less than nuanced) question is more amenable to ranking because there is a correlation between diversity and choice in tailoring strategies and certain cities with specific tailoring traditions.

In the end, I hope this list spurs you to draw your own informed, thoughtful conclusions based on your experiences. It may even reframe the cardinal question for you. Instead of seeking the “best tailor” or even the best cities for tailors, the more relevant question might be: Which tailoring strategy is the right one for me?

For more detail on the full spectrum of masculine tailoring strategies, below is a video providing a brief overview:

* I would caveat this by saying that any media coverage of artisans, whether established or not, is certainly welcome and beneficial. However, I think the balance has been largely in favor of the known quantities as opposed to the unknown ones in the world of bespoke tailoring. I think it is fair to say that this does a disservice to the artisans who fly under the radar.

** Of course, Sicily is an island not a single city. However, given the much smaller size of Palermo, Catania and Messina compared to their peers, I have taken the liberty of aggregating them to create a more meaningful comparison to mega-cities like London and New York.

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