Old School is the New School
Founded in 2016 by Gordon Alsleben and Stephan Lindblom, Arbiter Bespoke keeps the highest standards of bespoke tailoring alive
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
Those seeking a new suit could beat a path to the literary surroundings of Bloomsbury rather than the gilded streets of Mayfair now that Arbiter Bespoke has taken up residence just down from the British Museum. Founders Gordon Alsleben and Stephan Lindblom had met whilst working at Huntsman on Savile Row. “Over the years we chatted about having our own company and the idea just grew from there” Stephan recalls and in 2016 Arbiter Bespoke was born.
The pair bring differing skills to the table, Gordon is head cutter having been head cutter at Huntsman in 2005 whilst Stephan handles the sales side. As well as Savile Row, Stephan has worked at York based tailors Mullen & Mullen as well as a short stint at Ralph Lauren. Gordon began his tailoring career in 1979, well before the Richard James and Oswald Boateng driven resurgence in interest in this most English of crafts. Over such a long period, he has seen several changes to the trade as the Savile Row houses have grown and evolved, “certainly when I started, all the tailoring for a house was run under the eye of the head cutter, now a house manager or creative consultant has a large amount of influence over the final product.” More quaintly, he remembers that new clients at his first tailors had to show a banker’s reference before becoming a fully pukka customer. Times have certainly changed.
Gordon and Stephan offer a number of tailoring options; full bespoke, a premier made to measure and a standard made to measure offering. For Arbiter’s premier made to measure choice, a full individual pattern is also cut before being sent out to the firm’s workshop to be constructed. Whilst their full bespoke service is fully made in England, Gordon and Stephan use a workshop in China for their other ranges. Like a number of other tailoring firms, they have seen the ever increasing quality and precision coming out of that country. “I have been going to China for periods of time since 1996 and have nurtured excellent relationships with the very best Chinese workshops, I know their capabilities and skills,” Gordon remarks, “you have to know the standard you want, I have found it’s very much about giving them control of the product but to subtly influence how they create it, how the product evolves over time.” Stephan and Gordon remain happy and impressed by the final product.
Given their Bloomsbury Square location, it is perhaps unsurprising that barristers bulk large in the team’s orders book. Conveniently placed for all the main Inns of Court as well as the chambers that cluster around Bedford Row, Gordon remarks many customers just don’t wish to go to Savile Row, “by the time you’ve fought your way into the West End, had to get out of Oxford Circus tube station, Savile Row can be a pain to get to these days; we find many enjoy the less frenetic walk to us.” Certainly since the pair started with a small number of customers, they’ve found the business has grown gratifying well helped by excellent word of mouth. Service remains a watchword, “we’ve even been known to slip round the corner for a quick pint after a fitting or pop open a bottle of Champagne if it’s a client’s birthday” smiles Stephan with a glint in his eye.
With the business now beginning to establish itself, the pair are keen to expand and have just begun to offer women’s bespoke tailoring alongside a female made to measure option. Long known as a tricky area to get right both stylistically and commercially, Gordon had extensive experience in his years at Huntsman working with that house’s band of loyal female custom, “the house had tailored for many women going back to Katherine Hepburn,” he points out, “it’s an area that needs knowledge and experience, to sometimes know when a woman is uncertain about what she’s ordering and perhaps allowing her to come back again to re-look at the baste garment afresh.” Gordon is keen to take an apprentice on in the future though currently, despite interest, “we’re still waiting for right one.” He has seen many excellent young apprentices come through the Row in his time there but is concerned that over the past decade commercial pressures have meant some have been promoted slightly too early and have struggled to fully fill more senior cutter’s roles – especially in an age of higher media exposure and scrutiny.
In an age where too many make rushed and subsequently regretted purchases Arbiter Bespoke has joined the fight to resolutely defend the best traditions of English tailoring, “the satisfaction is about giving people the best,” Gordon comments, “you want a suit that wears well.” With prices starting at £850 for their made to measure, £1,495 for their premium made to measure and £3,100 for completely bespoke – not to mention made to measure shirts as well – a gentle jaunt to literary London may pay stylistic dividends for you.