Selling Sartorial Immortality
Army officer turned tailor Tony Lutwyche continues to expand his US footprint with the opening of his own Madison Street atelier
Article by Rupert Watkins
Even when he was in the 9/12th Royal Lancers, Tony Lutwyche had a nebulous but keen interest in the finer points of men’s style. Smiling, he recalls one of the occasional small pleasures of his time at regimental duty was inspecting newly commissioned subalterns’ various orders of dress. Fast forward many years, this interest has burgeoned, via Soho, Clifford Street and various Saks concessions into a thriving and incredibly high quality tailoring brand. Such has been the success and demand for his immaculately made suits in North America, Tony has recently opened his own atelier at 717 Madison Avenue.
Despite having that London footprint in the past, Tony has found his business has grown at its fastest in the US. Originally in 2010 in Saks Fifth Avenue alongside Edinburgh based tailor Peter Johnson, Tony found his suits were embraced by the sartorially well-dressed over the pond. From the beginning an obsessive eye on the detail and quality of his garments paid dividends, as he bluntly puts it, “you don’t survive there unless you’re good.”
Though Lutwyche has developed a growing core of clients Stateside, Tony believes his biggest issue was – and at times still is – brand recognition. In the UK (and especially writing about this arena) it is all too easy to become blasé about the great tailoring houses and the fact they all have immensely lucrative trunk shows in the US. Yet as Tony points out, when actually in the US, you quickly realise that many august names are simply not known, or if they are, are having to compete to win a different but equally discerning customer against many of the great global menswear names, Brioni, Kiton and Zegna are just three that come to mind.
Two very different dynamics also come to the fore at this point; the nature of how people in the States have traditionally bought their clothes, through the great department stores, and the fact that wealth is distributed very differently to the UK meaning those discerning customers desiring the very best will be spread across the East Coast, West Coast, Texas, Chicago – and they will all seek a subtly different thing in their suits. Many of Tony’s customers are self-made, there is no family history of patronising a visiting English tailor and so the brand has to stand out and tell a sartorially bewitching story to successful clients that want the best but not necessarily the old school, “Lutwyche celebrates true artisan work that is relevant to the world today, it projects a 21st Century elegance” Tony enthuses.
Part of Tony’s success has come from being able to control and streamline his entire offering. He owns his own workshop in Crewe, everything is handmade entirely in the UK to the very highest standards. This in turn means a phenomenally high level of transparency and credibility lie behind the brand which translates into a supremely confident offering. “We are able to offer a unique level of consistency” Tony comments, “it is about far more than just the measuring – it’s ensuring it can be recreated perfectly every time going forward. That the client gets exactly what he wants, every time.” This confidence is critical in the US as this means Tony’s representatives in the Saks stores have utter faith in what they are showing their prized customers.
“Americans like selling and like being sold to,” Tony remarks. This means the triangular relationship between both sales staff and their client base and the sales staff and the brand is critical and rather different to the more two dimensional sales affinity seen in UK high end menswear. In many ways, Lutwyche has earnt its battle stripes in perhaps a more demanding retail environment than exists in the UK; by gaining the loyalty and confidence of Saks staff – who have access to and could turn to any number of other labels – the ultimate customer gains as he is recommended an item that has been held up to scrutiny and compared against many others. Tony also comments this leads to excellent word of mouth recommendations, “the idea – that trust – in the States that, ‘my guy at Saks recommended this and I’m really impressed’ still at times holds a lot of weight.”
Projecting that modern but timeless sense of elegance has been key in Tony’s mind to gaining the trust of today’s new clients. “My suits are for people at the forefront of their modern day roles,” he remarks, “they must be relevant to the environment my clients operate in.” Also though, in a world of ever changing sartorial convention and, dare one say, ever lazier dressing, Tony recalls a conversation with a long term customer. “He suggested that a good tailor is, in a way, selling immortality. When you look back at a photo of yourself decades later – or you are photographed 20 years down the line – you wish to look as sleek, elegant and timeless as possible. People don’t want to look back and see themselves slovenly dressed.” In the western world this translates into a suit; you try to place yourself on the same stylish pantheon as sartorial luminaries such as the Duke of Windsor, Fred Astaire, Steve McQueen in the original Thomas Crown Affair and Cary Grant – you are part of a sartorial tradition bigger than yourself.
Tony first pondered the idea of a stand-alone New York store six years ago. However, only at the end of 2017 did the pieces fall into place and 717 Madison Avenue opened. The shop manager is a former Saks Houston staff member who, in Tony words, “loves the product.” Over 2018, Tony hopes the store will act as a springboard to carefully expand Lutwyche’s wholesale base and build on its existing North American clientele, “we genuinely understand this market.” Chatting with Tony’s marketing man in New York, Tom Mastronardi, the brand is also well positioned to take advantage of evolving high end shopping trends. There are tentative indications to suggest that some high value customers now wish to shop at smaller, more personalised boutiques, adopting a more English approach, “when you need a suit, you go to your tailor” as Tom remarks.
Sitting carefully astride the sartorial Atlantic, Tony remarks that Lutwyche has in many ways had the tricky problem of being a challenger brand in two markets. In the UK it has clearly been competing against the longer established Savile Row houses offering that distinctly English silhouette but with a slighter softer and more comfortable construction. In the States, its competition has been the great Italian tailors such as Brioni and Kiton where it success has come from offering the more structured yet supremely elegant English shape and outline. Certainly having worked in the high end menswear arena in the US for many years, Tom feels Lutwyche’s made in England production base offers something much rarer and has far more gravitas than Italian brands can offer.
Balancing these various tailoring lineages allows Lutwyche to offer the very best – his workshop in Crewe is truly remarkable having visited with the standard of craftsmanship equal to anything seen in any of the tailoring epicentres of the world. Yet one also wonders whether much of Tony’s success both here and in the US is in him seeing where tailoring fits in the bigger picture, it’s not the be all and end all in its own right. As he says “tailoring is simply the frame, my client is the picture. It’s up to me to frame the person to look as good as he can.”
Enquiries: Lutwyche, 717 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10065 / +1 646 850 1440