Picture this: Summer's here, and miracle of miracles, we've actually dieted, worked out and toned our bodies into beach shape. If only our usual wardrobe weren't packed with billowy dress shirts, pleated trousers and last year's (or decade's) blazers.
Luckily, when we were out to lunch with a friend of ours who has got his eye on style, he slipped us a name that changed the way we're dressing: J Hilburn, a bespoke men's clothing company.
When it comes to clothes, we're usually off-the-rack folk. The time it takes to get a custom, handmade garment can be weeks or even months; meaning that by the time we get it, we're already a season behind. Not to mention the usually prohibitive cost. Until now.
J Hilburn is a bespoke mens clothier that operates through a network of "style advisers" based in cities across the country - sort of like how Avon works, but they'll come where you want,
when you want to take your measurements and help you pick out the clothes to order.
Before scheduling our style consultation, we sat down with J Hilburn co-founder, Hil Davis. Far from being a clotheshorse, Davis's background was actually working in a Wall Street investment firm covering publicly traded restaurants and clothing retailers. It was there that he realized what huge markups high-end clothing companies were putting on their wares.
He knew he could do better by dealing directly with the fabric mills and cutting out the middle man of department stores and boutiques. That translates to custom-created shirts starting at $79, a mere fraction of the cost of comparable items from stores like Nieman Marcus and Brooks Brothers.
How did J Hilburn accomplish this? Together with business partner Veeral Rathod, Davis started talking to mills in Italy and enlisted the help of a fashion consultant named Jon Patrick, who worked with Ralph Lauren and authors the popular Selvedge Yard blog. Together, they formed relationships with some of the best mills in Italy - ones that make fabric for venerable brands like Zegna and Ralph Lauren - and came up with a catalog of clothing possibilities.
Though the company started with dress shirts, it quickly added pants and accessories, outerwear and grooming products to its line. It also plans to launch a suit section later this year, and eventually add denim and shoes as well.
J Hilburn Calling!
Flipping through our busy social calendar, we found a free morning and called up our local style adviser to come by our West Hollywood pied-à-terre. The morning of our appointment, a genial young lady by the name of Dawn arrived on our doorstep and proceeded to spend the next hour taking our measurements and walking us through the selection of shirt and pant styles, fits and fabrics, gently guiding us toward cuts that would flatter our body shape, as well as colors and patterns that would complement our complexion. Plus a few that would nudge us out of our style comfort zone.
Davis had told us not to feel bad about playing it safe at first. "Most guys start by ordering a simple blue shirt, but they get bolder over time and start to explore brighter colors and patterns."
However, Davis also notes an evolution most clients experience. "There's a moment when they start to realize that looking good is cool. Most of our clients never had a point of reference before, but once they're in our clothes - clothes that fit better, because fit is the most important thing - they look better, they feel better, and other people tell them so. After that, they can't go back to dressing sloppily."
We like to think of ourselves as adaptable, so we skipped a step in the style evolution process and settled on a slim-cut shirt with a bold gingham-like pattern of huckleberry purply-red and navy blue (it is almost summer, after all) with a spread collar and single-button miter cuffs (to change things up a little).
It was kind of like playing dress-up, but as an adult and with full control over each item of clothing. We thought back to how many times we'd been in a store and wished a certain shirt came in a certain pattern or a certain cut, or how much we would change one or two things about a pair of pants that would just make them perfect. But here was a way to start from scratch with exactly what we wanted, and it wasn't going to bankrupt us! We also coveted a pair of lightweight, flat-front pebble-gray wool dress pants that would dress up with either brown or black (it's good to have options).
A Woman's Eye
We're used to going to a male tailor for our sartorial needs, but J Hilburn's style advisers tend to be women. "It turns out, guys prefer to buy from ladies, especially when it comes to patterns," observes Davis. Maybe it's nostalgia for those childhood shopping trips with mom.
"They also help our clients look at the color guides and be vocal about what looks good on a client, or what he shouldn't get. There's an honesty to the process." Davis points out that the company's style advisers are the touch-point people that the customer develops a relationship with and that they continue to want to buy from.
That must be what's behind the 93 percent reorder rate. Davis also threw in an extra figure, estimating that out of every $100 in sales, he only gets two cents worth of returns. That's a pretty high satisfaction rate. "The key is not cutting corners," says Davis. "We make the same high-quality clothes as the luxury brands and we add in extra touches like metal collar stays and monogramming."
Though the personal relationship between style adviser and client is the hallmark of the brand, J Hilburn has also recently launched an e-commerce component to its site so that busier customers who have already had their measurement consultation can just reorder directly from the comfort of their scotch snugs and cigar humidors.
The new site will also allow style advisers to keep clients up-to-date on new products they specifically might be interested in. It will help customers keep track of their order history and eventually create virtual wardrobes that will help them match up items and create whole outfits from items they've bought - picture the getting-dressed scene in Clueless.
Please, Mr. Postman
After our giddy session with Dawn, flipping through fabric samples and deciding what kind of cuffs we wanted on our new shirt, we anxiously waited for our items to come in. It took just about three weeks and when we opened the signature brown box with shiny blue embossed letters, there were our huckleberry and navy shirt and our pebble-gray pants.
We're getting the pants hemmed, but we've already worn the shirt to several work and leisure functions and it's been getting us a lot of positive attention. Which we like. Davis is right; now that we've worn custom-made clothing, we're not sure we can go back.
For those of you who don't do well with the unexpected, check out the video below to show you how it works. Otherwise, schedule your appointment with a style adviser on the J Hilburn web site www.jhilburn.com.