"A man in a well-tailored suit will always shine brighter than a guy in an off-the-rack suit."
– Michael Kors
This was directly quoted to me by a 15-year-old named Leander. I worked with his mother. Back then I was the director of a mid-sized museum on a college campus and tried to dress the part. Inevitably this kid and I would end up talking about tie bars, monograms, and two buttons vs. the three-button Ivy League suit. He was a curious character; always accompanying his parents to visiting artist lectures, at the bar after chatting up painters from NY while sipping a club soda and lime. We didn’t have kids like this where I’m from. He was distinguished by his spindly frame, uneasily standing in a tall arc like a Giacometti walking into the wind. I never saw Leander not in a tie. He was a miniature adult. His style was somewhere between a disaffected polymath and a clear-eyed troubadour, a tweed clad surrealist complete with a shaggy Britpop bob haircut.
My confusion stems from where I was at that age: sun fatigued and half-crazy running around in fields, wearing dirty sweatpants, playing soccer in the fall and lacrosse once the snow melted. My sartorial sensibilities stemmed from a biannual trip downtown where I’d get new t-shirts, sweats, and shorts from Sears or TJ Maxx. Until I turned 17 and won a classmate’s Ralph Lauren raincoat off him in a World Series bet, every stitch of my clothes was functional. (The kid I won the coat from was Ronald Byrne. He came into school the next day and said his mother was going to kill him, as it was a birthday present. On principle, that coat still hangs in my childhood closet today).
Then I grew up and became a curator. I dressed as though I wanted to be a bookish teenager. Very natty, often checked sport shirts, worn under a semi-coordinated scruffy sweater, along with a slender tie from the Barney’s Warehouse clearance bin, bright-colored patterned socks, and a bright pair of white-walled Jordans. Spidery arms and legs protruding from outlandishly boxy and breezy clothing–the geometric equivalent to David Byrne’s square suit in the Stop Making Sense documentary. At one point the Portland Press Herald named me one of the best dressed men in the city. Yet, that damn kid always one-upped me.
At the college holiday party, I asked Leander what he wanted for Christmas. He beamed and nonchalantly took a step back. With a twinkle in his eye: ‘You’re looking at it.’ Like any proper child he was done with ‘off the rack.’ For three years his Christmas wish list consisted solely of a bespoke suit. The request was accompanied by an evolving list of acceptable couturiers in New York and Boston. They settled on Drinkwater’s, a haberdashery in Cambridge. Walking in they gave him a glass of orange juice with a splash of champagne and began combing through a book with 10,000 fabric swatches available. He opted for a fine-looking 13oz British worsted, minimal sheen, peaked lapels, single-breasted, two-button cut, with slanting flap pockets, and no vent. After three years of dreaming, he could clearly see the suit before stepping foot in the shop. He matched it with a contrasting windowpane wool trouser. It took three trips down to get the alterations just so. Here he was standing 10-foot tall. It was sharp. The intricacies didn’t reveal themselves all at once. Leander was most proud of the high armhole paired with the slim sleeve, his own decisions based on the tailors of Savile Row. He vowed to wear it to his junior high school every day.
After moving out of town I did not keep in touch with Leander because he was 15.
– Daniel Fuller