Looking to blow some really big money on a nice suit?
It's not as easy as you might think. For obvious reasons, most designers and tailors try to keep their prices relatively earthbound because they know the market for suits with sky-high prices is extremely small. But there is a small number of exceptionally well-heeled customers out there — Arab princes, Russian oligarchs, rock stars and corporate tycoons — who will pay a price, sometimes fantastic prices, to get the look they want.
What makes a suit cost upwards of $5,000 and sometimes considerably more? It's a combination of material, labor, skill and not a little egotism. (You have to think you're worth it, after all.) Is there really that much difference between a $2,000 suit and one costing two, three or four times more? To many men a suit is a form of psychological, as well as physical, armor. It not only makes you look good, it can also give you more confidence. "I can afford a $10,000 suit," it makes you think. "And those other chumps can't."
The other question, of course, is where to find such unparalleled threads. A recent meander down Manhattan's Madison Avenue, for instance, revealed that the majority of the fancy boutiques are selling suits that, although not cheap, are hardly in the same league. (For the most part, all the designers in question made their name in women's fashion. A good rule of thumb for men looking to buy a great suit: Don't buy from someone better known for kick pleats and evening gowns.) At Yves Saint Laurent, suits topped out at $2,195 for a blue pinstripe in "year-round wool," with no "made-to-measure" options available.
At Gucci, the last and most expensive of Tom Ford's cutting-edge statements was a grey stripe with Jacquard stitching for $2,600, with made-to-measure alternatives running only 10 percent higher, according to a sales woman. At Dolce & Gabbana, a top-of-the-line black pinstripe went for $2,195.
Valentino had the most expensive off-the-rack "Newman" suit, which sells for $2,695, though made-to-measures apparently can reach $3,500. (Though it says something that Valentino is known for buying his own suits on Savile Row.) Calvin Klein's priciest was a charcoal in "hand-finished wool" for a disappointingly low $1,995. And the designer floor at Barney's was just one big tease, with suit after suit from the likes of Dries Van Noten, Viktor & Rolf, Comme Des Garcons, Helmut Lang and Costume National at under $2,100.
To really make an investment in your closet, your style and especially your image, you're going to have to shop around: to appointment-only master suit makers such as New York's William Fioravanti and Milan's Caraceni; indulgent custom and made-to-measure lines from Kiton, Oxxford and Polo Ralph Lauren; and the sharp-needled institutions of London's Savile Row, such as H. Huntsman and Anderson & Sheppard. There you'll find fits so perfect, fabrics so luscious and prices so impractical, your suit will impress just about anybody — especially yourself.
Just how high do the highest-end men's suits go? Expect to pay a minimum of $3,500 for a truly first-rate custom number, though depending upon the name on the label starting prices can range much higher. Also, don't forget that if you're buying in Europe, the exchange rate of the dollar against the British pound or the euro, makes the ostentatious border on the obscene. But don't expect prices to be particularly lower at some U.S. tailors, either. While H. Huntsman, for instance, asks a princely $4,500 before Value Added Tax (currently at 17.5 percent, putting the total cost well over $5,000) for an entry-level bespoke in Super 100 wool, on New York's Upper East Side, bespoke suit maker Jon Green won't get the fabric rolling for anything less than $5,100 (taxes not included).
Want something a bit finer — or perhaps a whole lot finer? Expect to pay dearly for it, though bear in mind that most of the expense above $5,000 or so is due to the fabric, not the talent of the workmanship. Master tailor and "Power look" avatar William Fioravanti, for instance, charges clients who walk into his Manhattan showroom up to $10,500 to create a bespoke suit in Super 220 merino wool, of which he says $5,000 covers the cost of four meters of cloth — precisely the extra above his entry-level rate. "This year we will sell at least 12 or 13 suits at that price," he notes.
Though doubtless happy to sell them, most highest-end suit makers are realistic about the practicality of such exorbitant clothing. "There's a certain type of customer who thinks fabrics like vicuna are better, but such an expensive suit is not necessarily what I would recommend," says Jay Kos, whose made-to-measure suits start at $3,800 in his eponymous shops in New York. (Like llamas, vicunas are members of the camelid family and live in South America.) "Something in the $4,400 range will have better quality, better drape and a better fit than a suit at twice the price. A true gentleman who appreciates fine clothing is going to go for something classic like an English woolen."
Indeed, bespoke suit-maker Leonard Logsdail, who came to New York by way of Savile Row more than a decade ago, won't even work with such exorbitant fabrics, making his top suit price $5,500. "I only keep Super 180s and Super 200s around as a talking point, because they don't have any guts."
Whatever they're selling, suit makers at the tip-top of the market say that with the economy up off its haunches, business is going well right now. "People are starting to dress up a little more, and I'm getting much more interest from younger customers who are discovering classic clothing than I have before," says Liana Lee, who specializes in the clean-cut British look at her store on New York's Lexington Avenue.
From three stories above Madison Avenue, Jon Green agrees, stressing that the "customer intimacy" he builds with clients through the one-on-one nature of his business keeps them coming back for more. "I have customers who buy 20 to 30 suits a year," he notes, a figure that rises excitedly to "50 to 60" before our conversation is over. Really? "They do it, they do it, they do it," he assures.
Whether you're in the market for one highest-end suit or dozens, we've compiled a list of the 14 most expensive suit-makers we could find. Ranked by starting price, they're also noted by "finishing price" — that is, the highest-priced suit they make "with some regularity." Just be sure you've got enough room in your closet for all these high-priced duds — and that your closet has a lock on it.
© 2012 Forbes.com