On a recent trip to Chicago, I attended not only the International Cuff Link Convention and Optimo Hats, but also one of America’s most renowned bespoke tailors, Chris Despos. He sat down with me to talk about tailoring, his career and the characteristics of a true Despos garment. Today, we will share about Chris’s career, his lightweight construction, and his hallmark shoulders before we will focus on the fittings, trousers, details and style in Part 2.
Chris Despos’ Tailoring Career
Chris Despos started his apprenticeship in his father’s workshop in 1972. At the time, his father was offering his clients mostly made-to-measure garments, but Chris wanted to go a step further. Interestingly, he was not into fashion at all, but he was simply interested in working and creating things by hand. Even today, he says that, mentally, he has a “back-of-the-house mentality”, meaning that he enjoys tailoring suits more than the other aspects of running a business.
In any case, he gained a pretty good basis since Despos’ father was a tailor who learned the trade beginning in the 1920’s. Later, he refined his tailoring skills with Frederick Boum, who was 69 years old at the time. In 1978, he studied tailoring from a coat maker who formerly made coats for Caraceni. Neiman Marcus managed to bring this Italian master craftsman to Dallas, and so Chris moved from Chicago to Dallas for a while. Working and learning from all these old school tailors, Chris was exposed to all the vintage tailoring traditions.
Surprisingly, the Chris Despos tailoring business started with an “accident” in 1981, as Chris put it. His girlfriend at the time invited him over to a family dinner. In conversation, her father mentioned that he wanted to buy some new trousers shortly. But when he fully realized that Chris was a tailor he said, ”Why don’t you make me a pair?” Since his heart was settled on Gaberdine, Chris brought the Gaberdine book and they picked out a fabric. “Totally without and thought and no plan” Chris decided to do it on his own. At the time, a certain style had swapped over from California, which was designed by a brand called Hollywood. It was not quite ornate, but hinted in that direction and, therefore, Chris Despos’ first pants had a self belt. Chris delivered the pants to his girlfriend’s father, which kickstarted his business. That night, Chris’ first client met with a friend he had known for 25 years who wanted to know who his tailor was. Happy with Chris’ work, the father recommended Chris, and soon thereafter Despos tailored a dozen trousers, two coats and 12 shirts for this gentleman. The same week, a friend of Chris came to town who ordered another 3 suits from him and that was his first week in business.
Ever since, Chris Despos has always had plenty of work, despite the fact that he never advertised or promoted in any way throughout his career. “It has always been just the word of mouth”.
The Chris Despos Bespoke Suit
When I visited Chris, it was a warm summer day and I wore my lightweight double breasted A. Caraceni coat. He noticed the coat immediately and when we sat down, we talked about it, and he was really enjoying looking at the coat.
Subsequently, we talked about construction, armholes and shoulders of a Despos garment.
With regard to construction, Chris Despos coats are, by default, rather light, and feature a lightweight canvas, which I liked very much. Chris offered to allow me put on the windowpane coat he was wearing that day and, although I am a little taller than him, the shoulder width was right, and despite my sloping shoulders, the coat looked splendid from the back. When I moved around, lifted my arms, etcetera, I noticed that the collar stayed at the back of my neck at all times, despite the fact that the armholes were not super small. Afterwards, we also talked about online style forums and the importance of the armhole. In Chris’ opinion, the armhole is often times overrated, even by the educated iGent, and he was right because obviously I could move around easily in his coat which had average size armholes for a bespoke garment. He mentioned that he learned probably as much about tailoring through the interet in the last decade than all the years before. However, at the same time, he rightly claimed that there are many laymen who think they know how tailoring works, but, in fact, they do not. As a consequence, certain unimportant things are discussed in every detail, while things like the shoulder are disregarded.
Personally, I enjoy small armholes, but the main point was that the shoulders have to be cut the right way, otherwise even the smallest possible armhole does not improve the ability to move. The shoulder of a Despos coat follow the lines of the shoulder which means that if you look at it from the side, they are slightly curved and if you look from the from, they are slightly curved as well. The shoulder is one of the most important things in a coat, because this is where the coat hangs from. Chris Despos showed me some coats and overcoats made of heavier fabric, and if the shoulder is cut right, the garment does not feel as heavy because the weight is distributed evenly.