Over 167 years, Dormeuil has built a reputation as one of the finest suppliers of menswear cloth. Now its chief executive is broadening its reach with a made-to-measure tailoring offer.
The Collins English Dictionary defines an anglophile as “a person having admiration for England or the English”. The description may well have been written with premium cloth house Dormeuil in mind.
Here is a luxury French brand which has owned a mill in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, since the late 19th century; it is a supplier to the world’s top fashion houses, from Chanel to Christian Dior; is on first-name terms with the tailors of Savile Row; and is a 166-year-old family-owned business which has its head office in Paris but schools its sons in England.
While Dormeuil has become an international byword for luxury wools, its ready-to-wear menswear is less visible, particularly in the UK. But now the brand is introducing tailoring to the UK via a made-to-measure service, to be managed by Geko Fashion Marketing, which is the agent for tailoring supplier Bäumler and owns the trend-led Without Prejudice suiting brand.
“Our strength in the ready-to-wear market is in design and an understanding of how garments are made,” says Dormeuil chief executive Dominic Dormeuil. For production of the made-to-measure service, the brand turned to German suit specialist Bäumler.
“If you are a French or English brand the ideal would always be to have a French or UK factory making your tailoring. But, unfortunately, the manufacturing hubs in both countries have deceased,” he says. “We’re not an Italian brand and we don’t have the philosophy of an Italian brand, so it would be inappropriate to choose an Italian manufacturer. Bäumler cares about quality and consistency. It’s important to us that a garment fits perfectly and that a Dormeuil customer would want to come back and ask for the same garment.”
Dormeuil currently generates about 30% of its sales through ready-to-wear, with cloth sales still commanding the lion’s share, although the company predicts that the clothing side could rise to 50% without compromising its attention to detail.
“The strength of the brand initially is through the suit,” says commercial director Frederick Dormeuil. “I can see us developing more significantly beyond tailoring, but it’s not quite there yet. The key is to become expert in a product that is recognised without competing with our specialist tailoring customers, such as Huntsman in Savile Row.”
Besides his uncle Dominic, Frederick is the only family member involved in the running of the brand. Since joining in 2005, he has been pivotal in the development and international distribution of the ready-to-wear collection. The range already includes a sophisticated selection of off-the-peg tailoring alongside the made-to-measure offer, and has a premium casualwear offer which would share rail-space with the likes of Zegna Sport, Façonnable and Dunhill. Already available in 13 countries including France, Germany, Iraq and Denmark, the brand is now planning to launch into China, Japan and South America.
Given the current economic climate and the pressure on buyers to commit to stock more frugally, Jason Gerrard, managing director of Geko Fashion Marketing, believes the timing of Dormeuil’s made-to-measure in the UK has never been more appropriate. “Not only is the made-to-measure service simple to use, but it’s also affordable, provides independents with individuality in terms of merchandise and, crucially, there are no stock commitments,” he says. “Retailers who carry the service don’t place an order until the end customer has paid a 50% deposit.”
Suits are delivered within four weeks of a customer’s fitting. The options are dizzying, taking advantage of Dormeuil’s exhaustive range of cloth options including its seasonal collection, with suits available in two blocks and countless permutations.
The first block, the Alpha, is the more classic of the two silhouettes. With its stronger shoulders and generous fit, the block was developed by Dormeuil’s Paris design team with the average English male in mind. Sitting alongside is the Omega, with its more fitted and contemporary shape.
Each is available as a two- or three-button with single pleat or no pleat. Working cuffs, roped shoulders, AMF stitching and taped seams all come as standard, with Dormeuil’s distinctive houndstooth pattern appearing under lapels. Wholesale prices start from £250 and typical margins range from 2.7 to 3 points.
“The retail price is up to the retailer because of the service-led sale that made-to-measure offers,” says Gerrard.
“The Dormeuil made-to-measure suit is targeted at 35-year-olds and above: men who have been brought up on a diet of ready-to-wear tailoring and are now looking for something a little more special but which is still affordable.” In the UK 35 retailers offer Dormeuil’s made-to-measure tailoring, including Warwicks of Windsor and De Gruchy in St Hellier, Jersey.
The British way of dressing is strict, smart and rigid, therefore cloths must hold, perform and last
Dormeuil’s interest in made-to-measure was ignited by the current chief executive’s father who, according to his son Dominic, was driven by a passion for quality. “My father Xavier’s main achievement was developing the brand internationally, but he also trialled ready-to-wear in the 1960s and was also very interested in the made-to-measure model.”
Xavier brought his family to England during the Second World War, a move that Dominic believes ushered in a new era of creativity into the business while helping to define the French brand’s inherent sense of Britishness. “The heart of the business is British cloth, which is different from Italian cloth in terms of design and construction,” says Dominic. “The British way of dressing is strict, smart and rigid, therefore cloths must hold, perform and last. They tailor well because of the structure and finishing process.”
He believes the trend of globalisation has led to a unique set of challenges for global brands planning their strategies in the economic downturn. “This is the first time that I’ve seen every market affected at the same time,” he says. “But we see our growth coming from France, England and Italy – anywhere where the finest garment manufacturers operate. There is also big growth coming from China, so we are setting up an office there this year.
“In general, the economic crisis means opportunities for Dormeuil. I was recently speaking to people at Christian Dior, which is now realising that it needs to come back to tailoring. It’s the same for other customers, from Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent to Gucci and Chloé, where we’re seeing increased demand for menswear fabrics. In any recession people dress in a more classic way, and designers are res-pon-ding to this. It means more tailoring, which means more demand for Dormeuil.”
1999 President, Dormeuil
1979 Joins Dormeuil, becoming responsible for Africa, the Scandinavian countries, Far East and Europe. Also responsible for the design of cloth collections
1979 Graduates from Leeds University with a BA in Textile Management
Who is your fashion mentor?
Paul Smith, because he has succeeded in bringing fun to fashion. He manages to combine fashion with items that can actually be worn, unlike other designers. His personality goes with his fashion, which means low key but with a twist.
Which is your favourite retailer?
Isetan in Tokyo is the best menswear department store in the world. I just love the fact that the Japanese search for perfection in every area, in the service or the product.
What is the best-selling product you have worked on?
A revolutionary fabric created by Dormeuil called Laser. It was the first high-twist fabric to be made and success was immediate. All the top tailors and garment manufacturers for men’s or women’s wear bought it, and we had difficulty keeping up with demand. The fabric was extremely difficult to manufacture but the performance was simply outstanding.
What has been your proudest achievement?
Maintaining the family spirit and atmosphere within the company, which has existed since 1842.There has always been a particular Dormeuil spirit within the business, which has evolved during the past five generations. All the staff belong to a family and all work towards a common goal which, ultimately, makes them feel special.
What would be your dream job (apart from your current position)?
Champion professional golf player. I love playing golf and started at quite a young age. It is a very challenging sport because a lot about playing well is in the mind, and you are alone in front of a small ball. The playing conditions are always different. A professional golf player has everything: travelling around the world and appreciating nature as well.