Men Shift to Custom Clothiers

Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Roger Torriero glanced at his watch and cut off the business call he had taken in his ninth-floor office at Griffin Towers in Santa Ana. It was time to pick out a pair of pants.

Unfurled on his desk were scores of nubby swatches in European wool and French silk. Forty minutes later, Torriero, a principal of Griffin/Related Properties, had ordered three suits and five shirts from David Rickey & Co. of Costa Mesa.

While retailers bemoan sluggish sales in women’s clothing, menswear sales are jumping. Over the past two years, sales in nearly every category of menswear have increased by 5 to 12% nationwide, according to Ron Arden, menswear director for the California Mart in Los Angeles.

A growing segment of this menswear market is custom-made clothing. According to the Custom Tailors and Designers Assn. of America, sales of made-to-measure clothing have increased about 10% nationwide over the past two years.


Although several businesses in the area have offered custom-made suits and shirts for years--including Gentlemen’s Choice in Irvine and Newport Custom Tailors in Costa Mesa--few men’s boutiques have offered a wide range of custom clothes as well as off-the-rack accessories.

Then last August a swanky custom store opened in South Coast Plaza. Alfred Dunhill, a satellite shop for the 82-year-old London clothier firm, sells custom-tailored suits, shirts and shoes from its 900-square-foot shop with cherry-wood fixtures and brass-lined shelves. Dunhill offers custom wear and off-the-rack apparel, including cashmere sport coats, wool coats and leather jackets.

David Rickey & Co., which also opened last August, has emerged as one of Southern California’s largest custom clothiers. The 2,700-square-foot salon in Costa Mesa features custom-made casual clothes, business suits, shirts, pants and evening wear in addition to a wide range of pricey accessories: $950 shoes, $800 sweaters and ties ranging from $42.50 to $120.

David Rickey is owned by three young partners--David Schwartz, David Heil and Rickey Lamitie--who describe the upscale, prestige look of Orange County businessmen as stylish but not too high-fashion.


“It’s the high-fashion look toned down a bit,” Schwartz, 28, says. “We bring the style down a little so it’s not too New York or L.A. Orange County has its own look.”

In its first year of operation--the partners began visiting clients shortly before the Costa Mesa store was opened--David Rickey has racked up $2.1 million in sales and 1,000 customers, according to Schwartz.

“We are an example of Orange County’s coming of age,” he says. “It used to be if someone successful wanted a wardrobe of clothes on the cutting edge of fashion he was leaving the county to get it, going to New York or L.A. or Europe.

“Now he is able to get the finest here (in Orange County),” Schwartz says. “Also, five years ago there were not the business and social clubs there are now, and with these social clubs come social obligations, which require wardrobes. People are starting to see that we do not all wear overalls and pick oranges.”


Rickey Lamitie says men are taking tips from their wives.

“A majority of our clients have large expendable incomes and wives who have spent quite a bit on their wardrobes for years,” Lamitie, 31, says. “Gradually men are doing the same thing.”

Among David Rickey’s customers are Thomas Tucker, president of Pennhill Co., the Newport Beach developer; Carl Karcher, chairman of the board of Carl’s Jr. Restaurants; basketball player Magic Johnson; Brandy Birtcher, a partner in the Birtcher development firm; Don Christy Jr., president of NADA Appraisal Guides in Costa Mesa; Tony Moiso, president of the Santa Margarita Co., and Randy De Lano, senior vice president of Mission Viejo Bank.

De Lano says “everyone has noticed” his new look since he began ordering from David Rickey. “It makes my life a lot simpler too. I’m hoping soon they’ll just make everything except my shoes and underwear.”


Before discovering David Rickey, Don Christy says he slogged through the shopping centers. “I was having a lot of things made but was also shopping the department stores,” he says. “But once you start buying custom, it’s hard to go back. What they make fits so much better, and you have things you don’t see on anybody else. That’s the part I like the best.”

Customers say one of the biggest draws in going custom is the time saved by not having to shop.

“The saving of time is very, very important,” Torriero says. “And the quality of services, which include them coming to your office and working with predetermined measurements, is essential when you’re busy.”

Schwartz says his clients want total wardrobes created with the minimum amount of fuss--no lengthy consultations or fittings. Most of the transactions are conducted in the clients’ homes or offices, although the store has a roomy shopping area and private fitting rooms for those who come in.


Consultations and initial fittings take about two hours (usually spread over two or three visits), and within four to eight weeks the garments are ready.

“When we started we concentrated on shirts and suits, but in time we realized our clients wanted us to handle everything,” Schwartz says. “Now we do it all, from golf clothes to casual wear to evening wear.”

The majority of the clothes are sewn on the East Coast in European, mostly English, fabrics. Schwartz says customers can choose from more than 4,500 different fabrics.

Prices range from $400 to $3,000 for suits, $85 to $200 for shirts and $500 to $3,000 for evening wear. The lower-priced clothing is generally machine sewn; the higher prices are for bench-made (100% hand-sewn garments).


But the partners say that for many of their customers, money is no object.

“The majority of the business takes place in the upper range,” Lamitie says. “The aim was offering the best because to many of our clients the cost was unimportant. They would come in and ask for the best they could get. . . . I have one customer who spent $108,000 on clothes just in the last six months.

“What’s happening is a lot of men are starting to realize there aren’t that many things other than cars that they can spoil themselves with,” he adds. “But they can spoil themselves with clothes.”