What do you think of when you picture a three-piece suit? A strangely formal creature seen only at christenings or funerals? Or a symbol of the old corporate world, where rotund, chalk-striped men sit in corner offices or mahogany-lined members’ clubs?
From London’s Berkeley Square, in a studio lined with mannequins and hissing steam irons, Savile Row-trained “men’s couturier” Michael Browne is working to change the fusty perception of the three-piece suit – in fact, he’s adding to it. “I meet so many guys who think suits are for work, but I don’t design work suits,” the 37-year-old says. “My five-piece is a response to this: it’s an elegant, functional, modular, tailored wardrobe, designed to be worn every day and anywhere you want.”
Browne’s suit includes a couture tailored jacket and waistcoat (designed to be broken up and worn casually) with two pairs of trousers. One pair is pleated and high-waisted to wear with the waistcoat and jacket, the other is flat-fronted, tapered and features jodhpur pockets to wear on its own. The pièce de résistance, though, is the Stealth Coat, a minimalistic overcoat with a sleek revere collar, cut close to the body to wear either over the suit, or with a hoodie or sweater beneath.
Each element is made from luxurious wool crepe with a matte finish and natural stretch – the kind of fabric you’d expect to find in Chanel or Dior’s couture collections. “The crepe’s comfort factor and stretch is incredible,” Browne says. “I sourced it for those guys who just think of suits as a uniform. I want the client to put this on and feel like he’s not wearing a suit at all.”
It’s an approach to tailoring that sets Browne apart from other makers. He spends an average of 200 hours on each design, and requires multiple fittings with his clients (Savile Row houses typically spend 60 to 80 hours on a suit). Tailoring aficionado and founder of Permanent Style Simon Crompton explains how these hours add up: “Michael has basically gone back to square one to refine his process, which very few tailors ever do. Generally, they rely on traditional methods or outsourcing parts of the making process because they have big workshops. Michael is shaping and overseeing everything himself, with a small team, and controlling everything from start to finish. As a result, you’re basically getting the finest quality tailoring you’ll get anywhere – but with a fresh eye for design.”
Often bespoke tailors can be talented craftspeople but poor designers, whereas Browne knows how to fine-tune a garment’s proportions. Jackets feature razor-sharp shoulders and fluid hourglass waists, while lapels sweep across the chest and trousers hang perfectly from the natural waist.
Browne first learned to cut patterns with the bespoke team at Paul Smith, before moving to Chittleborough & Morgan on Savile Row, where he worked for eight years under tailors Roy Chittleborough and Joe Morgan, former colleagues of Tommy Nutter and Edward Sexton. Browne left in 2017 to launch his brand and hone his own approach to hand-making clothes; he’s since built up a steady roster of clients under his own name, including VIPs like Skepta, who regularly wears a black leather blazer by Michael Browne while performing.
“I try to approach my work with an artistic perspective,” he continues. “I’ve always wanted to create a brand that represents true high-end craft but also that’s cool, that’s stylish, that you want to identify with and is going to be current. Brands like Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford create a universe; I want to do that for clients but on a personal, intimate level – shaping your wardrobe one-on-one.”
I ask Browne why he prefers to call himself a couturier over a bespoke tailor: “It gives you an idea that you’re coming in for something elegant, personal and something that’s made at a super-high level,” he says. “The word ‘bespoke’ is oversaturated now. Here, when a client comes in, whoever that person is, I’m going to create around them as an individual – around their lifestyle and their needs – to make a garment that’s the best it can be for them. That’s what I love to do.”