Men who call Brian Kisimba their personal tailor don’t mind the price tag that comes with his bespoke suits. For them, 350,000 Sh a piece is a small price to pay for their personal style.
Kisimba runs Caliber Bespoke, a fashion house steeped in the Savile Row tradition. Mayfair Street in central London is best known for its traditional tailor-made tailoring for men.
“We’re very cheap, actually. Our starting price is 350,000 shillings… we have fabrics that cost at least 1.4 million shillings, and some can cost you over 2 million shillings, ”Kisimba said. Financial standard from his trendy office at The Werks in Lavington, Nairobi.
On this day, he wears a well-cut bespoke lazuli blue suit with invisible stripes that costs £ 5,672 (Sh 845,000). Its fabric, he says, weighs 260 grams, ideal for Kenya’s tropical climate.
Kisimba cuts the image of a debonair Englishman with his dapper suit, designer glasses and refined British accent, which he acquired during his stay in the UK to learn his trade.
With the flippant mention of the price tags of his costumes, it’s hard to know if he’s going too far. But then again, Savile Row standards are not for the average man. ?
As a “head cutter” at Caliber Bespoke, Kisimba anchors his company on the standards of bespoke handmade suits in places like Savile Row in London, Naples in Italy or 510 Madison Avenue in New York.
For this interview, he impeccably displays a catalog of top quality imported fabrics and buttons on a large table in his office. On the one hand, expressive Italian fabrics and on the other, refined English fabrics. Kisimba says a book is judged on its cover and that the rich are very picky about their tastes.
“A costume is more than a collection of clothes; it is an identity marker. It says who you are and what your values are without you having to describe it yourself, ”he says.
Kisimba’s love for a well-cut suit began while he was studying at Strathmore. He immersed himself in the study of men’s fashion, the evolution of style over the years, presentation and how it affects the overall perception and delivery of his message.
However, his moment of truth came when he traveled to London – the menswear capital of the world and visited Savile Row. The street is home to renowned bespoke clothing houses that have been in operation for years, such as Huntsman & Sons.
“It was what I had been looking for all my life, the vibe of the streets and the way people behaved,” Kisimba says.
He then hired Maurice Sedwell, one of the finest sartorial houses located at 19 Savile Row. Run by master tailor Andrew Ramroop, part of his clientele includes the British Royal Family and is also the originator of the prestigious Savile Row Academy, which transmits tailor-made tailoring craftsmanship.
Here, Kisimba began his apprenticeship. “It was about mastering the profession and transforming it into a business. When I returned to Kenya, I could only think of executing it, ”he recalls.
He said that in London he met African buyers, which inspired him to move to Kenya to meet these clients.
“The biggest obstacle was convincing people that the product would match the quality they were getting abroad,” says Kisimba.
He says he received referrals from Saville Row in the wake of Covid-19, with people around the world unable to travel due to travel restrictions between countries.
The commercialization of the costume has seen the art of tailoring slowly fade over the years, with people now buying them in stores. They are ready to wear and intended for the mass market.
A bespoke suit – precise in details such as stitching and the use of luxurious fabrics – is personalized to the client’s measurements and body type.
“Individuals, especially the wealthy, want clothing that is synonymous with their identity, that describes who they are, their values and that is meticulously designed so that the wearer does not have to comment. ”
Kenya’s super-rich, like former Attorney General Charles Njonjo, are famous for having their costumes made in London.
Others, like the late billionaire industrialist Chris Kirubi, wore Brioni suits that cost even 1 million shillings, with the Italian fashion house’s master tailor having his measurements.
Tailored tailoring feeds more than the masculine vanities of the super-rich.
The epitome of success is seen in their ability to get to Savile Row to have their fittings done by knighted tailors.
The age range of Kisimba clients is between 30 and 80 years old – relying heavily on the over 50s.
They are tasteful individuals who are well exposed and traveled. They are a mixture of old and new money. They are not looking for something trendy, but a personal touch. “They understand what they’re paying for, so it’s not a hard sell for them,” says Kisimba.
Prior to Covid-19, Kisimba had rented a large space for its services but had to downsize when the pandemic struck as the number of customers dwindled.
He says most of his clients also prefer personal visits to their office or home.
In a month, Kasimba makes about three costumes. He insists it’s not so much about the number of clients but the value they bring to the company, adding that he counts President Uhuru Kenyatta among those he has served in the past. .
“I don’t advertise on behalf of our clients. I don’t use them as props for our business, ”Kisimba explains.
The majority of his clients, he adds, include senior executives, heads of institutions, investment bankers and members of boards of directors. Others are high-flying businessmen.
He says he doesn’t like working with politicians, who in his books are the biggest failings.
Kisimba also doesn’t rely on social media to market his business, but does things the old-fashioned way, including sending hand-signed sealed letters to clients.
“We’re not on Instagram or active social media because our main customer base isn’t there,” he says.
He says his household identity is predominantly English, although he is able to pull off that occasional Italian cut.
Italian (Neapolitan) costumes are more expressive and have more exaggerated shoulders and a more cinched waist.
Kisimba’s suits are adapted from the Thompson fit system, with his generous cuff style, a subtly tapered waist, which he says is meant to provide comfort without compromising on fit.
As the interview progresses, it shows off one of his most expensive fabrics – Georgia Gullini’s selected heirloom, made in Italy.
A full costume of this fabric will cost 1.4 million shillings. It can cost 30% more if you want it personalized or detailed like Njonjo’s costumes, which have his initials in the stripes.