Go for a Sunday stroll in Paris from Bastille all the way to the Champs-Élysées, and you’re guaranteed to run into at least one other person wearing the same flower-print Zara blouse as you (true story – it’s happened to me). But walk down the Boulevard Haussmann – or any other street in the world for that matter – wearing a custom-made design, and count how many heads turn.
That's exactly what I did when I spotted Belotie on a balmy summer day, walking regally down a tree-lined street in Paris' trendy Marais neighborhood, wearing a dress unlike anything I’d ever seen before. “I bought the fabric in an African boutique in the 11th arrondissement, and went to go see my tailor,” she told me. “I explained to him what I wanted, and voilà! It’s important to me not to blend into the crowd with the way I dress – I want to be different, to stand out.”
It occurred to me that some of the most beautiful dresses I’ve seen have been custom made: my French teacher’s cherry-red qipao from when she lived in Beijing, my friend Julia’s patterned shirt dress that she designed with a Ghanaian tailor. But Belotie’s summer number got me fantasizing about creating one of my own. I began to wonder how do you go about getting a custom-made dress? And in our age of fast-fashion, what could a slower, personalized sartorial experience offer that Zara can’t?
So I did what any fashionista living in the world’s most stylish capital would do: consult with one of the many tailors specializing in custom-made clothing in the city. Monsieur Tausan has been in the business since he was 14 years old, and he walked me through everything you ever wanted to know about getting a bespoke summer dress like Belotie's, or any other item of clothing you can dream up.
How does it work?
First, bring your tailor a model of the design that you want as well as the fabric that you would like to use – this is so that they have a clear idea (or at least a starting point) for the garment you want made. "It's better to bring a physical model instead of a picture or a sketch," Mr Tausan explained to me. "Otherwise, the design process takes much longer and becomes too expensive for the client." Next, you'll work together on any modifications you want to make to the design, such as whether you want to change the neckline, the waist, go longer or shorter. "I'll usually call my clients in for two fittings before I complete the final version so that I can see the modifications on them. If everything goes well, the entire process takes about a week." As for the price, he specified that it depends on the individual tailor: Mr Tausan calculates his prices based on how much time it takes to make, and how difficult it is to do. "For a summer dress, I could charge from $250 to $400."
What is the secret to creating the perfect dress?
As it turns out, it's all about the material: "for the summer season, use fabrics that are light and flexible – cotton, mixed-cotton fabrics or linen," Mr Tausan advises. "Polyblend may look nice, but the fabric isn't very breathable. With cotton, the air passes through." Lace can also be lovely, but he cautions against creating a design that is too see-through. So what is one of his favorite fabrics to use? "I recently worked on a dress that was cotton mixed with silk, and I loved the result – very beautiful and fluid.”
any advice for a first-timer?
First of all, Mr Tausan stresses that you "[need to] give your tailor ample time to work on your garment." Even if the actual creation process only takes a week, that doesn't necessarily mean your tailor will immediately have two weeks to work on it, as they may have other projects scheduled in. If there is a particular date that you need your clothing for, allow for at least a month for it to be made – or even longer if it's a complicated design. Also, don't show up without a specific end result in mind: "what fabric and design do you want? Will it be for everyday wear or going out at night? [A tailor needs] to know all these things."
What makes a custom-made garment so special?
It all comes down to wearing something that was created uniquely for you instead of wearing the same clothes as everybody else. “When you get a custom-made garment, you choose the fabric, the colors, the design, how it fits your body – everything," Mr Tausan told me. "The women who come to see me could go to H&M and get something for half the price, but they don’t want to dress like every other person on the street. It’s an entire process that you embark upon, a collaborative design [...] And there’s a sense of pride when you’ve created something that other people love as well.”
Feeling inspired to begin sourcing ideas for your own custom-made creation? Shop our selection of show-stopping dresses that can either act as a starting point for your own personalized design – or that'll look even better when tailored for you:
All photos by Diana Liu. Illustrations by Ysé Masutti.