Having something custom-made just for you is a luxury you can find right here at home in South Florida
Written by Jan Engoren
Photography by Aaron Bristol
True bespoke items are custom-made and fit to each client’s specifications. Bespoke is exclusive and expensive—think the suits of Savile Row, the tailors of Hong Kong or the haute couture houses in Paris or Milan. The earliest records of bespoke clothing are for corsets and footwear in the 1700s. Handmade clothing, shoes, millinery, furniture and other items were the norm, until they became less expensive to mass-produce. Today, the term “bespoke” has evolved, and now applies to anything from cocktails to vacations to manicures—and a number of local companies are keeping the tradition alive. Here are a few of our favorite, local bespoke items.
Designed with a sense of luxury, Tammy Apostol’s couture gowns, hats and fascinators are developed “with a vision to make every woman’s fashion dream come true.” Apostol, who began her career in Venezuela as an assistant designer for Christian Dior, incorporates sustainable fabrics and materials to create eco designs. She also custom-designs hats and fascinators.
“Wearing a hat shows you have the confidence to be seen,” says Apostol. “Once you put on a hat, your personality and behavior changes to reflect your new style.”
Everything is handmade and designed in her atelier in downtown Miami, where she has her showroom and fitting room, design studio and offices. Movie stars and opera singers sport her creations, and local TV anchor Tiffany Kenney wore a red off-the-shoulder TA Couture silk gown to a Moulin Rouge Gala in Palm Beach.
For Lady Rowena Finlayson of the Bahamas, whose husband, Sir Garet ‘Tiger’ Finlayson, was knighted by the Queen of England, Apostol created a complete outfit—an Audrey Hepburn-esque baby blue felt hat paired with a coat dress in baby blue silk wool topped with white silk jersey gloves.
Her straw is imported from Asia and South America, wool felt from England, silk from India and Italy and lace from France and Italy. She incorporates the finest fabrics, custom beading and intricate embroidery. Visit tacouture.com.
Lili Bermuda Perfumery
Born in St. George, Bermuda in 1928, this island perfumery opened its first Palm Beach location last August at 323B Worth Ave.
Inspired by the languid lifestyle of Bermuda, the bespoke fragrances incorporate native flowers such as frangipani, Bermudian loquat, sandalwood, bermudiana and passion flower, and are custom-blended under the direction of master perfumer Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone.
“Art reflects environment,” she says, and Bermuda’s authenticity is present in every bottle created by hand. Custom-made bespoke fragrances can take up to six weeks for the fragrance to sit and blend.
Ramsay-Brackstone’s Palm Beach location is designed with Bermuda in mind. “Sit, take your time, stay for a while, maybe sip a Dark & Stormy, and choose your own piece of paradise,” she says.
Custom hand-painted bottles and packaging, such as its signature $900 gift basket with Bermuda’s Goslings rum set in a large clamshell decorated with orchids and pink sand from the island, accompany the unique fragrances. Custom gift sets start at $300, and clients include brides, wedding parties, hotels and corporations. For the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club in Bermuda, Ramsay-Brackstone formulated a rose fragrance that became the hotel’s signature scent.
For Ramsay-Brackstone, it’s all about creating a sensorial experience. “There is no science for this,” she says. “It is all about feeling that personal connection.”
In Bermuda, Ramsay-Brackstone offers a four-hour master class on creating a personal fragrance, and has worked with a well-known gin house to create a custom fragrance inspired by the fragrant notes of the gin. She believes fragrance is a multi-sensorial experience, and has paired her fragrances alongside food, dessert, tea and cocktails.
Each custom fragrance is a labor of love for Ramsay-Brackstone. “It’s all about how the senses come together and complement each other,” she says. Visit lilibermuda.com.
The Cake Lady
From cakes in the shape of quilted Chanel bags, complete with an edible double-C logo, to baby blue cakes for new baby boys, to more whimsical cakes of cartoon characters, Cheryl Maness, aka The Cake Lady, custom-makes and bakes bespoke cakes and cupcakes for special occasions.
Using fondant accents, edible gold, pearls, metallics and other jeweled accents, Maness spares no detail in creating custom cakes with top-notch ingredients such as organic fruit, fresh buttercream (“the real thing,” says Maness), high-quality flour, natural organic coconut and real German chocolate.
A six-tier wedding cake with buckets of whipped cream and raspberries for 600 people? No problem. A wedding dress cake with a bodice of gold and white pearls with edible fondant? For Maness, should we say … a piece of cake?
She works from her home with her partner, Allen (Buddy) Maness, and says, “We provide excellent service with excellent products that taste as good as they look.” Her cakes are a favorite of party planners and yacht chefs in the know who call her for their special clients.
Her personal favorite? “Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.
“Bring it,” she adds. “Chocolate ganache filling with buttercream on the outside. It’s so moist and rich, a small slice is all I need.” Visit thecakeladywpb.com.
Michelle Farmer Collaborate
Farmer collaborates with her clients to create one-of-a-kind, bespoke dresses, including wedding gowns—hence the name “Michelle Farmer Collaborate.”
“We create luxe pieces at a luxury price point,” says Farmer. “These are one-of-a-kind investment pieces you will wear for a lifetime. It’s all about the fit, fabric and fabulousness.”
Her custom, original fashion designs are known for their beautiful fabrics and flattering, cut-on-the-bias fit. Her line includes richly hued blouses, flowing dresses, chic shorts, statement pants and gowns. With an atelier on Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, everything is made in the U.S., with fabrics imported from haute-couture fashion houses in France, Italy and New York. Clients include the late Palm Beach philanthropist Jacqueline “Jackie” Desmarais, Lizzie and Todd Meadow, luxury brand marketer Shamin Abas, Manhattan socialites Louise Grunwald and Beth Stern (wife of Howard Stern) and celebrity models Brooke Shields and Heidi Klum.
In addition to Palm Beach, Farmer has locations in the Boca Raton Resort & Club, Bridgehampton and Southampton, the Dorado Beach Resort in Puerto Rico, and Greenwich, Connecticut. Prices range from $2,500 to $10,000. Visit michellefarmer.com.
Maus & Hoffman
Catering to the bespoke Florida customer, U.S. presidents, mob bosses, Kentucky Derby winners and famed French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, Maus & Hoffman was founded in 1940 with the idea to “always offer the best.” More than 75 years later, John Maus, his kids and three nephews are doing just that.
With stores in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Naples and Vero Beach, Maus & Hoffman caters to the high-end Florida market with lighter fabrics accommodating the climate. The retailer’s fabrics are sourced from Loro Piana in Vialla, Italy, where the world’s finest textiles are created in historic textile mills such as Carlo Barbera or Vitale Barberis Canonico, established in 1663.
“Italy has an art, soul and skill that no other country can match when it comes to textiles,” says Maus.
He remembers fellow détaillant Stanley Marcus, former president of Neiman Marcus, flying in to Palm Beach from Dallas to buy a woman’s white cashmere sweater made in Scotland from the finest Chinese yarn. “Stanley was an arbiter of everything fine,” Maus remembers. “We offer something no one else offers in terms of quality, design and service. … and an ability to deliver a garment built to our customers’ specifications—an experience they can’t find elsewhere.” Visit mausandhoffman.com.
McLaren Special Operations (MSO)
Think James Bond meets Palm Beach.
McLaren Special Operations (MSO), the luxury British sports car and supercar manufacturer with a location in Palm Beach, creates bespoke luxury cars for Formula One supercar aficionados and the 007s among us. From Halo cars (high-tech accomplishments that show off the best of the best) to high-performance Q cars, the ultra-rare $3 million Aston Martin Valkyrie (the fastest-lapping street-legal car in the world) to the $1 million McLaren Senna, and the new electric Jaguar I-pace or F-pace, these cars are what magical mystery dreams are made of.
From custom exteriors, design and application, special finishing techniques, personalized patterns, striping, graphics and blends to unique wheel colors and brake calipers, these bespoke models are truly exceptional. For a private, unnamed collector, MSO returned the McLaren F1 GTR Longtail “25R,” a veteran of the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans, to its full, historically correct glory.
Jim Horton, manager of the Palm Beach location, says, “our cars are for the individual looking for singularity, something that is a personal reflection of their desires and tastes in an automobile and something others can only dream of owning.” Visit jaguarpalmbeach.com.
Debbie, Ted and Perry McLelland are fifth-generation saddle makers with more than 150 years’ experience crafting custom saddles. Founded in 1892, the company has been fitting both horses and riders in South Florida since 1958. During the Depression, the company survived by handcrafting leather mailbags for Florida’s barefoot mailmen.
Now, much like a dressmaker, these craftsmen (and women) hand-cut prime American hides into pieces of a pattern, fitting them onto a saddle tree, taking measurements of both the horse and rider to ensure a custom fit. The product is then hand-tooled and customized with gold, sterling silver or stainless steel hardware and hand-engraved.
The McLellands also custom-make bridles, halters, buckles and hand-tooled belts, and custom-fit and shape cowboy and Western hats.
With customers coming from the U.S., Canada, Europe and South Africa, it’s no wonder the McLellands are booked a year in advance. Prices for a custom fit and made saddle start at $3,500.
Well-known clients include country music singer Lynn Anderson, singer Rose Garden, racecar driver Kyle Petty, Walmart founder Sam Walton’s daughter, Dolly Parton, the late Burt Reynolds, Dinah Shore and Buck Taylor.
To date, their most exotic, bespoke $43,000 saddle was all tooled by hand and decorated with rubies, diamonds and other precious stones.
Ricardo Custom Clothing
Picking up where Morty Sills left off (custom tailor to Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film “Wall Street” and the real-life Wall Street wolves), Ricardo Grimes is the Morty Sills of Olive Ave.
Creating men’s custom clothing for retired Wall Street investment bankers, men-about-town, anonymous billionaires, athletes and CEOs who care about making a fashion statement, Grimes says while true bespoke tailors are an anachronism, custom-made clothing is still very much alive.
Clients choose the quality of their fabric, buttons, lining, width of lapel, construction and the design and fit of their suit, sport coat or shirt, which Grimes then sends overseas for fabrication.
For former Wall Streeter and client, Robert J. Barrett III, Grimes recreated a “Morty suit,” from a Ralph Lauren advertisement. Not to mention a cobalt blue velvet sport coat with pink lining for Paul Simon. With suits ranging from $1,500 to $5,000, Grimes says, “anyone can aspire to be bespoke.” Visit ricardocustomclothing.com.
Bespoke Furniture Co. of Boca Raton
Where to find a 10,000-pound solid marble cantilevered fountain for a client’s private residence in Miami Beach? No problem for Nancy Vallejo, president of Bespoke Furniture Co.
She literally moves mountains.
Sourcing from her contacts in Mexico, the marble was extracted from a mountain, driven 18 hours to Mexican marble artisans and then shipped by boat to Miami. It was all in a day’s work for Vallejo, who travels from Istanbul to Mexico to Bali in search of one-of-a-kind handmade furniture pieces, lighting and millwork.
Fusing a tradition of artisan craftsmanship with unique custom designs, Vallejo custom-designed the lobby of the luxury residences Midtown 2, in downtown Miami, and the San Juan Hotel in South Beach, and is currently at work custom-designing a 7,000-square-foot home and interior for Miami’s Kosher Kingdom royalty, Philip and Michelle Einhorn.
“The story behind it—the effort and energy it takes to create something unique and special—is what we do,” says Vallejo. “Working within their budget, we give our clients something spectacular.” Visit bespokefurnitureco.com.
From kudus, pangolins and leopards to family-friendly cats and dogs, Delray Beach artist Kari Shipley creates original bespoke pet portraits, and donates the proceeds to Community Greening, an urban forestry nonprofit co-founded by her son Matt Shipley and partner Mark Cassini. She painted Palm Beach trial attorney Karen Terry’s golden retriever at the beach. For attorney Jack Scarola (where her husband, John Shipley, is of counsel), she created a portrait of a kudu and leopard from a photo she shot in the South African bush.
One of her favorite portraits is of her son Walker’s 4-year-old Boston terrier, Taco. “He’s the funniest dog I’ve ever met,” she says. Shipley spends hours with her subjects. “I like to capture them at a moment when they feel relaxed, or when they’re doing something naughty,” she says.
She derives inspiration from French painter Léon Danchin, known for his drawings of sporting dogs, and English painter George Stubbs’ classic, “Whistlejacket,” a masterpiece of an Arabian chestnut stallion racehorse. She paints from photos in her studio near the beach or at her second home in the mountains in Lake Toxaway, N.C.
Her biggest pet challenge? Working with longhaired black dogs. “It’s very difficult to capture their expression behind all that hair.” Call 561/789-6641 or email email@example.com.
Nomad Surf Shop
“It’s a lifestyle—it reflects the beach, the ocean, surfing, tropics and being laid-back,” says Ryan Heavyside, co-owner of Nomad Surf Shop in Boynton Beach.
Founded in 1968 by Ron Heavyside, the shop has become an icon in the community and is now run by his two sons, Ronnie and Ryan, who grew up surfing and crafting hand-made surfboards. After measuring your height and weight and evaluating your surfing experience, the two set about designing the perfect custom board for each individual. Bespoke touches include personal images or designs under the fiberglass. Ryan’s all-time favorite custom board is one with an airbrushed portrait of his dad, which hangs in the shop to this day.
East coast surfing champion Carmen Irving and local veteran surfer Baron Knowlton have made their mark on a custom Nomad board. Heavyside has also custom-designed boards for Jimmy Buffett and Rod Stewart; for Kenny Chesney, he created a custom board with tour memorabilia. Ron Heavyside’s original hollow wooden boards with plywood decks and pine rails are part of the collection of the Surfing Florida Museum in Lake Park. Visit nomadsurf1968.com.