““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
The personal clothier in the sky
You fly privately partly because you can't afford to waste precious hours to security lines and airline delays, so why would you spend any more time than necessary buying clothes? You probably wouldn't-which helps explain why businesses like Ted Fisher's are prospering.
Fisher serves as a personal clothier to about 325 high-net-worth individuals. Many came to him via word of mouth, but in an increasing number of cases, the first contact resulted from the customer's use of business aviation. "They may have a jet card or fractional share or regularly use charter," Fisher explained, "and as a thank you for their business, the salesman will offer my services as a gift. I have numerous NetJets, Blue Star Jets and Marquis Jet customers among my clients."
Fisher isn't the only clothier with private-aviation links. Men's wear retailer Ermenegildo Zegna, for example, has an affiliation with Marquis Jet, which gives its jet-card holders $1,500 gift certificates for custom-made clothing, plus the right to shop after hours at Zegna's boutiques and to schedule home or office visits by its tailors.
Fisher also meets clients at their homes and offices. In the New York City area, where he's based, he arrives in his own chauffeur-driven limousine. But he has customers in "all the major cities" and flies frequently to their locations. In addition, he said, he often travels on clients' jets to do onboard fittings.
"I've been doing that for about four years and a lot more lately-probably twice a month," Fisher commented. "I'm becoming the personal clothier in the sky. Some of these guys tell me they just don't have time in the home or office, so the only time we can do something is on that flight."
Fisher comes to appointments with a large assortment of samples from such top fabric suppliers as Holland & Sherry and Loro Piana. After taking measurements and helping clients decide what fabrics and styles best match their lifestyles and tastes, he orders suits, tuxedos, shirts and pants from "high-end, old-world tailors who work exclusively for me and two other personal clothiers." Fisher added that he himself has nothing to do with actually producing the garments because "while I'm highly trained in clothing design, I can't sew a button on a shirt."
What he can do, Fisher said, is "be a service lunatic," which means he will do "whatever my customers need me to do." For example, he recalled, one client wanted a custom tuxedo in three weeks for his wedding at Pebble Beach [Calif.]. "I told him it was impossible to get that quickly," Fisher said, "but I got it done, flew out and presented it to him as a wedding gift.
"He's a client who probably spends $100,000 a year with me," Fisher added. "Guys like that, you do whatever you have to do."
Another time, a hedge-fund manager rewarded his 10 best producers with a trip to the Bahamas on the company jet and a new custom wardrobe-three suits and six shirts. "I fitted all of them during the flight down and the bill came to almost $100,000," Fisher said.
He claimed his clothes represent good values because he doesn't have much overhead. "My starting point for a suit is about $1,800," Fisher noted, "and that's easily equivalent to a $2,500 off-the-rack suit. My top-of-the-line suit is about $3,800."
What makes them worth that much? "It comes down to the exclusivity of the fabric," he explained. "If you go to Tasmania and get sheep that are sheared once every 10 years and produce only enough wool for 40 suits worldwide, you can spend $20,000 for that suit.
"Wool is graded by how fine the fiber is," Fisher continued, "and what's really hot now are the Super 160, Super 180 and Super 200 grades. Those are fabulous fabrics. They travel very well and hang very well. Plus, when someone puts their hand on your shoulder and touches the fabric, it's so supple and fine-it's like butter."