Ties and Tailoring – Interview with Benedikt Fries, owner of Shibumi

I had the opportunity to meet Benedikt Fries for an interview in Berlin. He told a lot about his label and gave insights into his personal Bespoke philosophy.

Feine Herr: Mr. Fries, just in case someone doesn’t know your brand. How would you describe Shibumi?

Benedikt Fries: A classic men’s brand, mainly for ties, with classic designs. But with a little modern twist. Especially as far as the color combinations are concerned.

What does Shibumi mean?

Shibumi is a Japanese aesthetic concept that means “understated elegance”. This is applied to everything in Japan, even food or music. Something so good in detail that it grabs people. It’s “eyecatchy,” but never loud or shrill. I read about it and found it perfect, the term describes exactly what I wanted to do.

How long has Shibumi been around?

For pretty much exactly eleven years.

Was it designed as an online store from the start?

Yes, absolutely. But online was still pretty much in its infancy at the time. Corona has pushed the online market extremely, today everything is available online.

How would you describe the style of your ties?

Italian with Japanese influence. Japan is my favorite country and when it comes to colors and patterns we are very Japanese. For example, the huge block stripes that no one buys in Italy.

What do you personally have to do with Japan?

I was so fascinated by the term shibumi that I started reading all about it. Eventually, I even traveled to Japan and stayed there for a total of 8 years. Not continuously, but always for most of the year. I could run my business from there without any problems because it was online. I also met my wife in Japan.

How many ties did you start with eleven years ago?

With about 20 ties, now we have 450. After ties and pocket squares, we sell suspenders and stockings the most. We really sell a lot of stockings. By the way, we are one of the few who have their own designs woven. Most choose the silk from the weavers. I draw the designs more and more myself.

Where do they weave?

We used to use mostly silk from Como and we still do an extreme amount there. Since the beginning of this year, we have had regimental stripes woven in Kyoto. There is exactly one manufactory that makes such a thing. I was incredibly happy to find such a manufactory there because I love Japan so much. Qualitatively, the silk is even better. It is slightly less shiny, the jacquards are not as stiff and have a softer feel. I also take inspiration from Japan when it comes to motifs. For example, we make pocket squares with ukiyo-e motifs or from vintage kimono silk.

Do you always wear a tie?

Yes, almost always. Maybe that’s because I’m a city person. I always go to cities on vacation, too.

The clothes you wear are always tailored?

Yes, from Naples. Except for the shoes, stockings and underwear. Today I wear custom shoes, but that is the exception. The stockings are the ones we also sell. They are made in the north of Italy.

Do you predominantly wear suits?

Yes. Extremely much in dark gray or dark blue. I like single-breasted and double-breasted equally. Sometimes I order both single-breasted and double-breasted in almost identical fabrics. I very rarely wear a combination.

How do you go about ordering?

I never order something I already have. It has to make sense when I order something. I must not have exactly the same thing already. It just gets a little tricky on me because I love wearing single-breasted and double-breasted just as much. So I often want things as single-breasted and as double-breasted. But then it must still be a different tone.fabric must be heavier or lighter. I need some reason so that I can justify it to myself. I usually order 6 to 8 parts per year. 80 percent suits, 20 percent sport jackets.

What do you look for in a tailored suit in particular?

What he looks like. I don’t go by how neatly the buttonhole is sewn. In Naples, the work in detail is sometimes not 100 percent accurate. But I don’t think that’s so important. With Bespoke, everything is rarely perfect. People basically get the wrong idea about the whole thing. That they can fulfill their dream of the suit. I very often experience that even tailors who have worked for me very often make small mistakes. For example, I always order my jackets Neapolitan style with a button at the end of the sleeve. And the suits with two buttons. This is so often ignored. In general, at Bespoke, many details are not made as you order them. You learn over time that it’s not like that at all at Bespoke, that everything is done the way you want it. You just have to live with that.

Do you have any advice for Bespoke beginners?

Beginners tend to formulate far too many of their own wishes. In my opinion, by and large, you should just let the craftsmen do their thing. If I go to a German tailor and show him a picture of a Rubinacci suit: this is what I want my suit to look like. Then, for the time being, he doesn’t feel like doing it that way. And if he says he’s going to try it, he has no practice in making the suit differently than he usually does. And then it becomes nothing.

What is your experience in terms of fit with Italian tailors?

With all the tailors I ordered a suit from for the first time, the pants were too tight at the first fitting. In the meantime, I just have the suits copied. I now have quite a bit of Bespoke that I have made completely without a fitting. Because I’ve been ordering there for years. You imagine it so romantically at the beginning, how difficult it all is. But it’s not rocket science. If the pattern stands and you don’t change your physique much, then you can just copy that. I sometimes even get the impression that it’s easier to copy the suit than to do the fittings. During the fittings, it is then nevertheless thought that something must be changed. Often it is not so good when the first jacket is already very successful. Because then by the second jacket he thinks something needs to be done, and then it tends to get worse.

Have you always dressed like this?

No, as a teenager very different. But I’ve always been very interested in how I dress.

Supposedly, no one wears ties anymore. How do you see it?

Yes, it’s true, less tie is being worn. At the same time, the percentage of people who have a soft spot for the tie has grown. The standard tie has declined, the proportion of high-quality ties has grown. There are simply more tie nerds than there were 15 years ago.

What ties should everyone have in their wardrobe?

Dark blue grenadine. Printed tie in bordeaux. One or two dark green and dark blue ties with stripes.

How do you feel about knit ties?

Is not in the top five but in the top 10.

What is the best way to use wool ties?

It’s more in line with the combination. But I think they’re great and I wish I had more courage to do it. Printed wool can also be worn with a suit. Wool ties made from suit fabrics are more casual.

Thank you very much for this interview.