Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Men’s fashion was changing in the 1920s, away from the formal and drab, to more brightly colored, textured suits with bold stripes and patterns, and the double-breasted vest.
For many, it was a prosperous era, and image and position mattered.
So it’s not hard to imagine the scene on dedication day of San Antonio’s Roosevelt Library – circa 1929 – as a dapper one, and today, the most fitting space for the unique custom clothing showroom of Limatus Bespoke.
Limatus is Latin for polished or refined, and Bespoke means custom. It is the name Devin Castleton gave the business when he turned his longtime side job – a trade he learned while living in Bangkok, Thailand – into a full-time enterprise that began with house calls.
“When Craig Berkenkamp [of shoe-shining business Berkenkamp Shine] told Leland about us, we went from double-A to the majors,” Castleton said of the company's move one year ago into the elegant former public library, owned by Leland Stone of Stone Standard.
Soon, he said, the historic Roosevelt became part of the “sexy, mysterious” experience for Limatus customers who are served by appointment only: “Everyone was wide-eyed when they came in, but by the time they left, they are saying, ‘Oh wow, that was awesome.’”
Since then, he and the Limatus team of four has created not only a modern showroom, with its handsome bar cart and tuxedoed mannequins, but also a devoted following among the best-dressed in town. Last year, San Antonio Fashion Awards named Limatus Bespoke the Menswear Designer of the Year.
With just over two years under their belts, the four colleagues have produced at least 1,000 custom suits in every color, fabric, and style, and countless shirts. They give names to each style of suit – as in The Draper (Mad Men), The Kingsmen, and the professor-like Dr. Jones.
A lookbook of their spring/summer “Marfa Lights” collection features one-of-a-kind suits modeled by some of their favorite clients – Cured chef Steve McHugh, Jazz TX owner Doc Watkins, and seven other locals photographed by Josh Huskin.
This fall, Limatus Bespoke will introduce another lookbook featuring their first custom women’s collection.
"Women's clothes are the hardest," Castleton said, settling into an upholstered side chair in the showroom after a tour of the building, also home to the Roosevelt Library Social Club. “I just think women know how clothes are supposed to fit more than guys do. It's just a keener eye.”
But James Castro, director of operations, and Tessa Moss, lead stylist, know the demand is there. “For every one guy that would come up to me, I'd have five women ask me if we did females' clothes, and I would have to say no, because we weren't honed in onto it yet,” he said, adding the measurement process is much more complicated for women’s clothing.
Kaci Tibbets, a local dentist, heard about Limatus through her boyfriend, design and branding specialist Alex Hilmy, and now has two pants suits of her own – one in maroon with floral blue lining and the other white with a hot-pink liner. The tall and stylish Tibbets scraps the scrubs and elastic waistbands of her day job for the chic suits while at professional conferences and on special occasions.
“It’s very refreshing to finally have something that fits me well when my entire life I settled for ill-fitting clothes or paid a fortune to have a tailor fix something – and even then it’s just a fix,” she said. “And since I like things that are different, the funky linings, and customizing what’s written inside, it just takes it to the next level.”
The experience of custom clothing by Limatus Bespoke starts with expert measuring, whether it’s in the showroom designed by Creative Director Haley Rico, or the client's home or office, and getting to know the person and their personality. Castleton said the end result often surprises people not accustomed to how a suit should fit and feel, and many times, they come back for more.
“It's about the way that we feel about ourselves when we get this experience and when we kind of realize that when you look good, you're your best self, and there is a lot of that going around,” Castleton said.
If that sounds like an ad campaign to end business casual in the workplace, think again. Last year, Esquire Magazine writer Christine Flammia wrote: “There are some menswear staples that transcend time and trends. But a suit might be one of the most interesting ones to explore – especially since the rise of streetwear- and athletic-inspired fashion has led some to declare its imminent death. No chance. The suit lives on, and will continue to do so.”
This may not be Wall Street or a glamorous red carpet, but San Antonio is no different, at least in Castro’s experience. He grew up and went to school here, worked in various corporate jobs, often dressed in comic-book character T-shirts and shorts, before meeting Castleton and joining Limatus Bespoke.
"We've noticed the change in San Antonio," Castro said. "... People [are] making more money, getting into professions in which they are wearing suits, or just wanting to dress nice and wear suits when they go out.”
And with today's trend less about the brick-and-mortar retail store, Limatus Bespoke is a business model that supplies shoppers' demand for personal attention and customization.
Long before he met Castro, H-E-B executive Vernon Haney wore suits he purchased at Rivercenter Mall department stores near his residence in the Majestic Towers. But since being fitted for suits at Limatus Bespoke, he's lost count of how many items he has purchased from Castleton.
“It’s a bit of an old-fashioned thing,” Haney said. “… I try to make San Antonio look better one person at a time. When I’m at my country place, I’m in shorts and tennis shoes. But because I live downtown, I like to go out to eat and to shows, and I dress up."
Haney has both style and standards. “There was a time when men dressed a lot better than they do today. Our society has lost that art of dressing well and looking good … I do get a lot of compliments, but I don’t [dress up] because I have an overactive ego. I just think it’s right to make yourself presentable in public.”
It’s not all about classy business suits, either. One customer ordered a black Audrey Hepburn-esque riding jacket, and another asked for a Western-style coat with pink paisley lapels and the traditional yoke. Limatus Bespoke also hosts “whiskey fittings” for grooms-to-be and their wedding parties.
On the day the Rivard Report visited, Castro was sharply dressed in a teal Cavani suit, a J. Cole necktie, Prada shoes, and Spiderman socks. Castleton sported a more conservative but classic look in a sharkskin gray jacket, 100-percent Egyptian cotton Monti shirt, and blue jeans. An ultra-soft gray sports jacket, lined in maroon plaid, was on display in the corner – a duplicate of the one former Spurs center Matt Bonner wears.
The Limatus Bespoke collection includes about 1,000 suit fabrics from which to choose, with prices ranging from $600 into the thousands of dollars. “We actually have some fabrics that, if you want a $15,000 suit, we can do that,” Castro said, with Castleton, adding, “You can get 24-karat gold thread if you really wanted to.”
Once you make your selections, the clothing is handmade by seamstresses in Thailand.
“That's another little meaningful part of the business,” Castleton said. After living and working in that country, he came to understand that many Thai people had to leave their rural homes and travel long distances to find work in the city.
“They just send money home to support kids who are usually being raised by grandparents,” he said. “It's stressful from a business side because when holidays come around, everybody's gone, but from their personal life standpoint, it's just a grind.”
So Limatus Bespoke moved its factory to the upcountry where most people live, so they have a shorter commute and better working conditions. “It's been life-changing for the people on the ground there, and that's especially meaningful for me,” Castleton said.
But the company, growing by double digits due mostly to referrals, is rooted in San Antonio. That, too, is what makes its showroom at the old public library, within a district known for the creative arts so, well, suitable, Castleton said.
“It’s been a perfect fit for us.”