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Duchess custom suits aim to outfit a few more dukes

Weekend!Life: Style
by: JIM CLARK, The vintage jewelry at Northwest Portland’s Gilt didn’t just tumble out of a factory.

Seyta Selter is a woman on a crusade to rid the world of sloppily dressed men. Her solution? Offer custom-tailored suits at reasonable prices.

Selter, the owner of the retro-influenced boutique Duchess, Clothier, had long been an avid estate-sale and thrift shopper.

She would find scores of beautiful suits, but fit was a perpetual problem. And then the idea struck her: Why couldn't vintage panache and modern, individualized fit be combined? Now, after several years of incubation, Selter's idea has come to fruition.

Perhaps the idea of getting a suit custom-made seems a bit anachronistic. In fact, both the style and level of service at Duchess hark back to bygone days. Selter explains: 'I like the idea of an old-fashioned tailor where you can choose all the fabrics, have it fit to your body, and leave with a suit. I think all clothing should be custom, but suits are the most important type of clothes to fit perfectly.'

Preparing for this project took exhaustive research. Selter spent nearly a year studying vintage silhouettes and finishing techniques, down to the tiniest detail. The result has been five general suit styles, spanning the 1920s to the 1960s. Within that range, Selter is very flexible about the designs.

The process of getting a suit made at Duchess is involved, but it yields a special product. First, the customer selects from one of the five styles. (Selter can modify specific elements, hybridize a suit or even work from a picture).

The next step is selecting a fabric from the thousands of swatches of highest-quality wool, cashmere and silk.

Last are the finishing touches. More than a hundred colors of silk are available for the suit lining. Accessories can be fashioned from the same fabric for a highly coordinated look. Tailored shirts (again, with a broad array of fabric choices) are available. Other custom features include in-jacket monograms, suspender buttons and lapel pick stitching.

After making the selections, a customer must make an appointment for extensive measurements. Next, Selter sends the order to her tailor, a resource so precious she refuses to disclose it and will say only, 'It took a lot to find a tailor to work with - a private tailor. It's a family business that has been making English-style suits since the 1920s.'

For all this luxury, Selter's prices might surprise you. Two-piece suits start around $400, three-piece around $450 - that's a made-to-measure garment for Banana Republic prices.

Selter doesn't want her service to be elite; she's been resourceful in finding ways to keep costs down so that she can reach more customers.

When asked what draws her to men's style in particular, Selter's confesses to several inspirations. She attributes the genesis of her interest to the musician Nick Cave: 'In the late 1980s, he was the one who taught me to like suits.' And she yearns for the natty ensembles of decades past.

She'd even like to resurrect that arcane accessory, the ascot. Selter laughs, saying: 'They're so dapper and gallant. They remind you of several things at once: a 1960s dandy, a tweedy professor, a Victorian gentleman - and Oscar Wilde.'

It's easy to share this opportunity with the men in your life, even in time for the holidays. Duchess, Clothier offers gift certificates with step-by-step instructions for how to get a suit made.

If a suit seems too ambitious, start small with a made-to-measure dress shirt (starting around $70) or silk tie ($50).

Early next month, Duchess will close for a week to expand its retail space. And then the revolution will begin, one man at a time.

Duchess Clothier, 909 N. Beech St., 503-281-6648, www.duchessclothier.com

Some jewelry tells stories

Jewelry devotees - like furniture freaks - can be divided into two camps: those who like their jewels fresh from the factory, and those who prefer their baubles with some built-in history.

For those firmly entrenched in the latter category, no store quickens the pulse quite like Gilt.

Gilt's substantial collection of vintage jewels spans several centuries (and price ranges). Fifties and '60s-era costume jewelry provides major sparkle for modest cash.

Victorian pieces of rose gold, garnet and pearl are soulful and delicate. And for the purists there are plenty of diamonds.

The craftsmanship of older pieces is unparalleled in modern, mass-produced jewelry. The burnished surfaces and deep luster make vintage items warm and inviting. And unlike the contents of the famous blue Tiffany box, the unique objects at Gilt won't show up on other appendages around town.

Vintage jewelry isn't for everyone - one friend wonders aloud about my century-old engagement ring: 'Doesn't it bother you that the person who wore that is dead?' But many people find the endurance of a treasured object unbelievably romantic. Let the squeamish stay away; it leaves more for the rest of us.

And all you gift procrastinators, take heed: Nothing says 'nice save' quite like jewelry.

Gilt Vintage and Artisan Jewelry, 720 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-226-0629

Last-minute gifts

In the final shopping days before Christmas, the old standbys - gift certificates and seasonal items - beckon loudly.

These options may seem formulaic, but with a little tweaking, they can produce stellar scores. The trick is knowing the right place to shop.

Solo solace: A gift certificate to Ruby Violet offers a far more personal alternative to the obvious megaspas.

This low-key retreat is off the beaten path, making it the spa for those who know. The basic premise is that rubbing elbows with other clients detracts from the pampering experience; therefore, Ruby Violet serves only one person at a time.

Your giftee will feel like a VIP.

Ruby Violet, 2641 N.E. Alberta St., 503-282-8877

A signature scent: A gift certificate to the Perfume House is not just a placeholder for a pretty bottle; it's a special opportunity.

The boutique's founder, certified 'nose' Chris Tsefelas, can help anyone pick out a new signature scent. His vast library of fragrances and formidable knowledge enable him to quickly profile a person's tastes and home in on that perfect match.

Plus he'll regale you with dreamy perfume lore while he works.

The Perfume House, 3328 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-234-5375

Seasonal swag: Like a cooler version of a department store Santa's Village, Hawthorne shop Greg's has the air of a fantasyland set, chock-full of holiday goodies.

Try Pacifica's three-scent Peace, Love, Joy candle set ($25) or Votivo's classic Joie de Noel candle ($23), both in fetchingly festive packaging. Throw in a poinsettia-print box of fireplace matches to make an all-inclusive olfactory escape.

With a penchant for pipe cleaners, flocking and tinsel, Bethany Lowe's Christmas decorations evoke Grandma's best ornaments. Loop one around a bottle of champagne and voilà - a portable Christmas party.

Greg's, 3707 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-235-1257

Style appears on the third Wednesday of the month.