HONG KONG: Since colonial times, Hong Kong has been the place to go for quality shirts and bespoke suits at reasonable prices. But the abundance of experienced tailors in the city makes for a bewildering choice for the uninitiated.
Even local businessmen will argue over lunch who their favourite tailor is, and where’s the place to buy the best suits in town.
So this is written in mind for those who’re in town for a few days, and having sampled the city’s world-famous dim sum, climbed to the Peak to enjoy an unparalleled city view, taken the world’s cheapest ferry ride across Victoria Harbour – you’re now ready for a custom-made suit.
And to be clear, a bespoke suit is the opposite of off-the-rack. It’s made for you, from scratch, and usually requires several fittings.
Because of the prohibitive cost for most, tailors these days also offer a made-to-measure service, cut from a standard block and modified and adjusted to fit your body shape.
This short list is in no way comprehensive, but they are some of the best the city has to offer. They also meet the requirement of being wholly made in Hong Kong (not farmed out to a workshop out in Shenzhen) to fit every budget.
SAM’S TAILOR: TAILOR TO THE STARS
Sam’s Tailor needs no introduction.
‘Sam’, or Manu Melwani, is world-famous, and has clothed royalty, presidents, movie and sports stars. He’s on this list because there aren’t many places that can do 24-hour suits with as much panache.
Passer-by would likely not take a second look at his cramped shop located in a nondescript shopping mall – Burlington Arcade, situated in the hustle and bustle of the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district.
It has been at the same location since 1957.
Once inside, clients are greeted with wall-to-wall photos and testimonies from no less than eight US presidents, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pop star Kylie Minogue as well as music legends like the late David Bowie and Michael Jackson.
A third-generation member in the family, 40-year-old Roshan Melwani is being groomed to take over from his father Manu.
Roshan said his father has got a bag of tricks in getting the rich and famous through his doors, that even he won’t share.
“Celebrities seek us out because their time is so limited. And even if they’ve never heard of us, the people handling them know that we will nail it,” Roshan explained.
One of the perks of his job is to meet his idols like Gladiator-star Russell Crowe, who stopped by the store last summer.
When Roshan got the call, he’d just landed back in Hong Kong after a vacation.
“I was wearing my civilian clothes, I hadn’t shaved in two weeks, I was on vacation. So I jumped off my car from the airport, came here to measure Crowe and his entourage. Twenty-four hours later, seven suits and seven shirts were ready for him at the Mandarin Hotel.”
While Sam’s Tailor is famous for its 24-hour suit, most of the clients are advised to come back for at least two to three fittings one day apart, as the suit gets adjusted and readjusted until it fits just right.
Today, Sam’s workshop, housed within the same premise, have more than 50 tailors and apprentices that make up to 30 suits a day.
And Roshan insists that whether a celebrity or regular man on the street, everyone is made to feel and same when they step into their store.
“We just want to make people happy, we bring people basically what they imagine, bring it to reality, not sell them something standardised .”
A two-piece suit starts from HK$3,400 (US$440).
BONHAM STRAND: CLOTHES WITH A CONSCIENCE
Bonham Strand is a relative newcomer on the scene, founded in 2012.
Here, you don’t just get a great suit, you’re also doing good.
That’s because the tailoring company was set up as a social enterprise to preserve the city’s unique tailoring and craftsmanship by hiring old masters at higher rates, and rehabilitated addicts who start as apprentices.
The tailor shop is the brain-child of Korean-American Jong Lee Jong-Chul, who arrived in Hong Kong almost a decade ago to work in private equity.
“My dream is to build Bonham Strand into a huge success and to give people in need, a place to go, a place to be and a means to support their rehabilitation into society,” said Lee.
At Bonham Strand, each tailor oversees the production of the suit, unlike factory line workers who only specialise in individual tasks.
Everything is either made at their Lai Chi Kok workshop in Kowloon, or their Central store, which overlooks the world’s longest outdoor escalator, the Central-Mid-Levels escalator, used by tens of thousands of people on any given day.
For clients, it’s a chance to meet one of the eight master tailors like 65-year-old Cheung Wan-sun, who’s there to guide you, from choosing a style that fits, as well as the right fabrics and accessories imported from Italy.
Master Cheung is a believer that a suit shouldn’t be rushed, so it usually takes up to three weeks and two fittings for a custom fit.
Lee said that the personal touch with a tailor is what has helped win over clients not just in Hong Kong but overseas as well, which now accounts for 30 per cent of their customers.
“Clients want to see the workshop, they want to meet the tailor who is making their suit,” said Lee.
A two-piece suit starts from HK$4,500 (US$580).
W.W. CHAN & SONS TAILOR: SHANGHAI LINEAGE
If you have deep pockets, you can’t do better than a bespoke suit from the venerable W.W. Chan & Sons Tailor.
It boasts an impressive lineage, descending from the original Shanghainese Red Gang tailors and the first school of tailoring in China.
After the Chinese civil war in 1949, the Red Gang saw no future manufacturing for the Communists so they left for Hong Kong, where their skills were learned and adapted locally.
W.W. Chan was opened by its namesake founder in 1949 and continues today, under Chan’s son Peter.
But it’s Patrick Chu Wa-Miu, who has been with the Chan family business for more than 30 years, that’s directing the business today, and preserving the legacy as one of the last remaining Red Gang tailors left in the city.
“We maintain a high standard across the board, our mantra is to keep traditional techniques used in our craft. We never add any type of glue or fused canvas to the insides of our suits because it prohibits the natural drape of the cloth,” said Chu.
They also measure clients the way they have always done – every customer has his unique paper pattern made.
Any adjustment made on the suit at a fitting is also then made on the paper pattern as well, so the next time the client wants to place a new order, no time is wasted.
And apart from a straight sewing machine, everything else is hand-crafted, allowing for the fabric to drape naturally.
Each suit they make takes up to 55 hours, and W.W. Chan has around 30 staff that can only produce about 100 suits per month.
Managing partner Chu said that they keep to the “high end/low volume” business model because their clients demand it.
“The typical consumer is much more educated with regards to product knowledge because of the internet. Most of our new clients have a good sense of our house cut before they come into our store because of our social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook,” Chu said.
Chu also stays on top of fashion trends. W.W.Chan’s house style has its origin from English tailoring but he’s also inspired by the Italian cut.
In recent years, there’s been a surge in popularity in soft tailoring – using minimal padding in the suit, resulting in a softer garment and silhouette.
But not to worry, Chu would never encourage a style that doesn’t look good on his customer and that’s the best advice that any tailor can give.
“To understand and establish his preference of fit, is probably the most important communication with the client, to strike up a balanced proportion for the entire suit.”
A two-piece suit starts from HK$16,000 (US$2,050).