If you are old enough to remember the Far East before Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese, things have changed. The Far East is not what it was if it ever was the destination as portrayed in British film.
One of the most notable changes has meant the Far East is no longer a destination for bargains and "knock offs". Internationalism means the proliferation of global Brands and pricing policies that seek to maintain international market integrity and value. As for your ‘knock-off designer items’, while still available, they are much harder to find.
So, what is still good value.?
Having grown up with the sartorial image set by James Bond, the idea of an Eastern Tailor has always appealed. What better thing to do other than to test the concept?
I have for a while been after a few items that either I can’t get in London or am unwilling to pay the prices being asked. A fully bespoke suit has never been within my price range and I have always been happy with my Zegna ‘Si Misura’ suits (made to measure from a block as opposed to fully bespoke), though, at around £ 2,000 a pop, they are a significant investment.
My most pressing item has been a black linen blazer. Unobtainable as a retail option, I had several quotes in the £600-£ 800 range for the piece. I also wanted to replace my ageing Dinner Suit. Made from a fantastic classic Italian fabric, I had been quoted £4,500 a suit of the same material. Despite the price tag, the conversation didn’t progress very far when asking about features I wanted the suit to have. I was duly informed by a fairly arrogant and condescending tailor that I would get what they wanted to give me, after all, it was one of their suits, and that I should be grateful that they would deign to make it for me. I’m not English so they can stick that idea!
I have slightly odd, but logical requirements such as wearing a thick dive watch, and needing the left cuff to be wider to accommodate this. I prefer side yokes to centre yokes on my shirts and button down collars. I do not like tapered trousers and like them to have a slight angle at the hem so the trouser sits properly over a shoe. There is nothing worse than a gentleman wearing trousers that look too long and have excess material at the hem (in my not so humble opinion). I prefer to show my cuffs and cufflinks in Formal Wear and do not like the current fashion of jackets that are short in the body. Bond would never expose his behind in a suit!
I arrive in Bangkok on a Wednesday afternoon, wish list in hand. I leave Monday evening, so this challenge is going to be tight. Budget £1,000
By 6:00 pm I am at the tailor's. I have to admit to a little cheat here. I know where I am going, so the destination is not random. While these tailors have never made a suit for me before they have made shirts, so I have some idea of where I’m going and what I am going to get.
Shawl Neck Dinner suit, what fabric would you like sir? In the end, I decided on a good quality Armani Wool & Silk fabric which was more expensive but that I felt justified the additional investment. My last dinner suit had given me nearly 20 years of great service so amortising the cost made the decision simple.
The budget isn’t spent.
"I’d like a pair of Camel Trousers - wool, if you please, to go with a classic double-breasted blue blazer. Can’t buy them in London - not the fashion at the moment."
"As I am more comfortable in Jeans, could I have the front pockets done the same way, so I don’t get the elephant ears you can get with side-cut front pockets?"
"Also, as I am not Simon Cowell, I’d prefer they sat on my hips rather than around my neck!"
Still room in the budget. Two Linen Shirts - Black & Navy and as I am getting a new dinner suit two fully pleated wing collar dinner shirts, this time one black and one white.
"Could you come in tomorrow evening for your first fitting sir?"
Adding up time. Fully expecting the budget to be exceeded, the price comes in at approximately £850.
"Could you pay £400 deposit sir and the balance when it is ready and to your satisfaction?"
My American Express Card is handed over but politely declined. Not for the first time, I am told they charge too much commission and are slow payers, so MasterCard to the rescue.
The next day I’m feeling a little cheated when I go back for the fitting. I haven’t spent my allocated budget for the project. "She who must be obeyed" has previously suggested on more than one occasion, that I should invest in a black velvet jacket, so I calculate than in doing so, the suggestion has more substance behind it. In the interest of world peace, I enquire.
"Certainly sir, would that be plain or with a pattern?"
Then I think, my double-breasted Navy Blazer has Gold Buttons. Not currently en vogue, and I don’t wear it that often but it is too good to discard and it does have its occasion. I need an additional price which is also duly given. Then actually, I wouldn’t mind a couple of silk or satin shirts. I must stop myself, the options are endless.
Given it has been just over 24 hours since I first stepped into the tailors, the fitting has gone well but I leave with more to consider than I initially bargained for.
Overnight I make the big decision, in reality, made as I was walking back to the hotel. By noon Friday the additional items are ordered with a cheeky suggestion regarding the price, though the deadline remains the same. The card is handed over again.
More fittings are needed, and adjustments made.
Monday Morning requires a final fitting and the final tweaks are made. By 6:00 pm everything is ready.
I end up with a fabulous Dinner Suit with an alternate Velvet Jacket option that can be used for other occasions. I have the black linen blazer that I wanted, a pair of nice wool pants together with a blue double-breasted blazer with dark buttons, two pleated dinner shirts, two linen shirts and two satin shirts - all made to fit me and to my requirements.
Ok, I admit, in the end, I broke the budget, but what might surprise you is, only by £100.
Did I do well? As Chelsea Tequila would say: "Ratherr!!!"
The final acknowledgement, however, must go to my darling "she who must be obeyed," (an undoubted fashionista who has proven she was right.) I love my Velvet Jacket (though not as much as you, my dear). As Craig Revel Horwood would say: "It’s Fab-U-Lous!!!"
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