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Hello from Hong Kong: tailor report

7 March 2008

When you leave the underground at Tsim Sha Tsui, it’s not immediately obvious where the Regal Kowloon Hotel might be. Street signs are infrequent and not always translated into English, and the sheer profusion of Chinese symbols, hoardings and tower blocks is apt to confuse.

Fortunately, the locals are friendly and a quick inquiry directs you down Mody Road. In the marble-floored mezzanine, hiding around a corner, is the office of Edward Tam, director of E.Italian tailors.

There are too many tailors in Hong Kong to tell which are of any quality. And even if you get a recommendation from a friend, his positive experience doesn’t guarantee one for you. Many of the staff in our office out here have had suits made on the recommendation of a colleague, only to be disappointed. Indeed, our resident journalist in Hong Kong had a suit made at Sam the Tailor, who comes recommended by Tony Blair and Jude Law. The suit had very square shoulders and too-wide trousers. The trousers, of course, could be altered, but the shoulders are harder to do.

But then Edward Tam has been making suits for my father for three years, and he has yet to be disappointed. The key is to know what you want, including getting the best materials.

As Mr Tam measured me for a suit this morning, a list of requirements and specifications ran through my head. These are important to remember, as a tailor won’t necessarily ask you for all of them.

For example, how wide do you like your trouser legs? Unless you specify this, the tailor is likely to give you what he considers to be the standard. In Asia, this is rather wider than in Europe. How about the width of your lapels? You may not think these are that important, but there’s always a chance a tailor will make them a little broader than you like. As with the trouser legs, I recommend measuring a suit you like at home, just so you know in advance.

So that’s fit. It’s also worth going for the best materials. The one thing you can guarantee with a luxury brand suit is that the material will be very good. It might not fit you, it might not be made by hand, and it may not even be canvassed, but the wool will be of decent quality.

At the tailor, the best way to identify the materials is if any of them are textures or names you know. If it looks like the worsted or flannel on something you already own, you’re halfway there. If it looks like an odd, slightly shiny weave, there’s a chance there will be some manmade material mixed in, which won’t last so well. And look out for the big names in wool – Ermenegildo Zegna and Loro Piana, as the biggest and best of Italian woolmakers, are a good sign.

Mr Tam had a selection of both, as well as some infuriatingly tempting cashmeres. All at once, I was considering a navy blue, cashmere overcoat. What an extravagance that would be.

First fitting for a double-breasted, grey flannel suit and mid-blue shirt is tomorrow. I will report back on whether either the fit or the material disappoint.