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Ignore GQ and cold-beer tailors

13 May 2009

This month’s GQ features an unfortunate example of how not to have a suit made in Hong Kong.

The column in the Talk section features a description of a flying visit to the (in)famous Sam’s Tailor. Sam is famous for having walls decorated with famous people posing in his shop, including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Sam is infamous for being more of a tourist destination than a tailor.

Although one of the best known tailors in Kowloon, I have heard almost no positive reports about Sam’s work. A friend of mine went to him when he first moved to Hong Kong, two years ago now. Sam took long one look at my friend, dismissed him with a hand and refused to measure him. That was left to a lackey, and Sam disappeared. The process and the result were a little disappointing, both from a fit and a quality point of view.

A quick search of the style forums reveals similar stories. One member reports: “Sam’s is most definitely a tourist destination more than anything. I am quite impressed that Sam has managed to get pictures with so many famous individuals, but I’d bet money that was their one and only visit to Sam’s. I do speak from experience as I had a tuxedo made at WW Chan at the same time a friend had one made at Sam’s. There really is no comparison. Chan is a true tailor while Sam is only a notch above all the guys plying Western tourists with offers for $200 suits as soon as they step off the Star Ferry in Kowloon.”

The other tailor mentioned here, WW Chan, has a very strong reputation but is considerably more expensive. But for the same price as Sam, ($300-$400) one can get a handmade suit from my own Hong Kong tailor, Edward Tam (contact details upon request).

There are, unfortunately, a lot of tailors in Hong Kong playing off the fact that many people go there to have suits made and the majority know nothing about suits – material, construction or fit. But there are two obvious points that should immediately have told GQ that Sam’s was a poor-quality establishment.

Firstly, Sam offered the GQ reporter a cold beer as soon as he entered. A regular tactic of tailors in Asia and one which, residents tell me, the tailors are always surprised to find has a remarkably positive effect on tourists (how cheap we are!).

Secondly, and less jokingly, the GQ reporter had his whole suit made in 24 hours. No fitting, no opportunity for adjustments. Just measurements and then the final suit. No self-respecting tailor would offer this as standard.

They know the client doesn’t know many of the things he should specify. Do you know the width of trousers you want? Do you know how long you want the jacket? If you don’t ask, the first will be too wide and the second too long in Asia. And they know that no tailor makes a perfect suit straight off, without seeing it on the body. It needs to be tweaked and tucked. Perhaps if the client were a repeat customer. But for a first-timer? Never.

So ignore GQ. This isn’t the first time it has recommended Sam the Tailor.