My friend Jonathan recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong where he purchased his first three bespoke suits. The following is his report on the experience.
"The first place I went after checking into the hotel was W. W. Chan in Kowloon. They have what is perhaps the most daunting approach to a storefront that I've seen since I went into some buildings in the Tenderloin to hand out lunches for Project Open Hand. 3-4 flights of stairs in a gloomy, damp stairwell on staircases that look like they'd give way at any moment (I'm not kidding). The inside was great... until we got to the fabric books.
They didn't have Lesser or Minnis, their H&S selection was limited to 140s and up, they didn't have fresco in anything but horrendously bold, squarish patterns, and no CrispAire. WTF? They quoted me at something like $18,000 (at an exchange rate of about 1:7.78 = $2,300 USD) for a two-piece in a 120s (which was the thickest sheep fuzz they sold) solid navy worsted from Scabal. I thought that was slightly ridiculous and asked if they could order something somewhat more practical; they said they'd have to request it from England and that it would take at least 4 days. At that point I jotted down what info I had, smiled and said that I might be back.
Note: Jonathan later emailed Arnold Wong at Chan and was told that there had been a mistake in the price. A Scabal S120s cashmere and wool two piece suit was re-quoted as HK$10,550 (about $1,300 USD).
Next stop was A-Man Hing Cheong in the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. Wonderful location. They were very nice and helpful, but had almost the exact same fabric limitations as W. W. Chan. Their prices, however, were much more reasonable ($11,000 HKD or $1,400 USD for that same 2-piece in the same fabric). Maybe I just look like a pushover who's made out of money, but I'm not sure how W.W. Chan justifies this price difference. I took a couple of swatches and sat on the decision to be measured that very second; the guy was getting out the tape and looking very determined...
From the Mandarin, it was a quick jaunt over the Galleria and H. Boroman, which also came recommended. There's not much on them in the internet forums, but in HK they're reputed to clothe a lot of the downtown executives. I ended up getting two of my suits made there. Their prices were practically the same as A-Man's, but I was won over by the quality and style of suits they had in progress and what appeared to be a very good understanding of what I wanted. They had the same fabric limitations as the other two. Maybe Lesser, Minnis and anything agreeable from H&S isn't in season in September, or maybe it's not as easily marketed to the Hong Kong crowd.
I had a two-piece, Scabal 120s worsted, dark gray, two-button, side-vented, peaked lapel suit made with flat front pants with side-tabs, a high waist, and buttons for braces. Also, a three-piece, Scabal 120s navy worsted, two-button, side-vented, notch lapel suit made with the same pants and a standard vest.
I also went to a place nearby Chan's called Sam's Tailor to have a two-piece tweed herringbone suit made for practically half of what it cost at H. Boroman and A-Man. I will never go back there. I almost jumped over the counter and slugged the guy who took my measurements and did my first fitting after they cranked out a finished (that's right, ready to take home) piece of crap two days early (that's 4 days from hello) two sizes too big after a single fitting where it looked like I was wearing a XL football jersey with an arm attached. We spent the next 5 days fixing his mistake while he grumbled that I was too picky for wanting what I asked for to begin with.
Anyhow, much learned. I have a little remorse from each purchase I made. I think it came from assuming too much of the tailors. One really has to know exactly what he wants and be sure to explain and inculcate down to the last detail and during every fitting. And that's without a language barrier.
The two suits I got from Boromon weren't cut high enough in the arm scyes (something I realized in the second fitting, when it was too late), so the sleeves aren't well articulated. I notice it when my arms aren't on either side of my body. When I have my hands extended in front of me, practically the whole cuff on my shirt is visible.
The silhouette also isn't exactly what I wanted. I asked for more waist supression, but my experience in talking to the tailors in Hong Kong is that they think they know what's best for you and are quite argumentative when you assert otherwise. I had to practically beg to have the suits not look like they came off the rack from Brooks Brothers. The navy one still does. The dark gray one, which is supposed to fit exactly the same, save the addition of the waistcoat in the navy version (not sure if that makes a difference), has been spared this affectation for reasons I'm unaware of.
All that grief aside, I like the result. It's not so much that I love the garments, because whenever I see myself in the mirror wearing them I'm reminded of the errors that I neglected to prevent, but it's that I'm cured of any desire for fashion, name brands, and RTW clothing. I went to the mall with my friend this weekend and then to practically all the boutiques downtown, and I couldn't be pleased by any suit or shirt from a single one. Nothing fit right, everything that was worth wearing was far too expensive, and then there's that lack of choice (fabrics, cut, details, etc.). I don't need to tell you, but bespoke feels different. More importantly, I feel different when I'm wearing it. I've found that this difference is well worth my money."