Archives for January 2010

MTM On The Cheap: Tailoring In SE Asia


Every year, an army of tourists flood into Thailand and Vietnam and it would be a fair guess to say that most of these depart with at least one item of ‘bespoke’ clothing in their clutches. Of course, it is not bespoke in the true sense of the word, but it is clothing that has been produced specifically for them, in their size, in their choice of material, and to their design. And it probably cost them next to nothing.

Stepping out onto the hustle and bustle of a Bangkok market street for the first time I was left feeling dizzy as my senses were simultaneously assaulted by a cacophony of street noises, an avalanche of exotic Asian colours, and a bemusing olfactory blend of putrid sewage water and freshly grilled street‐vendor meats. It takes a while to acclimatize. But, when you do, you’ll discover something charming; Bangkok has literally dozens of streets devoted entirely to tailoring.

On any one of these streets you’ll see row after row of brightly signposted men’s tailors, each boasting a proud display window stuffed with their handiwork. Suits, coats, waistcoats, shirts – all can be made for you at a nominal price. If you hesitate too long outside one of these shops, an army of ragamuffin boys wil mob you, each imploring you to come inside their shop which, they will insist, produces far superior merchandise at a far inferior price to their neighbours.

At this juncture it is worth telling the reader frankly and unconditionally that a suit made in Thailand will not be as good as one made in Savile Row or the like. The model in Thailand is very much that of mass MTM production*. However, if approached in the right way, a SE Asian suit can go a good distance towards approximating something that in England or the US would cost perhaps 30 to 40 times more (a suit in Thailand should only cost you around Ł50 including a tip).

When you have decided upon your shop and stepped through the doorway you will be greeted informally and effusively, as is the Thai fashion. Magazines and lookbooks (normally slightly dated offerings from the major Italian fashion houses) will be thrust into your lap alongside something cold to drink. If you have the time and inclination before your trip, a quick sketch or photograph of a suit you like will go a long way towards breaching the language barrier and ensuring that your tailor understands perfectly what it is you want them to create for you. Likewise, Thailand’s legions of tailors are excellent at copying an existing article of clothing that you have brought along with you.

Once you have made a firm decision on all the details of your nascent masterpiece your tailor will call you back for a first fitting. Depending on your schedule this could be as early as two to three hours later or the next morning. This is the basting stage where the jacket resembles a waistcoat. The lapels need to be shaped; the length and fit of the jacket can be altered; and the sleeves need to be added. After trying it on and making the necessary adjustments, it will be sent back to the factory and, the next time you lay eyes upon it, it will have been transformed into a finished suit.

Incidentally, most tailors will offer you a reasonable selection of material; if you are not satisfied with the selection in your shop, the tailor will take you to some of his other shops which are normally situated on the same road but trading under different names – the concept of monopoly is hardly recognized on Bangkok’s tailoring roads. If your high sartorial standards are still not satisfied, ask your tailor to write down the address of the Indian market in Bangkok and jump in a cab. In fact, it is worth doing this anyway.

The Indian market is a collection of shabby shops and stalls which sell every sort of fabric imaginable – from curtain material to sari silks your eyes will take in everything as you traipse around these dirty streets, undiscovered or uncared for by the tourist masses. There’s an utterly magnificent selection of suiting and shirting material but, as the first grope of a fabric bolt which has caught your eye will inform you, it is clear that the denizens of Bangkok’s fabric market prefer quantity and variety to quality. To a man, the Indian market’s enterprising shopowners will brazenly claim that their material was made in England etc. but that is not true; it is all produced in factories in Thailand’s industrial area on the outskirts of Bangkok. At best, the fabric quality is reasonable: not great but not awful, either. You can, of course, bring your own cloth with you from home and have the tailor make this up into a suit.

As for the finished article, if you’ve never had a suit made before, you will be astounded at how good it looks. Provided you were careful in your choice of design and fabric, you will probably have fifty percent of the look of a Savile Row suit for a fraction of the price. It will fit you well, flatter your body lines, and of course you have the pleasure of knowing that you designed something that was produced specifically for you! If you are a bespoke regular, the likelihood is that you’ll be disappointed with what you get. It will be good but not great; there were several little details that went wrong with each suit I had made. Perhaps one shoulder was slightly too tight, which ruined the line, or the pockets looked slightly too high relative to the length. I had thought it a real bargain getting a couple of suits made but I haven’t really worn them since I got back to the UK. Nonetheless it was an enjoyable experience and allowed me to experiment with different designs very cheaply.

If my Thai suits did not turn out exactly as hoped for I am bound to concede that shirtmakers in Thailand are superb. I used Raja on Sukhumvit Road. Raja is a somewhat lanky and genteel tailor whose shop has serviced officers of the Western embassies in Thailand for a good number of years. His shop offers an astounding range of shirting materials, imported from Egypt; the range available easily surpasses that offered in Jermyn Street whilst the quality of the materials is marginally less impressive.

On your first visit you’ll meet Raja, choose materials, and discuss the fit and style you’d like over a cold drink in his air‐conditioned studio. After taking your measurements and discussing what kind of style and fit you’d like, Raja has his workers produce a sample shirt the next day. When you come in next to try on the sample shirt, Raja will poke and prod you and, after discussion between the two of you, the necessary adjustments will be made. If necessary a completely new sample shirt will be produced.

When you come in to try on the shirt for the final time, all the adjustments will have been made and it should fit well. If you are happy with it, Raja will go on to produce the rest of your shirts, using the pattern created for the sample. Patterns are kept indefinitely and you can order from abroad safe in the knowledge that you know exactly what you will be getting.

The stitching and handiwork are excellent on Raja’s shirts whilst the materials are also of a high standard (mother of pearl buttons were standard whilst I was there). The whole experience was pleasant and releaxing and, to this day, I still wear the shirts he made for me five years ago – an accolade, indeed, for a Ł15 shirt.

* Throughout this article I have not touched upon the ethical consideration of getting a suit made in Asia. Whilst there I went to visit a factory. Impressive in size and organization, the factories comprise of banks upon banks of machinists, sitting at their sewing machines – each focusing on an individual part, say the collar, in a streamlined production line. Working in this way – very much like the London tailoring shops used to – they are able to achieve extremely quick turnaround times. The conditions were not awful; but it was hot, and looked a backbreaking task. I was not able to speak to anyone working there so I cannot say how they felt about what they did; although I’m sure that of the measly Ł50 you spend on the suit, they will get but a tiny, tiny fraction for their trouble.

My Foray Into Santoni

My lengthy search for a double monkstrap ended when I laid my eyes on the Castagna model by Santoni. I have been searching for a pair of shoes that I could wear to work as well as in more causal settings, and this particular model seemed perfect. A few months back, I tried on a “similar” looking shoe by Canali at Neiman Marcus in San Diego. The Canali leather felt rubbery and after five minutes of carpet wear, the shoes formed visible creases. This is not to say that I did not have my reservations about the particular Santoni because this was another internet purchase and Santoni is notorious for unorthodox sizing. What sold me, however, was that this particular model was from the fatte a mano (made-by-hand) line and cost less than the overpriced Canali. With that in mind, I made the purchase.


Santoni was founded by Andrea and Rosa Santoni in 1975, and gained its popularity by creating hand-made shoes that exhibited quality craftsmanship but also fashion forward styling the Italians are well known for. Just like Ferragamo (Tramezza, Lavarazione, Studio) and Testoni (Amedeo, Black Label, Studium), Santoni has multiple lines of quality. The highest of the Santoni lines is the “Signature” line which is entirely handmade. Next up is the “Fatte a Mano”-“tan sock” (i.e., the lining inside the shoe) which is entirely hand finished and antiqued. Then, there is “Fatte a Mano”-“orange sock” which is hand antiqued, followed by “Santoni Goodyear”, “Santoni” and “Nuvola” lines which are all decent but nothing to write home about. The top three lines are mostly Blake, Goodyear, Norvegese, or Bentivegna constructed (for more in depth information on Shoe Construction, check out J. Cusey’s webpage at, and retail anywhere from $600 to $1200 plus.


My shoes are “Fatte a Mano”-“orange sock”, are Blake constructed and hand antiqued. They fit true to size, if not a bit roomy due to a somewhat pointy toe design. The double buckle closure, however, holds the foot in place for a comfortable fit. Compared to my Ferragamo Tramezzas, the Santoni is more substantial in size and weight. This is not to say that they are heavy or uncomfortable during wear. As seen from my amateurish pictures, the shoes have a purple hand painted sole, which is usually used on the more “fashion forward” Santoni models. The hand finish is evident in the different color of each shoe.


Santoni shoes are sold at Nordstom and Neiman Marcus. You won’t, however, find many attractive models or shoes from the fatte a mano lines there. Those who earn to see and try on fatte a mano Santoni shoes in person should visit the Santoni flagship store in New York, located at 864 Madison Avenue, but don’t be shocked by the exorbitant prices.

P.S.  Thanks to Style Forum and Ask Andy About Clothes for Santoni research.

Shoe Collection


Back row (l-r): Brown wholecuts by Dune; black One Collection ‘Chance’ by Jones; brown One Collection ‘Step’ by Jones; black tassel loafers by Church’s; grey suede and leather two tone by Russell & Bromley; mid brown shoes by Zara; light brown Chelsea boots by Zara

Middle row (l-r): Black pointed shoes by Zara; black punchcap Oxfords by New & Lingwood; tan punchcap Oxfords by New & Lingwood; cream punchcap Oxfords by Grenson; patent shoes by Zara; black and peanut patent/leather co-respondent shoes by Dune; black canvas/leather co-respondent shoes by Dune

Front row (l-r): White shoes by TopMan; brown deck shoes by Austin Reed; oxblood double monkstraps by Nunes Correa; grey and white detail leather shoes by Zara; brown suede shoes by Nunes Correa; brown leather/canvas co-respondent shoes by Dune; brown and black leather wholecuts by Dune; patent leather Oxfords by Church’s

“Just how many pairs of shoes have you got?” they all ask when they spy me wearing a style that is making its debut. I decline to answer not because I take affront to the question but because I haven’t got the foggiest idea how many shoes I own. Do they want the numbers on the smart shoes? The leather ones? Or do they want me to include plimsolls, espadrilles and wellington boots? It was after a recent shopping excursion to the outstanding Crombie sale, and subsequent disappointment at the lack of a pair of tan tassel loafers in my size, that I decided to shine a torchlight into the unknown; there I was, ready to pay for yet another pair of shoes not knowing how many I actually owned. It is general wisdom that if you cannot readily quantify how much you have of something, you have too much.

Embarrassed by my footwear riches, I decided to sit down and count through the collection not only to satisfy myself of the actual quantity but to examine the range, to see how it had been built. I cleaned, polished and laid out twenty two pairs of smart leather shoes, all of which receive regular use. The strange setup reminded me of a photograph I had seen of the writer and celebrated dandy Nick Foulkes, sat amongst his own substantial shoe collection wearing a loud check suit, conveying a look that was an unusual mixture of apology, pride and satisfaction; I decided against replicating this mise-en-scène and left the shoes to convey what needed to be conveyed: quantity and variety.

It was somewhat strange to see all the shoes together. I had always been confident that I bought dissimilar shoes; “I don’t have” I would mutter “anything in this colour or style.” In truth, some of my shoes are quite similar indeed. It might surprise some that I, being a town-mouse, own so many brown shoes. I don’t subscribe to the ‘no brown in town’ rule as it has ceased to be relevant. Black is certainly the most traditional shoe colour to wear in the city, but considering the number of casual shoes that dominate the streets – plimsolls, All Stars and training shoes – a smart brown shoe no longer looks out of place. I noted that most of the shoes have a predominantly classical shape and style, about which I was not surprised, but I was amazed that I only owned one pair of smart slip-on shoes – a circumstance which I had attempted to adjust on my recent visit to Crombie.

I am rather glad I took the time to arrange the collection as it provides a perfect point of reference when I am considering further pairs; I know, for instance, that I have little need of mid-brown lace ups without taxing my brain or rifling through the boxes under my bed. As embarrassing as it is to own such a variety of shoes, please note that the collection pictured above does not include my seasonal range of espadrilles, plimsolls or driving shoes.

Reminiscing With Toby Luper, Hemingway Tailors

As an Englishman interested in classic style, it strikes as a particular shame that the industrial manufacture of clothes has suffered so much in this country. Leeds used to be world famous for its suit production, for example, a natural home for the industry being so close to the mills of Huddersfield. And while England still has some of the finest tailors in the world and punches well above its weight in fashion design, domestic manufacturing is a woeful hole.

It was fascinating, therefore, to meet Toby Luper this week. Now a visiting tailor, Toby’s family used to run the biggest suit factory in the country: Black and Luper of Kirkstall Road, Leeds. Back in the 1950s the factory, run by Norman Black and Stanley Luper (Toby’s father), employed hundreds of workers and made thousands of suits for Burtons and Burberry, amongst others. Largely made-to-measure garments, the workers spent their days tending the machines – though there were always tailors on site to correct any mistakes made in the process.


It was the loss of the Burberry raincoat contract in 1991 that triggered the factory’s demise. Having begun his career selling his father’s excess suits from a warehouse in Leeds, and later joining the company proper, Toby tried to rebuild the family business under the name Executex. When that didn’t work out, he turned to personal tailoring.

And while much of Leeds’ business elite now wears Toby’s suits, more than half of his business is now in London. Coming down once a week, or whenever clients request it, Toby visits bankers in their office or uses the Holland & Sherry fitting rooms on Savile Row.

Bespoke starts at £1,850 and made-to-measure £550. The former requires a paper pattern, cutting and sewing by hand in Leeds. Toby brings all his suits to London for fittings (though preferring just the one, forward fitting). The latter is fitted here but made by a company in the Czech Republic, one that Toby’s family has worked with for more than 20 years.

Toby is not only enthusiastic but fastidious about his work. Our half-hour conversation included a debate on pre-made shoulder pads, the merits of a basted fitting and how many men would notice the difference (at first blush) between made-to-measure and bespoke. Sadly from my perspective, but perhaps fortunately for them, the answer is not very many.

There was time for a little reminiscing about the days when England was a clothing powerhouse, though. Like the work ethic his father instilled in him. The first day Toby joined, his father made him sweep the warehouse, so that he always had a riposte if an employee refused to do it. Sounds fun.

Where To Shop In New Zealand


You may have thought I was being overly harsh about New Zealand in my last post, even unnecessarily superior. So this post is the counter point if you like, including some useful tips and suggestions should you find yourself despatched to the end of the World by your government or employer.

The sad thing is that, despite the reluctance of most men to take an interest in their appearance, there is a thriving independent designer scene and some perfectly solid antipodean high-street retailers.

Aside from Rixon Groove in Wellington, which I’ve already highlighted, if you’re in Auckland then the areas known as Parnell and Newmarket are the places to start. Parnell is mainly boutique style stores, interior design, art galleries and jewellers, not to mention cafes. Newmarket on the other hand is clothing orientated. All the outlets I encountered were home grown or from next door neighbour Australia. The creativity and originality, for a country with such a small population, really puts the monotonous high streets over here to shame.

In terms of easy high street options there is Rodd & Gunn, a very rough approximation would be a Kiwi version of Hackett -presenting a stylised notion of their nation’s sartorial traditions and qualities of manhood. That means simplicity, subtlety, comfort, practicality and quality. This last point, quality, is particularly welcome; all Rodd & Gun clothing comes with a two year guarantee. Their motto is: “If it’s not the best, we don’t sell it. If it’s not perfect, we’ll replace it. If it’s not guaranteed, it’s not Rodd & Gunn”. All the clothes have an outdoorsy feel, and they’re also the official clothier of the New Zealand All Blacks. I’ve bought bits on my sojourns to New Zealand and have been very happy.

In addition to this you have Australian retailer Country Road, a Gap equivalent, with some good basic kit and a sound overall aesthetic. If you’re looking for business shirts then try 3 Wise Men. Founded by three guys who wanted a London type shirt retailer, they approximate to TM Lewin/Thomas Pink. While they haven’t quite learnt how to copy an up market Jermyn Street shirt as Lewin’s has, they nonetheless have a nice cut and good, high, well designed fused collars, with removable collar stiffeners. I have a few of their shirts and prefer them to many London high street offerings.

So, if you find yourself out there, the sartorially inclined need not abandon hope.