Savile Row suit-fittings hit Melbourne
The art of bespoke suit-fitting and tailoring is enjoying a resurgence in Melbourne.
London's posh Savile Row goes head to head with Vietnam's cheap and cheerful tailors.
"And what side does sir dress on?" my cutter asks, chalking marks on the roughly stitched jacket draping my shoulders.
In plain English, he wants to know where my private parts dangle when I'm fully clothed. Sounds odd, but when you're having a suit made on London's famed Savile Row, every nook and cranny of your body is mapped to produce the perfect fit.
"To the left," I answer, trying not to giggle, and he solemnly makes a notch on the inside seam of my trousers.
With what I'll admit was a bit of a rush of blood to the head, I commissioned the Savile Row tailoring house Huntsman to make me a wedding suit for my nuptials back in 2012. It was one of my life's great experiences, and after three thorough fittings, the final bill rang up with a thunk on the shop's antique register.
Five thousand pounds.
Give Hoi An and Vietnam's tailors a few years and they will be as good as Savile Row.
That's around A$10,000. More than seven times the price of my wife's wedding dress!
Pretty steep, but I reckon it was worth every penny. I'll be cremated in the thing. And on my wedding day back in Australia, I swear I stood a foot taller, armoured like a knight in a merino wool suit cut to perfection.
But a recent trip to the city of Hoi An in Vietnam has thrown my justification of buying such a pricey bit of clobber into doubt. I travelled there at the urging of Monty Corry, an elegant Englishman I met in Saigon working to establish his own men's label in Vietnam.
"Give Hoi An and Vietnam's tailors a few years and they will be as good as Savile Row," he told me.
Haute Hoi An
Monty's ace card for export is a reversible jacket he calls the Janus – business on the outside, party on the inside, all made by Vietnamese tailors. "Go to Hoi An and you'll see you mostly paid for the name on Savile Row. There they do it faster and cheaper."
Monty's advice was bang on. Hoi An is a beautiful city on the central coast of Vietnam famous for its UNESCO World Heritage listed old town and the scores of tailors who ply their trade there. Everywhere you look there are bolts of cloth on display with mannequins modelling sharply cut suits and dresses, all lit by galaxies of lanterns hanging from the faded colonial buildings.
"Maybe you should have gotten your suit made here," my wife Carmen teases. Perhaps she's right – loathe that I am to admit it. As if to rub in her point, we meet a couple from New Zealand, who came to Hoi An specifically to get their wedding clothes made.
"How much did you pay?" Carmen asks, cooing over photos taken inside the tailor's fitting room. I wish I hadn't heard the answer.
The bill for the groom's wedding suit came in at $270. It was just like my Savile Row suit – intricately stitched and perfectly fitted. I felt like a bloke driving a Lamborghini getting overtaken by an HSV Commodore.
So now I had to know for sure. Was I a fool to spend $10,000 when I could have spent a small fraction of that in Hoi An? To find out, I decided to have something tailored for myself, and seek out one of the city's top shops, BeBe Tailors.
My tailor on Savile Row – Huntsman – is all wood panels, hushed voices and dusty order ledgers filled with signatures ranging from Queen Victoria to the cast of Downton Abbey. BeBe Tailors is open to the street with fluorescent lighting and low benches blasted with humid air from ceiling fans.
Instead of a posh cutter guiding me through the sartorial process, a girl in a traditional Ao dai dress shows me an iPad of designs, and I select fabrics from the walls of cloth, asking for three dress shirts to be made – a test of their skills.
Quick as a flash she takes my vital measurements and asks me to come back at 7pm. When the hour swiftly comes I'm presented with three beautifully made shirts that fit as though I had been poured into them.
The final price? $150.
Yeah, okay. Perhaps I should have come to Hoi An for my wedding clothes. My wallet would certainly be a lot fuller.
Then again, it's hardly Savile Row.
Have you had a suit made overseas? Share your experience in the Comments section.