Ask any of the businessmen nursing pints in the frenetic party district of Lang Kwai Fong what their priority is when visiting Hong Kong and you’re sure to hear about Sam’s Tailor. Crossing the harbour the next day, to the Kowloon side, take Exit B1 from Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station and prepare to be greeted by a barrage of men on street corners trying to poach your custom before you can get to Sam’s.
The competition is there for a reason; Sam’s is infamous. The collection of autographed photos adorning the walls are a testament to the clientele Manu Melwani (son of the original Sam) and Roshan (Sam’s grandson) can boast of. That said, the glares of Bush and Blair didn’t exactly put me at ease. Infamy attracts undesirables too.
Arriving at the usually jam-packed shop, cold beers are thrust into your hands before you can start talking. It can be quick, efficient service — don’t expect a laborious process unless you make them make time for you. In that respect, it’s a good idea to know what you want before arriving. Have a good look at lapels, vents, buttons, cuffs, linings and pockets and come with an idea of what you want, otherwise the bombardment of options can feel overwhelming — even with the support of Roshan/Manu and their team. Roshan, in particular, is your man for edgier looks, with a sharp taste for style and colours. I played it safe this time, but when I visit again would happily give him more creative freedom.
Once a suit has been decided on and you’ve left your deposit, turn around is quick too. Suits are cut and sewn nearby, not sent to Mainland China like with many of the other tailors in Hong Kong. This means you can visit early on in the week of a holiday or business trip and leave with a suit (after a subsequent fitting or two) within the next five or six days — pretty impressive. Furthermore, once they have your measurements (which are fine-tuned the fitting) on record, you can then get suits ordered and sent anywhere in the world. It’s because of this speed, coupled with quality, that people are so keen to come back — during my three visits this year I met people who could count their Sam’s suits in double-digits, bought on their yearly pilgrimage to Sam’s to keep their stock and style fresh.
Personally, I came to Hong Kong wanting a new suit. Between formals at Durham University and work experience, getting a tailored suit sounded very attractive and felt like a good investment, going forward. Even more so when you consider the cost. A normal suit, fully fitted and tailored, for about £250 (2500HK$) is a steal.
I ended up opting for a grey herringbone two-piece, cut close, and a gorgeous black-tie tuxedo. I initially got just the one suit, but was so pleased with the quality and finish that I came back for more. The dinner jacket and trousers did cost slightly more, though, mainly because of detailing such as satin trim on the jacket and legs, but it was worth every penny. The details are what make the difference — small things, like your embroidered name, or choosing a whacky lining. The finish all round is excellent, with seams well stitched and plenty of internal pockets.
All in all, Sam’s clearly deserve their popularity. Whilst service can feel clinical at first (though once you get to know the guys better they’re incredibly friendly — if not talented at upselling) the suits are well worth the money. I had a couple of friends who tried other establishments, paying less, but it showed; inferior finished products that barely looked tailored at all. What’s more, Sam’s offer lifetime tailoring for free, so if you lose or gain weight, they’ll happily try and adjust your suit for you. If you’re passing through, or on a year abroad, you’d be missing a trick if you didn’t stop by.
And who knows, you might even see a famous face!
Originally published at Charles Harry Smith.