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Dec / Jan 2012
Suits You, Sir

Writer: Warren Singh-Bartlett / Photographer: Ione Ascanio Green

Cutting the process of making a bespoke suit down from six months to just three weeks and doing it in such an affordable and friendly manner has earned Apsley our Ultimate Tailor award.


Bodies are funny things. From expanding waistlines and sagging jowls to liver spots and crow’s feet, your personal vehicle betrays you, year by year. But even before the tribulations of aging set in, it has betrayed you in less obvious ways. 

Shoulders that are out of kilter, scapulae that are not quite the same size, a pelvis that’s slightly higher on one side than the other. As defects go, they sound severe but they’re actually remarkably common, the result of the way we sleep, sit and the kind of work we do. 

Because the imbalances in question are usually a matter of millimetres, most people miss them. Unless they are trained to see. Your clothes are less forgiving. This is why one trouser leg seems shorter than the other, why your cuffs aren’t quite aligned, why that jacket doesn’t hang right at the back. You may think that none of this matters. If we can’t see the differences, why worry? Fair enough. The thing is though that the brain perceives what the eye doesn’t always see and when beauty, as countless studies have shown, is proportional to harmony, every deviation (subconsciously) detracts from yours.

This is why those that can have their clothes made and those who really care get theirs made not to measure, but bespoke. For you see, your tailor will notice your defects and will construct your clothes accordingly, tightening here, raising there, adding a bit more padding elsewhere. The result, if he is worth is his salt, is clothing that will make you, as that Gillette tagline so famously goes, the best a man can be.

Being more than a little unbalanced myself, it was with this in mind that I made my way hopefully to Apsley, the bespoke tailors’ a hop and a skip from St. James’ Palace on Pall Mall. Though it’s only been open since 2002, making it positively sprightly in West End terms, Apsley’s pedigree is considerably longer for it is the sister establishment of Punjab House, the prestigious Hong Kong tailor that’s been serving first Empire and later Establishment, since 1889. 

These days, Establishment and Military are still major customers, as is Entertainment (in the form of West Ham and Fulham United) and civilians of every gender, all attracted by the prospect of buying bespoke for less than it costs to buy, for example, Boss. Apsley’s secret? Those Punjab House ties. The cutting and the first fitting are done in London - in the basement below the showroom, in fact - but the suit is sent to Hong Kong to be finished. Three fittings and three weeks later, one is ready to wear.

Sizing me up with an obviously seasoned eye as I walk through the door, Apsley GM Sunil Chopra invites me to sit and over a cup of tea, goes through what I want or more precisely, what I want it for. Having established my parameters – something formal but not overly, light enough to be worn in the humidity of Beirut, classic with a contemporary twist and most importantly, shaped to make up for personal flaws or essentially, a single-breasted one-button classic English drape, with fully floating canvass construction, of course - he brings over several books of fabric and invites me to take my pick.

I admit, I am overwhelmed. Worsted, silk and seersucker, vicuna, cotton, tweed and twill. Some are obviously too heavy for what I have in mind but even with them set aside, the choices I have before me are bewildering. Striped or plain? Prince of Wales or Herringbone? Textured or smooth? 

But Mr. Chopra is ready for that too, gently guiding me towards the cloth that I now suspect he had in mind the minute I told him what I wanted. For you see, Sir may be the one paying but as any talented tailor knows, Sir doesn’t necessarily always know what will flatter him best.

Having established material, lining and whether I want the buttonholes to be functional (I do) and what kind of shoulder padding I am after (solid but nothing 1980s, I say) the measurements begin. One tailor takes every conceivable size imaginable and another begins taking photographs. These, I later learn, are used as a visual reference during the making process, a supplement to the measurements. As numbers are called out, I am glad I’m the only customer present. 

Seven months later, I am back for my second fitting. “You’ve lost weight,” Mr Chopra notes and then introduces me to Arshad Mahmood, owner of Punjab House and Apsley. On his way to negotiate a contract with a Sydney football team, he’s overseeing my fitting and instructs the tailor as he walks around, checking. 

“A bit tighter there. Pin that bit up.” Deft hands work in a blur, sticking pins in pants and down chest panels with a precision that mitigates the unnerving speed at which the sharp silvery things are being inserted. “No, look now, see how it’s become bunched up? Yes. There. Perfect. How does that feel, Sir?”

Sir admits the fit feels quite marvellous and with a smile from the fitter, the jacket is whipped off and the curtain to the fitting room is being drawn back for the pants to come off. “A cup of tea before you go?” Mr. Chopra asks solicitously.

“Oh and if you need any minor adjustments made to the finished suit,” Mr. Mahmood tells me as he shakes my hand, “don’t worry, we’ll be able to do it in the shop the same day.”

Ten days later, I’m back. My suit is whisked out and hung in the changing room for me to wear. The trousers go on perfectly. The usual folds of fabric I have hanging at the back are absent and my belly is artfully disguised by a slightly lower cut than normal. 

Next, the jacket. As I slip it on, the first thing I notice is that I can actually see my hands. Most of my off-the-peg jackets end perilously close to my knuckles. This one, however, ends where it should and shows just enough cuff. Then, as I button it up, the real miracle. This one gives me an actual silhouette. Svelte I may not be, but at least I don’t look like I’m wearing a sack, my usual experience with suits. As I turn, admiring myself in the mirror – a most unusual sensation, I assure you – I’m abruptly seized by a singularly wallet-freezing thought. Having gone bespoke, will I ever be able to go back?

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