STYLE AND TRAVEL Bespoke becomes affordable
He’s the man threatening to do to Savile Row tailors what Margaret Thatcher did to the miners. And he’s proving so successful that Tony Blair is said to be a fan. You’ll have seen his brazenly eye-catching newspaper advertisements with headlines like ‘Even The Price Suits You, Sir!’ and a picture of an Indian man with pursed lips and a slightly unnerving, unwavering stare which seems to convey pathological disapproval of the British male’s slipping sartorial standards.
Raja Daswani, a third-generation millionaire tailor from Hong Kong, is on a mission to rescue the ‘badly dressed and overpaying British customer’. I’m up for being rescued. No question about it. I’m 35 and to my enduring shame have never had a suit made. My only foray into the bespoke world was in Good Looks Tailors of Islamabad, a dubious establishment that boasts the nuclear smuggler A.Q. Khan and President Pervez Musharraf among its clients. The tweed Nehru jacket was not a success.
Being a travel writer, I think of elegantly suited heroes of mine like the dashing Sir Paddy Leigh Fermor and Sir Wilfred Thesiger who, at the age of 88 told me, after I had complimented him on his handsome, three-piece, grey check number, that it was a suit from his Oxford undergraduate days (I think he was fibbing).
Alas, with no private income my budget is more Marks & Spencer than Savile Row, so what to do? I’ve never been impressed by the boxy suits of friends who swear by cut-price options in the East End, Micky the Greek being a particular favourite.
It is time to try out the Scourge of Savile Row, who promises ‘two bespoke, custom-cut and hand-stitched suits, made from fine British or Italian cloth and measured by a master tailor for the price of one off-the-peg, chain-store suit cut by a computer out of cheap fabric and sold to you by a gentleman with spiky gelled hair who wouldn’t know a side vent or a notch label from a PlayStation’.
Raja Fashions may not trip off the tongue like Huntsman but in an age of globalised business, using 500 low-cost cutters in China and Hong Kong seems to be no more than common sense. Since he makes more than 1,000 suits a week, he can afford to set his margins considerably lower than his august British counterparts.
I make an appointment to see Raja in a seventh-floor suite at the Tower Bridge Novotel. He strides into the room, all charm and ebullience, and sizes me up in an instant, noting my dropped right shoulder, my hollow back and Neanderthal arms.
‘I know what you want,’ he says. ‘Single-breasted jacket, three horn buttons, ticket pocket, flat-front, straight-leg trousers.’ The man’s a genius.
‘I’m going to make you look like a million dollars,’ he goes on. ‘I’m going to make you a suit that is tip-top. It’s going to be just the ticket.’
We agree on a grey worsted wool from Zegna which will set me back £300. The advertisement said something like £169 for a suit, but Raja says that won’t make me look like a million dollars. He photographs me from several angles, measures me 22 times without asking which way I dress, and we’re done.
For the next 25 days I await my first bespoke suit in paroxysms of anticipation. Then one morning it arrives in a brown, briefcase-sized box. It fits like a gold-lined glove and feels sleek, svelte and — let’s be honest — expensive.
But I must put it to the test. Where better to make its public debut than at the book launch of that noted dandy and boulevardier Nicholas Foulkes, who has just written a magnificent history of the Bentley Boys? This is a man I once saw approach a perfect stranger at The Spectator’s summer party, finger the lapels of his tweed jacket with supreme disdain and pronounce, ‘That’s a fine horse blanket.’ Foulkes knows his threads. Although he’s more accustomed to suits that cost four figures rather than three, he is not unimpressed by Raja’s efforts. This is the highest possible praise.
I call Raja in Hong Kong to tell him to go ahead with the blue blazer. His tone is triumphant. ‘Next time I’m in London I’m going to fix you up in a big way,’ he says. ‘Give your old clothes to the Salvation Army. I’m going to turn your wardrobe around.’ I’m thinking a pinstripe velvet suit next. In midnight blue or something more exotic.
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