Sick of Savile Row rates and high-street horrors? Lucas Hollweg and David Mills discover the man who can craft you a bespoke suit for next to nothing
Raja Daswani is standing in a suite on the 10th floor of the Sheraton Park Tower in London, eyeing my suit. It is a dark-blue pinstripe with a fuchsia-pink lining — off the peg, admittedly, but pretty dashing nonetheless. Daswani is not fooled. “That suit was not made to measure,” he smiles. “As tailors, we can spot these things.”
Daswani is not your average tailor. He is the head designer of Raja Fashions, Hong Kong’s biggest made-to-measure business, and he can kit you out with a bespoke suit for as little as £170. That’s personal tailoring for the same price as something nasty from the high street, and about one-tenth of what you would pay on Savile Row.
When tourist business fell off after the Hong Kong handover, Daswani took his sartorial show on the road. He now spends seven months of the year in Europe and America, setting up shop in hotels and being invited in by the executives of big companies. Orders are up 100% in the past five years. His workshops turn out more than 1,000 suits a week.
But what do you actually get for your money? The men of Britain need to know. Which is why my colleague, David and I are standing in a Knightsbridge hotel room, having our every dimension assessed by an avuncular man with a tape measure.
As a bespoke virgin, I am looking to have a suit made from scratch – nothing too fancy, just something well cut that will make me look more sharp than shabby around the office. David, an old hand when it comes to made-to-measure, has brought along a suit to be copied. It is a traditional, stiff-upper-lip, dark-grey three-piece made on Savile Row 12 years ago – high-waisted trousers, double-breasted waistcoat, heavily lined jacket. He loves the cut, but wants a racier version to go with his natty new correspondent shoes.
I have worn my off-the-peg pinstripe to give Daswani an idea of what I am looking for. And he is not impressed. The jacket, he says, is too long, and does not take account of my “sloping shoulders”. He turns for confirmation to the man with a digital camera, who is taking photographs that will be e-mailed to the Hong Kong headquarters to ensure that the finished article is tailored to my particular physical imperfections. “Yes”. Nods the man with the camera, sagely. “The left shoulder is lower than the right.”
On the face of it. Daswani and his team may seem a bit quick to highlight one’s inadequacies, but it is part of their job. “When you buy off the peg,” he says, “it doesn’t allow for the variations in people’s bodies.” When I mention that I am after a three-button jacket, he suggests that two buttons would be more up to the minute. I get the impression that this is his polite way of saying: “Blimey, we have got to do something to hide that paunch.” A good tailor is like a good hairdresser – he is there to help you make the most of what you have got, even if you do not have much to work with. “We always give people what they require,” Daswani says, “but sometimes they need guidance. If someone asks for 6in lapels, I have to tell them that it won’t look good.”
David fares better on the anatomical front – “You have a very good body,” Daswani soothes, as he marks the suit jacket with pins to signal that the new version needs to be a little larger. It turns out that the Savile Row suit is no longer quite a perfect fit: the trousers are 1/2in short, the waistband is 3/4in too high, the waistcoat could do with being 1in longer. Daswani doesn’t just want to make a facsimile, he wants to make something better.
Most customers spend about £1,000. Daswani can do you something presidential in mink cashmere. There are rumours he has made shirts for Tony Blair and even suits for David Beckham, though of it is true, he is saying nothing. “All I can tell you is that our clients include lawyers, bankers, politicians and members of the House of Lords,” he says, “We have a special room for people who don’t want to be seen.”
The British, he says, favour the more traditional styles, although they are suckers for a flash of subversive colour when their jacket falls open.
Selecting our fabrics from the swatch books scattered around the room (there are 25,000 to choose from), I go for light wool in a windowpane check – dark blue on charcoal – and an electric-blue lining. David opts for a thick hound’s-tooth check in black and white. Our details are recorded in an order book. David hands over his suit to be copied – and that’s it.
Three weeks later, the suits arrive in the post and they are … well, they are damn near perfect. Hand finishing, opening cuff buttons, fabric detailing on the lining. Even subtle details in David’s suit, such as a special inside pocket for a fountain pen, which he had deliberately neglected to point out at the fitting, to see if it would be picked up in the copy, have been faithfully reproduced. My jacket fits my shoulders like a glove, and the trousers are the first pair I have had for a long time where my stomach does not overhang the waistband.
There are just two niggles. The first is that the trousers could be just a tad longer. This is not a problem; Daswani has a team of tailors in London who will make minor changes at no extra charge. He cannot get everything absolutely right first time – because as he says, “I’, not God, I’m a tailor.” The second is more irritating. My name has been embroidered on the lining of an inside pocket. It is a nice touch, but with one slip of a needle, my surname has been transformed from Hollweg to Hollwee.
Still, at prices like these, it seems churlish to quibble. I am thinking of changing my name by deed pool to match the suit. You can’t get more bespoke than that.
Follow Suit: The Measure of Man
Requirements are discussed with the chief designer, Raja Daswani. Many customers bring in a favourite suit to be copied, or point out a style they like in magazines and advertisements.
Daswani’s team takes detailed measurements. Along with digital photographs to give extra information about your body shape and how you stand. These are sent to Hong Kong, where the suits are made.
Choose the fabric/Come with an idea of what you want – there are 25,000 swatches to choose from, including cashmeres and silk mohair. The choice affects the price. The two suits opposite cost £190 (two-piece) and £450 (three-piece)
(This article was formerly published in The Sunday Times)