1999 Confessions from the Dress Room
Featured in Suzy Gershman, author, Frommer's Born to Shop Hong Kong 1999
Men have been having suits made in Hong Kong for years, but women are still learning the ropes. One of the reasons why the business is not as common a practice for women is that Hong Kong tailors do not make women's clothing as well as they make men's suits! The number of tailors even willing to try is less than those who make men's suits and the women who have horror stories to tell are dotted all over the globe.
The reasons are simple-women's clothing must adapt to curves that men's bodies simply don't have. Therefore, finding a tailor who can properly drape fabric on a womanly -and Western-- figure takes a lot of doing.
I started going to W.W.Chan for the simple reason that Peter Chan makes my husband's clothes. But there is method to my madness; I didn't just pick an agreeable face from our circle of friends, I used basic science. You see, the three best tailors (alphabetically they are: Amen, Barromon and W.W.Chan) in Hong Kong are so defined because they have their own workshops and make their garments in Hong Kong - they do not farm them out and send them across the border into the Chinese mainland. Of these three, only W.W.Chan makes women' s clothing. End of search.
After my first suit, I was addicted; now I have most of my good clothes made by Danny Chen at W.W.Chan. I still shop in discount stores around the world and I still have "junk" clothes…but when it comes to the good stuff, it's made by Danny. Not only is it the best quality, but I don't have to worry about seeing someone else wearing the same suit or gown.
I've also come a long way since that first suit. I began the way most shoppers begin - with a classically styled, simple, navy blue suit that I knew I would wear forever. This was to amortize the cost and get full value from the expense. Fine. Sensible. Good shopping, Suze.
Now I'm way past that.
Yes, I still wear that first navy suit but I also have fashion forward clothes made and even go to Danny with pages from European fashion magazines so that I can beat the designers at their own game. I have a suit in my closet now that will not be in stores for another six weeks. Thanks, Danny!
There are tailors in town who will take on curvy clients; possibly some of them can tailor a suit to your liking. I wouldn't know because I have a lot of women friends in Hong Kong. Invariably when we get together, they complain about new tailors they have tried out. I'd rather pay a little more and have something worthwhile! Maybe you can find tailors less expensive than the Big Three, less than Danny chen for a suit-- but for women who want the best, only W.W.Chan will make you a suit that fits like couture.
Note that when you want to book an appointment with W.W.Chan for a woman's fitting, you do not look up "W.W.Chan " in the yellow pages, but must know the code name for the women's division - it's Irene Fashions.
In Hong Kong, a city where locals often think Americans are inscrutable, you'll find some unusual marketing practices. Thus is that W.W.Chan, commonly known as a men' s tailor, has this women' s clothing division in the exact same shop, but this tailor has a secondary name: Irene Fashions. The reason is simple enough to the tailors, the name " Irene " immediately tells visitors that there's a women's tailor on the premises. Inscrutable, huh?
Of course, one look around the shop-or into the women's side-does not really convince you of the talent that lies hidden behind the pincushions. There are only a few women's outfits on display, most are to be picked up latter that day or are ready for fittings-this means they display the taste of the next client and you may be making a judgment call based on someone else's taste level. Don't. This tailor is as good as you need them to be. Since I've now been having my clothes made here for several years I've perfected a few practices that have worked well over the years:
* I keep a standard Vogue pattern in Hong Kong. This is a pattern for a dress which covers all my figure flaws and works for all occasions, even sitting on airplanes for twenty hours. I can ask Danny to modify the sleeve or the cut of the skirt or whatever in order to change the dress around a bit (I have six versions of this one dress), but he and I are always speaking the same language since he keeps the pattern;
* I have a suit that we call "my regular suit." Interestingly enough, over the years, this same expression has been used for two different styles-very different styles. My regular suit used to be a simple blazer style suit with a straight skirt, very traditional. Then we copied an Armani jacket and adapted it to hide my figure flaws and suit my body type-that suit was such a hit that I have almost a dozen versions of it, thus it is now my "regular suit." Having a shorthand with Danny allows us to work on a transpacific basis and I can easily order by fax and know exactly what I will get.
* I bring magazine cuttings with me and go over the details with Danny in person-I never fax a cutting and never do the work on a new style by phone or fax.
* I often bring fabric with me. To tell the truth, the fabrics sold at W.W. Chan are top of the line and while yummy, can be too rich for my blood. I have a little place in New York where I can buy discontinued yardage from designers like Calvin Klein and Anne Klein at prices lower than in Hong Kong. If you're spending the money for a custom fit, by all means, you must follow through with quality fabric-but there are many ways to find a bargain on top-of-the-line fabrics and no tailor in Hong Kong will insist that you buy the yard goods from him.
* I also have a funny story about Chinese silks-since they are the rage, I decided I wanted a few things made from this fancy brocade. The silks at WWChan are about $2 more than at the local Chinese department stores in Hong Kong, so I decided I would buy my fabric there and save about $8. Great, big savings! I spent hours working on this project and never found the sophisticated and subtle shades that Danny had right on the wall at WWChan. In the end, I spent the extra $8 and laughed at how much time and trouble I wasted.
* I've also had coats made: Danny fit me for several different lengths and keeps them on file. That way you can order a coat depending on style plus need. Once you are fitted for a coat, take the time to see where other length will hit on your body frame so that you are prepared few years down the road. Length varies with fashion (not the stock market). Depending on your height and body proportions you can or can't wear certain lengths better than others. Know the measurements when you are working with Danny in person so that at another time you can order by fax.
* If your weight fluctuates, as mine does, have the tailor keep "fat" and "thin" measurements. You may even want to have two bottoms made for one jacket-I have been forced to do this over the years because I gained weight in my waist and hips. Also consider a standard style that will fit under all conditions. My perfect dress has an elastic waist, so I needn't worry about my weight change too much.
The more tailored and fitted your clothes, the more you are investing in your figure and your need to keep your weight stable.
* Most important: Give a project plenty of time. The more you put in, the more you communicate with the tailors, the better your finished garment will be.