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Measured to perfection

delhi Updated: Apr 05, 2010 00:03 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

There is an old saying 'God made man, we made gentleman'. The man who makes your suit - your tailor-- has always taken pride in this old adage.

Tailors have been an integral part of our lives, and bespoke tailoring -- highly customised suit making -- has forever been treated as a fine art by connoisseurs of tailoring.

After all, the suit you wear speaks volumes about you!

Savile Row in London has been the Mecca of tailoring; it's where the rich and famous from across the globe have been going for over 200 years to get their suits stitched.

But not many Delhiites might know that Connaught Place once used to be India's Savile Row - the ultimate tailoring destination.

It was home to legendary tailors such as Ranken & Company, Trevillion & Clark (both were run by Britishers), Md Omar & Sons, and S.C. Sharma & Company, that boasted of clients from all across the country and abroad as well.

Most of the old tailoring houses in CP have either closed down or exited the business over the years.

"It was a matter of pride and status to get our suits stitched by tailors such as SC Sharma and Grahme, a Britisher, who owned Ranken & Company in CP," says Satish Sundra, 74, owner of Ram Chandra and Sons, the city's oldest toyshop in CP.

He says he has not got a suit stitched for himself for the past 25 years because his favourite tailors are no longer there. Well, that defines what a tailor could mean to a man!

Thankfully, Connaught Place still has some true bespoke tailors from the old days that have survived the readymade revolution.

These tailors, whose history goes back to 70 years, are still a favourite with the rich and famous of the country.

For these suave, English-speaking tailors who learnt their craft in London, tailoring has been a family business for three generations.

Here we profile three top tailors of the city, who give insight into their art, their rich legacy and the dressing sense of their high-profile clients.

Catering to the sartorial taste of the rich for 70 years

Vaish at Rivoli,
Connaught Place

The beautiful red brick façade, a high-arched window with an old sewing machine, huge arch mirrors on the walls inside, a vintage gramophone on a table … this tailoring shop near Rivoli Cinema in CP has a distinct colonial flavour.

Ashok Vaish, 63, whose father established the shop in 1940, still practises bespoke tailoring as a fine art.

"Many tailors now claim to offer bespoke tailoring without knowing what it is. This high-end suit making technique is about making a suit that fits an individual's anatomy and enhances his personality. It involves the maximum human touch and provides the highest level of individual customisation," says Vaish.

Both Ashok Vaish and his father OP Vaish were trained as tailors at the prestigious Tailor and Cutter Academy in London in 1970 and 1950 respectively. Ashok Vaish also worked at Dege and Skinner, one of the famous tailors at Savile Row in London. The certificates adorn the walls of the shop.

Over the last 70 years, the shop has been a favourite tailoring destination for the rich, famous and the royals. It has had such illustrious clients as Maharaja of Jaipur, Maharaja of Rampur, BR Ambedkar, etc.

Ashok Vaish says that the essence of the "bespoke" suit lies in the process that is followed to make it. The process involves a detailed measurement of the individual (see box) and then a pattern which is specially made for each customer. Each bespoke suit, he says, is completely hand- made.

"Most tailors use fused inner lining, but we use floating canvass construction that involves handwork. Our lapels are also hand-stitched, " he says. The price of a suit at Vaish can be anything between Rs 12,000 to 1 lakh, including the cost of the fabric.

Ashok Vaish says that post economic liberalisation customized tailoring took a beating because wearing branded suits such as Armani and Hugo Boss became both a fashion statement and status symbol - even though a branded suit hardly fits the person's body.

His son Sachin Vaish says that the new generation is now returning to bespoke suits.

"These days most of my clients are young professionals who understand the difference between a Hugo Boss suit and a bespoke suit. For them it's the customised suit that defines true style and luxury," he says.

Their clients include Bush, Clinton, Cherie Blair...

Grover Tailoring House,
Khan Market

From the outside, Grover Tailoring House looks like any other shop in Khan Market. But this is no ordinary tailoring shop. Its clients list will take your breath away: former US presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton; Edmund Hillary (the first man to climb the Mount Everest), Cherie Blair, former President Giani Zail Singh, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, etc.

"I took measurements of president Clinton and made suits for him. He was very cooperative. His daughter Chelsea visited our shop to get tops, trousers and suits stitched for herself and her mother Hillary. She was very nice and spent about two hours at the shop," says OP Grover, pointing to a framed picture of Chelsea Clinton with him on the front glass of the shop.

The picture is from March 2000 when Bill Clinton visited India as US President.

Grover also stitched suits for George W Bush and his entourage when he visited India as US President in 2006. "

The US Embassy gave us space at his hotel, where I and my team worked non-stop for three days," he says. Former US ambassador to India, Robert Black is also his customer. "Whenever he comes to India, he makes it a point visit to my shop," says Grover, whose father set up the shop in 1962.

Despite his impressive client list, Grover's shop remains spartan: there is a counter and open shelves crammed with suit lengths, mostly imported.

"It's deliberate; 80 per cent of my clients are foreigners who are bored of glitzy show rooms and malls. They like the simplicity of the shop," says Grover.

Grover speaks three languages — Italian, Spanish and French — fluently. "I learnt these languages to understand the requirements of my foreign customers and be able to develop a rapport with them. It is very important for a tailor," says Grover.

Ask Grover how he competes with the ready-made revolution?

His son Bobby Grover answers the question, "Readymade garments are for dummies. Customised tailoring means that you wear the clothes that fit you; you do not have to fit into them. Thankfully, there are still people who understand this".

But Grover senior fears that there would be no good tailors left in the next 10 years. And the reason? "Not many people want to take up tailoring as a career any more," he says, with a tinge of sadness in his eyes.

Even the Prime Minister counts on them

Vadehra Menswear,
Connaught Place

This nondescript shop next to Regal Cinema has a history that goes back to 1946. For the last six decades, the Vadehras have been

one of the most sought-after tailors in the city.

They count Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Union home minister Shivraj Patil among their high-profile clients.

Owner M.M. Vadehra, 72, whose father J.C. Vadehra and uncle K.K. Vadehra set up the shop, feels that the art of customised suit-making — or besopke tailoring — has been on the decline, especially after the economic liberalisation, when people got besotted with big brands.

"These days few people appreciate bespoke tailoring; what matters to them is not the fitting of the suit, but the label stuck on it," says M.M. Vadehra.

His son Aman Vadehra, 40, blames the decline of bespoke tailoring on the declining quality of tailors. "These days most tailors are not up to the mark; their bad work has also driven people towards readymade garments," he says.

Vadehra, who believes in personally dealing with his each customer, often breaks the conversation to attend to his customers.

"I or my son personally take measurements of our clients, and supervise cutting and stitching; this personal touch helps us counter competition from big readymade brands," says MM Vadehra.

He says that Shivraj Patil, his client for 35 years, is a true connoisseur of bespoke tailoring.

"He is a thorough gentleman, has a great dress sense, and appreciates what good tailoring is. We have done many suits for him. Most recently we stitched achkans for him when he became the governor of Punjab," says MM Vadehra.

He also has a word of praise for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "I made the bandhgala when he took the oath of office in 2004. He has been our client ever since," he says.

But is the PM fussy about fitting? "He is man of simple taste; all he wants is nice fit; and that the colour of his bandhgalas should suit his blue turban," says MM Vadehra, adding, "The PM is, in fact, a tailor's delight. He is fit and has perfect physique — just the kind of person a tailor loves to stitch a suit for."