That very erudite British writer AA Gill has recently bought a bespoke 3-piece tweed suit for around £5,000.
Gill, in common with most men, is in love with suits. They are, he reminds us, “wholly, indivisibly, a British invention,” embodying “authority, learning, expertise, manners, probity, efficiency, trust and a certain formality: all attributes traditionally thought of as British.”
What a pity then that in high street shops up and down the great city of London, many salesmen and women will raise a befuddled eyebrow at the mention of tweed. “Tweet, sir? What is that?” a young European shop assistant asked me this winter. There was similar bewilderment in several central London shops. Admittedly, we are not speaking here of the gentlemen’s tailors that Gill visits. Still, it was frustrating — imagine an Indian clothier looking lost at the mention of cotton kurtas.
Frustrating and annoying perhaps, but surprising? Not really. For some years now, that famous ‘Made in England’ label has all but disappeared from men’s clothes shops in London. These days, the suits are mostly made in China. They are mostly well-stitched too (although the trouser stitching have been known to come off a week after purchase) but they lack that much-coveted stamp of quality.
Over the winter, I discovered that the Chinese are now making and shipping to Britain that most English of clothing items — the fawn covert coat, complete with its distinctive brown velvet collar. “A lot of people really don’t know what a covert coat is any longer,” a British shop assistant (he wasn’t young) told me, oozing empathy.
Fortunately, even more enterprising than the Chinese is —what else — an Indian. Raja Daswani, who grandfather emigrated from northern India to Hong Kong, comes to you in London. Daswani and his team take up hotel rooms — they advertise the dates in national dailies — and offer you bespoke suits that are reputed to be of Saville Row quality for a fraction of the price. They are stitched in — where else —Kowloon, Hong Kong.