What to look for in your tailor
With a history of catering to gentleman’s sartorial needs that dates back to London in 1847, since its expansion into the UAE, Ascots & Chapels has established a name for itself as a highly trustworthy tailor in a region seemingly populated by young (and old) pretenders.
This month, Esquire sat down with the brand’s local artistic director, Mahir Ali to talk about the importance of channeling British style and what you should be aware of before investing in that bespoke suit…
Tell us how Ascots & Chapels first established itself this region
Well, it’s a franchise stemming from Hanover Square in London’s Mayfair district that we brought over here in 2007. For me, tailoring is a family business – I grew up in it. But our background in the UAE is in hospitality, and this is the third generation of retailers and manufacturers. Ascots & Chapels is a great brand with a strong heritage, and we knew it could be a great concept for the Middle East. Sensing the opportunity, we proposed to the London office that we would bring the brand to Dubai and start rolling out stores, we have a huge infrastructure in the Middle East, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE so it’s worked out really well…
What’s so important about sticking with, and presenting British tailoring properly?
Nothing else is like British tailoring, they are the pioneers. Bringing in the heritage and expertise and over here, and communicating it to the people who have already experienced this kind of suit-making was the easy bit. We didn’t have to work hard on that message to the client at all, mostly because England has been a beacon of guidance to the world in this regard for centuries now. Saville Row is the home of tailoring after all, so it was a great platform for us to present that we are a British brand, and this is what we’re here to offer you.
What particular ideals of British tailoring do you try and bring to the region?
Personalisation. Over here the term bespoke has been misused, people think it’s all made by hand. That is not the case; the word was derived on Saville Row when somebody gave their hand to a particular fabric that was spoken for – hence bespoken. Other tailors reinforce certain aspects that they think will look good for you, whereas we try to simply suggest what will look good. But primarily we are here to listen to what you need to communicate to us, that’s the reason you come to a tailor. You know what your vision is, how a suit and a shirt should look on you. I trained on Saville Row for six months before I even moved over here and this is what I’ve experienced. It’s all about the personal touches, how you make a client feel. That’s how we train our staff and this is what we say to our clients; express yourself, your personality. Your clothes – without speaking a word – communicate a feeling to another person.
Do the majority of customers come in with no idea what they want? Just a good suit?
7 out of 10 times, yes. Only around 30% of people walk in with and say: “This is what I’m looking for.” They’ve Googled a few pictures, have a rough idea in their minds, but most just come in and say “Please help me!”
So, what’s the first stage of the process?
We start with the colour and the fabric, we ask them what the occasion is; establish when they’re going to be wearing it and so on. We then talk to them in detail about the exact colour they want – which can take some time. Then it’s the design process, establishing things like a preference for one button or two buttons, usually by finding out what environment the customer is working in. Some people work in very conservative environments, and they just want a white shirt and blue suit, they can’t wear a one button suit – it’s too outlandish for the environment that they work in. Some people come in who work in fields like advertising, so a more open approach to clothing is acceptable, they can wear pink or lavender shirts, so the design process comes second. We also get them measured; this is all in the first session.
What exactly is measured?
We do 10 measurements in total, including shoulder, length, stomach, back, sleeves and the drop. It all depends on the client and their body type, so for some we will take extra measurements as well. If he’s broad chested or has broad shoulders it will change the cut – that’s the first fitting. The second meeting is a follow-up on how the suit will look. They may say “trim this, taper the shoulders in, I don’t like this length,” it’s all a guideline and after this, we make amendments. After the first fitting, the whole jacket is pulled apart, the amendments are done, and then we can continue to the second fit. The jacket is 80% made, only the sleeves and the collar to go. The trousers also aren’t done, we still have to do the bottom and sides. They may be happy with the jacket but just want a little extra shape in a few places, so the second fit is just minor adjustments.
The third time a client comes in is for the final product. If he is not OK with the second fitting, or us – and we have to be happy with what we’re giving them too – then we tell him to come for a third fitting. He can take the suit three or four days after that.
What aspect of the tailoring process is the most difficult?
The trickiest part is the shoulders, because once they’re cut; they’re cut. The length you can adjust – we keep an allowance of two or three inches in case a client wants a bit of extra length, but if he needs looser shoulders we’ll have to cut another jacket. With the trousers it’s mostly OK, we have allowance pretty much everywhere – sides, waist, and bottom.
What sort of training do your employees undergo to ensure standards are kept high?
They start very early in the industry – they’re professional craftsmen, and when we hire them, we train them for around six months before they can make an Ascots & Chapels suit. Our workers are mostly sourced from India; and we have very high quality control systems. We have someone over from the England branch every 8-12 weeks who checks absolutely everything, the workmanship, the quality, and the kind of materials we are using. He stays for a week to 10 days and will advise us on anything that needs doing, or anything new that’s happening in the industry. It comes from the global scene, mostly from Europe.
What mistakes do you see a lot other tailors making in this region?
There are many clients who come in having been to other tailors, and I’m sure there are many ex-clients of ours that go to them – it’s really customer feedback. It’s a service industry and we try to achieve a 95% success rate. But when clients come in who’ve tried other tailors, I ask why they’ve chosen us, and two things are very common; the first is the attention on the fitting time, a lot tailors historically don’t listen. The second is that there’s no design consultation. You cannot suggest a three-button suit to someone who has a big belly, or someone who’s 5”2. You have to see the body then find the suit.
Asides from this attention to detail, is there anything else that you feel sets Ascots & Chapels apart from other competitors when it comes to the finished product?
I’d say our most distinct USP is that we give an extra trouser with every suit here. You wear your trouser twice as much as your jackets, when you walk into the office you hang your jacket but you never take your trousers off! I don’t know of any other tailors in the region that offer this and feel it’s something that gives us a leg up – no pun intended.
Getting a Suit Tailored: The dos and don’ts
If you’re losing weight – do not buy a suit right now
“Achieve the weight you want to achieve first, and then order the suit. Otherwise you could potentially be a different body shape and measurement every time you come in. The finished suit just won’t look how you want it to as it has been altered so many times.”
Don’t get a suit too loose
“Tailoring is about personalisation, it’s about who you are. Get clothing that you are comfortable in, if you have a good body and have been wearing off the peg suits, it’s going to take some time for you to adjust”
Be seasonal with your choices
“All year round people come in and say ‘I want a light grey suit,’ but when its winter that’s not suggestible – light grey is a summer colour. For winter, get a neutral colour, a steel grey, charcoal or navy blue”
Be open to experimentation
“Don’t just blanky refuse the options that are given to you – try them all once. It’s about representing yourself through colours and fabrics and the custom options we have, like the coloured button holes, slimmer lapels, different buttons and threads etc. There are all kinds of ways of showing the world you’re wearing a bespoke suit”
Don’t expect a carbon copy
“People sometimes want a suit they’ve seen totally copied but that’s not what we’re here for – were here to make something to fit your body – that’s why you’re here. We don’t refuse anything, but we suggest the route”