Lessons from Savile Row
Pawan Ishwar of Knights & Lords is sitting in a small windowless, tailoring store hidden away in a corner of JBR’s Al Fattan Marine Towers, but much of his conversation is of a very different place: London’s Savile Row.
What links the two places together is the pilgrimage he and his brother, Ashish, made to the home of bespoke tailoring over a decade ago and the lessons they returned with.
Born and bred in the UAE, the brothers were raised as tailors, gathering experience working in their father’s company making uniforms for the hospitality sector. And presumably they could have had a comfortable life had they continued in the same vain. But curiosity, and a desire to learn got the better of them, and soon found themselves work in the tailoring world’s most prestigious postcode: W1S, Savile Row, London.
“In London, we had to start right from the beginning,” explains Pawan, who worked for Norton & Sons for five years while Ashish worked for Davies & Son for seven years. “I started off as a buttonhole maker, my brother made trouser alterations.” But eventually they got to the cutting board and got to play a part in the whole process. “The great thing about working at a small outfit with seven people is the tailoring remains traditional rather than relying on modern methods,” he says. It was after learning the traditions that they hatched a plan to come back to Dubai to open their own bespoke tailoring service with the aim of bringing these lessons home.
The idea of ‘bespoke’ tailoring in this region is confused at best. It is a term applied loosely by a vast number of tailors who, according to Pawan, are “purposely misusing it”. A big part of the Knights & Lords experience is the stress on educating its customers on the distinction between made-to-measure and bespoke cuts.
Other tailors can debate all they want regarding their right to call themselves ‘bespoke’
As any Esquire reader knows, made-to-measure refers to a cut taken from a pre-set pattern that has been adjusted to the client’s body. Often the work is done away from the tailoring house in a workshop. Here in the UAE even suits that are technically bespoke are often machine made. Knights & Lords follows Savile Row’s Bespoke Association rules, with Pawan saying of the conventions, “Other tailors can debate all they want regarding their right to call themselves “bespoke” but if the father of Savile Road, Henry Poole, states something is “bespoke” then that is how I will accept it.”
To achieve this standard, the process of creating a new pattern from scratch can take up to 60 hours easily, with 70 percent of the suit created by hand. This is in contrast to most Dubai tailoring houses where the fabric is sent to a workshop and 90 percent of the suit is machine made; based on a pre-set pattern without a canvas on the inside. Pawan argues that this isn’t just about tradition. “It is paramount that the person’s body and the way they move are clearly visualised in the tailor’s mind in order to achieve the perfect cut. This connection is lost if the tailor who is measuring his client is different to the person who is cutting the end-product.” That’s why Pawan still makes sure he is never more than a day or two away from the cutting board, even when he is on holiday, so that he maintains his dexterity and feel for the fabric.
The question is of course whether Knights & Lords can find an audience for this sort of approach. The fact that they’ve been quietly growing, largely through word of mouth, for almost five years is a good initial sign. “What we have noticed over the years is people in Dubai are becoming more aware of different tailoring techniques,” explains Pawam. “From knowing the difference in lapel types, to shifts in trends and different textures — it is really refreshing.”
Then there is the price point. Knights & Lords suits start from Dhs 2,500, which can obviously rise much higher depending on the material. Most customers typically spend DhsDhs3,500 to Dhs4,000, – which is low enough to compete with the higher end of lower cost tailors, and high enough to entice customers away from off-the-peg fashion brands. Of this latter category, Pawan is keen to point out that not paying a brand or a space in Dubai Mall means that the focus can instead be dedicated purely to the quality of the product.
And what of that product’s appearance? Clearly well-made doesn’t guarantee good taste. Pawam says he personally prefers a solid coloured, slim-fit cut suit that doesn’t sacrifice comfort or manoeuvrability, but he also accepts that the role of the tailor is to adapt to his client’s demands – especially if you’re in the bespoke business.
“These days we make pockets that fit smartphones perfectly,” he explains of how they address the needs of their customers. “And we once had a client who wanted to cut down on his smoking habit, so we cut him a suit where his left breast pocket would only fit his Zippo lighter and five cigarettes. Months later he told us how his suit had helped him cut back on smoking.”
He also recalls the request from a Viennese client who wanted to fit his umbrella in his jacket. “The challenge was to make the suit hang properly despite the extra weight,” he says with a chuckle. Which shows that, especially in a place like Dubai, custom is all good and well but there are plenty of customers who want to bend those rules. At Knights & Lords they just hope you don’t break them altogether – because their Savile Row masters would be horrified.
Knights & Lords, Dubai. +971 4 3995313