Cutting one's cloth to suit the recession


Hong Kong tailor Raja Daswani’s recession-based clothing campaign has struck a chord with Irish customers, writes Amanda Phelan

EARLY MORNING at the Four Seasons Hotel on Dublin’s southside and a series of slightly nervous-looking people tread the soft carpet up to suite number 242.

Their trepidation is understandable. It’s not every day you let a snappily turned out Indian stranger measure important statistics, including the depth of your groin. The visitors are all here thanks to the lure of smart dressing, the recession and the appeal of a cheesy advertising campaign.

Inside the suite, travelling tailor Amer Nazir of Raja Fashions gets to grips with his customers. “Outside leg 34, groin 10 inches”, he mutters during his third day of non-stop measurements in the hotel.

One dapper visitor likes his style. “I’m a regular, and it’s worth every penny,” he says.

The men – and women – who trekked to this suite over three days last week are lining up for bespoke suits from Hong Kong tailor Raja Daswani, made famous by his prolific advertising and near-legendary slogan “Even the Price Suits You, Sir!”

And business is brisk, even in the middle of a recession in which retail sales fell 8.1 per cent last year.

Raja’s densely written advertisement, composed in the kind of earnest tone not seen since the old-fashioned hair tonic ads, has gained almost cult status from New York to London and Sydney, and has helped him sell more than 70,000 suits to western businessmen looking to beat the prices offered by high street tailors.

Now the tailor has a new campaign, this time with a recession theme. And it’s striking a chord with Irish customers. On just one morning last week, buyers included a farmer and a politician, followed by construction equipment supplier Andrew Bacon, in his 30s, who held in his waist for measurement during a 30-minute sitting.

“I’m here under instructions from the missus – she saw the ad,” the fit-looking Drogheda man tells The Irish Times.

His €500 suit is also a well-deserved celebration of his recent health and exercise campaign, in which he lost two stone. Previously, Bacon has bought suits from a leading Dublin tailor and clothing store. “But you’re talking about €1,000 – these guys are much better value,” he says, gesturing to Nazir and his assistant.

After some consultation, he changes from his first choice of charcoal black to a smart navy-blue fine wool number.

“It might even impress my boss, although he’s a hard act to follow; he’s Italian,” confesses Bacon as he stands still for measuring – 20 inches around the groin front to back: “You do feel a bit nervous during this part, but he has gentle hands.”

And dressing up smartly is vital, says the 32-year-old tailor, echoing US comedian Jerry Seinfield’s observation: “We’d better do what this guy says – his pants match his jacket.”

Nazir, who likes to be addressed as Mr Raja, is a nephew of Daswani. He travels to Ireland every three months or so and sets up shop for four days at a €570-a-night suite at the Four Seasons, where he opens for business from 10am to 8pm.

During this trip, Mr Raja says he has taken orders for 50 new suits ranging in price from €350 to over €3,000.

Women make up about 15 per cent of his business, and outfits take about three weeks to produce.

The suits are delivered to customers’ homes after being put together by Mr Raja and his family’s team of 200 staff in Hong Kong, with some of the work done in China.

And while some customers are here because of the price, many return for the quality.

“The service and standard are excellent,” says Derek Pollard, a dapper man in his 70s who likes to wear a smart jacket when he takes his wife to dinner or to a hotel.

Mr Raja says orders are increasing from Ireland, and it’s a similar story in other cities across Europe, with London being the most popular for business. “We do as good a job as any Saville Row tailor,” says Mr Raja, pointing to hundreds of swaths of cloth and colour samples lying neatly on the table of the hotel suite. “And they charge up to £16,000 for their work.”

But whatever the country, there are similar experiences: men tend to underestimate their waist size, don’t help the measuring process by holding in their stomachs, and overestimate their groin inches. Funny, that.

Women, especially in Ireland, “need all the help they can get,” says Mr Raja. “They go to work looking far too casual. Men wandering around in tracksuits are another pet hate. With this recession, it’s even more important to look smart. Then you’ll be powerful and aggressive.

Mr Raja can’t contain the salesman in him as he describes the Hong Kong-based 60-year-old business set up by his family, originally from India. And he says suits need not always be conservative. “My favourite colour is pink,” he says, pointing out his cheerful raspberry-hued tie.

And this sewing maestro is the master of discretion. Sometimes he has to clear the suite so customers can have a fitting alone, he admits. Are they coy about their clothing tastes? “No, they like to bring their mistress along to the fitting.” Give me names, I beg. “Oh dear no, that would be telling.”