Take a look at the clothes in your closet. I’ll bet at least half have “Made In China” on the label. China’s manufacturing history goes back to the late ’70’s, early ’80’s but the art of craftsmanship and tailoring goes back to, well, the beginning of time.
Walking down the streets in Shanghai, you will pass a tailor or dressmaker shop on every block. We’ve been passing them on our weekend adventures and several times, I’ve mentioned to Greg, “I want one of those Chinese dresses.” As we pass the tailor shops, he jokes back with me “I want a few of those tailored suits.”
When I brought this up at work, co-workers were quick to share that Shanghai is the best for any dress and Hong Kong is the best for any tailored suits.
They shared with me the area that has the best qípáo makers in all of Shanghai. Qípáo is the real name for the Chinese style dress I had been admiring – that’s pronounced Che-Pow. The qípáo was created in the 1920’s in Shanghai and some of the same dress shops are still operating today.
A few weeks ago, Evie, my assistant, and lifeline to China, and I headed out to find a qípáo that would be right for me. Walking into the very small shop was a bit overwhelming. Beautiful silk dresses were displayed on mannequins and hanging in all colors in a few different styles.
I picked out a dress that I really liked. The color and the design was simple and elegant.
The dressmaker handed me a dress from the rack and motioned for me to put it on. I looked at Evie and shared my concern that it most likely wouldn’t fit. She said something to the dressmaker and the translation was something like “it’s the biggest size we have in the shop.” “Put it on and we’ll take the measurements”
I squeezed into the dress, left most of it bunched around my mid-section and held together the slits on the side and stepped out from the small dressing room ready for measurements. Evie and the dressmaker were going back and forth in conversation. It got a bit louder and more animated as they went along. I asked Evie what was going on and she said the dressmaker was going to need to charge more because I was so big and long.
I had to control my laughing as the dressmaker continued talking in an excited voice, while measuring and pinning. Evie explained to me that she was going to have to charge an extra $100RMB, about $17 US dollars for the added material.
I went back a week later for a fitting of the dress with the material I had picked out and 2 days later it was ready to wear. I can’t wait for the occasion to wear my new qípáo.
With a trip planned to Hong Kong for some NIKE meetings and the marathon weekend, I reached out to a co-worker from Beaverton who I knew had intimate knowledge and years of experience of where to go for the best tailor. He drafted an email introducing us to Manu Melwani and his son Roshan of Sam’s Tailors with the request to take care of us while we were in Hong Kong.
Sam’s was opened in 1957 by Sam Melwani and is now run by his son Manu and Grandson Roshan. When you walk into the very small, 800 square foot shop you can feel the history and can see by the many images posted around the shop of who has had their suits handcrafted at Sam’s. U.S. Presidents, The Bushes, Clinton, Reagan all have photos with Manu or Roshan posted in the store. Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Tony Blair and other varying heads of state. Military officials, religious leaders, sports stars, entertainers all with their photos taken in this same location.
The place was packed with others all looking to get fitted for what is most often promised as 24-hour turn around from first fitting to completion. Roshan quickly got to work with Greg. He talked to him about what he liked, what was his favorite color. He showed him different fabrics, different styles of lapels and samples of different collars. Roshan served each of us a beer as we looked through the options. Roshan and the beers could not have been more helpful.
Not wanting to be made to feel left out, Roshan offered to make me a suit or two. I was reluctant at first as the only images I saw of women in the store were of the late Margaret Thatcher, Princess Margaret and Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany. And as impressed as I am with Princess Margaret and her bloodline and of course the power of Ms. Merkel, I did not see either of them as influencers of style.
With complete trust in Roshan and a couple beers, I surrendered to the moment and took to the measuring process. Awkward as you can see. Only explanation needed here is that we are both standing.
We arrived on Thursday late afternoon and went directly to Sam’s for our first meeting and to get measured. We went back again on Friday night for our initial fitting. We left Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon with a suitcase full of beautifully designed, custom fitted suits, shirts, dresses and a couple coats. We can’t wait to wear our new duds to a meeting with the President and First Lady of China or to the Spaghetti Factory when we return to Portland.