won't cut it, try Tokyo's tailors on for size. Richard Smith has the story all sewn up.
Size matters, especially to foreigners who have to travel out of the country to find
sleeves that reach their wrists, larger shoes or pants to fit the non-Japanese figure. If
you think made-to-measure items are the prerogative of city fat cats and starlets with
wardrobes chockablock with couture, think again. Dotted around the city are tailors and
artisans waiting to whip out their measuring tapes to size up the man or woman on the
street for a perfect fit.
Everything from a three-piece suit and handmade shoes to monogrammed baseball caps and
accessories can be tailored to your personal style and shape. And although special-order
items often have a price tag comparable to their fashion quotient, there are other
affordable options you may not be aware of. Department stores offer made-to-order suits
and shirts from top-notch designers and will make alterations on garments purchased in
store, and some tailors have even gone high-tech, serving their customers from cyberspace.
While your neighborhood needlepusher can handle hemming pants or letting out a waistband,
nothing beats a well-cut suit from an experienced clothier.
|Aoyama tailor Iwanaga poses with a
work in progress
Photos by Mitchell Coster
Cut above the rest
"Five or ten years ago, Italian fashion was popular and people wanted easy-fitting,
loose suits with very long sleeves," recalls Kaoru Sugata, owner of Smiley Tailor in
Roppongi. "But recently, the British style is coming back and the suit is moving
closer to the body."
Customer demand is equally divided between less expensive Japanese materials, and British
materials. "After the customer chooses the material, Sugata takes the measurements
and does the cutting and fitting himself. The suit is usually ready in one or two weeks.
Catering mostly to office workers who want suits priced in the medium range - around
JY120,000 to JY150,000 - the clothier is sometimes asked for more expensive suits at
JY250,000, the cost is dependent on the style and choice of fabric.
Sugata started apprenticing at age 15 and set up shop at 21; at the time, the US military
had its HQ in Roppongi and Smiley Tailor produced many military suits, uniforms and party
suits for officers. Now, the shop makes about 20 suits a month, mostly for Japanese
business people, although they still have a foreign clientele as well. "I have 44
years' experience," says Sugata, who has dressed Hollywood actors John Wayne and Bill
Longan (Herman Munster of "The Munsters" TV series). "We can make a suit in
any style, according to the tastes of the person."
Sugata also dresses female customers and has fitted Takarazuka performers - actresses in
an all-female revue. "When I cut, I just follow the feminine form," he explains.
Sadao Iwanaga, who has served the tailoring needs of Aoyama for 27 years, stocks
ready-to-wear suits, too. He believes you get your money's worth when it comes to
made-to-measure wear. "If you take care of it and you don't put on weight, a tailored
suit should last you ten years," says Iwanaga. But the advantages don't end there.
"The advantage of having clothing made is that everything down to the smallest detail
can suit your taste."
Although prÍt-a-porter rarely reaches the quality and fit of tailor-made
clothes, Iwanaga has a few words of advice for those who are considering ordering a suit.
"Each tailor has his own style of doing things. Be very specific and tell him or her
exactly what you want." You want to be sure your new wardrobe is worth the price. He
highly recommends you double-check the fit across the shoulders and sleeves, detailing and
buttons, making sure they fasten properly, when you collect your new suit. He advises
putting it on and fastening it up to be sure it hangs right, too. A suit from Iwanaga
takes three weeks to make and can cost anywhere from JY150,000 to JY300,000. Tailor
Iwanaga specializes in menswear, but they do make women's two-piece suits (but no
For those with shallow pockets, taka-Q has stepped in to the market. A mens' suit and
sportswear chain with about 200 stores across Japan, taka-Q has pioneered the
"style-order system." Not exactly tailor-made clothing, their system allows
customers at around 130 stores to try an off-the-peg article and order a customized
version from the manufacturer. The corrected version is usually ready within a week and
the system covers suits, separate jackets and trousers, belts and shoes.
For suits, customers can choose the pattern, quality of fabric and style from the
company's house line: either the three-button, tight-shouldered "British," the
two-button, wide-shouldered "Basic" and the slim, three-button, narrow-lapeled
"Mode." Nine kinds of cloth are available in the JY39,000 suit price range and
36 kinds for the JY49,000 range-all are Japanese fabrics. Two JY59,000 Italian fabrics are
also available. According to Naoki Takeda, a salesman at taka-Q's Shinjuku Higashiguchi
store, "The most popular suit is the pin-striped, navy blue British style."
With 50 different shirt fabrics and colors and 12 collar shapes, the choice in shirts is
comprehensive. Currently the most popular shape is the buttoned-down high collar with a
wide separation. Custom-altered shirts range from JY5900 to JY6900, while belts are
JY6500, with a choice of five types of leather in black and brown, and 12 buckle shapes.
"Japanese tend to prefer black belts to go with their black shoes, while foreigners
seem to favor brown," Takeda says, adding square buckles are the highest sellers.
Eight styles of Regal brand shoes are also available, with the laced ankle boots winning
the highest favors. One restriction at taka-Q is height - they only fit men 160cm-195cm.
For slightly fatter wallets, Eikokuya has 26 shops nationwide with six in Ginza.
Custom-made shirts are priced JY15,000-JY50,000 and suit prices start at JY150,000.
Luckily, the 60th anniversary JY85,000 special offer has been carried over from last year
to celebrate the 21st century. Eikokuya has a selection of over 2000 fabrics and a suit in
the most expensive cloth - a blend of vicuna (pronounced vicunya, a rare Peruvian
llama) and cashmere in light green, grey and beige-will set you back JY2,300,000. The
chain also carries pret-a-porter Lanvin, Austin Reed and Mila Schon suits,
starting at JY100,000. "Our customers are politicians, doctors, lawyers, rich
people," says Kiichiro Okubo of their planning division.
It takes about a month to order a suit from Eikokuya: there's one week before the first
fitting and a second fitting is sometimes necessary. Depending on the season, it takes two
or three weeks for the suit to be ready. Most of the high-priced suits are made of
cashmere or very rich 150 worsted wool. The chain's name means "England Store"
and originally, Eikokuya carried only British cloth. Now, 80 percent of its materials are
from the UK, with the remainder being mostly Italian imports and a few a French and
Spanish fabrics. Okubo explains that British cloth is very good and very tough, while
Italian cloth is very light and very soft. "Many people have come to prefer Italian
cloth because its more suited to modern life," Okubo says. "At the same time,
English cloth has become lighter and softer."
Some wives of Eikokuya customers were so impressed by the store's products that were keen
to get fitted themselves. In response, Eikokuya expanded to cover the women's market seven
years ago and now employs a female designer Kimi Itoh. Assorted women's accessories are
also available, such as Launer handbags (JY80,000) - a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II.
|An experienced tailor can give you
exactly what you want down to the smallest detail
Tailoring has embraced the Internet age and gone high-tech with remote tailoring online.
At @croStyle, you choose your suit style and fabric, follow the self-measuring
instructions and fill out you measurements and pay by credit card, all with a simple click
of the mouse. Customer support is given by e-mail, phone.
Hong Kong based Vijay Wadhwani of NobleHouse questions the wisdom of long distance
tailoring. "In custom tailoring it is advisable to meet the customer in person, so
they can select the fabric from samples, be carefully measured and discuss the
style," Wadhwani says, adding it is also most important for the tailor to see the
body form of the individual. What shape are the shoulders? Is there a slight hump in the
back? These and other questions are vital when crafting a suit and can only be answered by
seeing the customer.
Wadhwani began tailoring for people in Toshiba's Hong Kong branch and through their
introduction, started coming to measure-up their Tokyo colleagues in 1976. Word began to
spread that there was this great tailor taking orders for customized suits at
astonishingly low prices. Today, a man or woman's suit ordered from NobleHouse usually
only costs between JY50,000-JY70,000, which compares very favorably with ready-to-wear,
let alone tailor-made suits. After sizing up his Tokyo customers, Wadhwani heads back to
Hong Kong and sends the suit in about a month and paper patterns are kept on file for
future orders. If small alterations are necessary, NobleHouse will reimburse clients for
any local alterations that are necessary.
Whether you opt for a local tailor or the long-distance approach the criteria for
selecting a good tailor is service. Knowledge of the body form and how fabrics hang,
attention to workmanship and detail, and access to the latest fabrics and styles are the
key to finding the perfect tailor. And ultimately, it's the fit that counts.
Smiley Tailor, Smiley bldg, 7-4-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku. (Tel:
taka-Q, Higashiguchi store, 3-29-12 Shinjuku. (Tel: 03-3352-3761 or call
customer support toll free 0120-412-909) Branches nationwide.
Eikokuya, South Wing Sumitomo Seimei Kachidoki bldg, 5-3-6 Kachidoki,
Chuo-ku. (Tel: 03-3532-6833)
Tailor Iwanaga, 6-1-6 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku (Tel/Fax:03-3400-5540)
@croStyle website: www.acrostyle.com
NobleHouse (Fax: +852-2302-4477) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vijay Wadhwani's latest schedule is posted at www.noblesuit.com