Friday, August 7, 2009

Meet Hong Kong's finest tailor

HONG KONG -- Back in the early 1990s, when U.S. journalism reached its peak of wealth and global ambitions, I paid a visit here to tailor Ash Samtani Clothing Ltd. Back then, the word in the Seattle Times newsroom was, when in Hong Kong, stop at Ash for shirts, suits or a dress overcoat.

In 1991, I was on a trip to document container shipping with my friend Barry Wong, a Times photographer and a great travel companion. Barry, whose parents were born in China, entertained me greatly on that trip by pretending to not know Chinese and telling me afterwards what our translators and interview subjects had said about us.

On that trip, Barry bought a black overcoat he still wears. He looks terrific. I bought 4 dress shirts that lasted some 20 years, far longer than anything purchased from Lands End, Macy's or other suppliers. Nice fabric. Great fit. Reliable buttons. I would still wear those shirts but for the effects of age, my Hogarthian lifestyle and gravity.

On this trip, I considered and rejected a visit to Ash Samtani, minding our shrunken 401ks and figuring I lacked the time on our 3-day visit, even though the tailor claimed a world record for the fastest-made suit. But when Sally and I noticed our hotel was a half mile away on Nathan Road from Ash, we walked down. I meant to buy only a couple shirts. But driven wild by the inducements of my spouse and anxious to stimulate the world economy, instead I bought 7 shirts and three suits and got a free tie as a gift from Ash Samtani's son, Luke.

I could write a long post just on Luke's masterful and elegant process of greeting a customer, offering a refreshment and unrolling the luxury fabrics. It's all so sensual, running your hand across cashmere blends, taking in the subtle weaves and the interplay and coordinated colors, having him drap the fabric across your chest, and making all the choices you had no idea were possible: 2 button? 3? Two vents? One? None?

Whether all this time and expense is worthy of the body intended for these clothes is one thing. But another is the pleasure is meeting Luke, whose family has owned this shop in the same location for more than 50 years. The Samtanis once lived in an area that is now part of Pakistan; the British partition of Pakistan and India created conditions that forced the family to leave. Some landed in Hong Kong, where Ash Samtani, Luke's father, and others created a tailoring business. Another landed in Hawaii, where a Samtani cousin has long been the tailor of Hawaii's governors and senators.

Luke Samtani, who maintains homes in Singapore and Hong Kong, has two children. His son lived in England to study law and is now in Hong Kong studying business and computer science. His daughter lives in London, where she just took a coveted position with Goldman Sachs, a legend on Wall Street for its handsome bonuses. Samtani counts amongst his customers people in Seattle, Washington and elsewhere in the world. For years, he traveled yearly to the Westin in Seattle to fit customers but he had to give up that practice because it took too much time to travel.

The company still maintains contact with customers in the U.S. by sending Christmas cards. I've gotten a hand-signed card every year since 1991. I'm looking forward to another.


  1. This is a great tailor for men, my husband got 3 wonderful suits from the Samtanis.

    However, for women, I would say go somewhere else. I had a suit made for me and it is ill fitting despite 3 fittings and my urges to fix things. Women's suits also appear to be made with cheaper materials (linings, buttons, etc.) which is undesirable.

  2. I went in 2007 and both the suit and shirts have held together through some pretty testing times from me and a few dry cleans. So much so, I'm just about to go back and order again for delivery with confidence. Just checking the net to make sure they're still going strong!

  3. No: 1 tailor in the world.


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