In India we have this wonderful service given by tailors and Istriwallas (Ironing man) at a fraction of the prices charged elsewhere in the world. Custom made garments are easily rustled up for men and women by the hoards of these guys sitting in little holes in the wall all over cities, towns, and villages. A R Rahman wore a bespoke suit, not an Armani, made by a Chennai Suit Maker—you can’t call them tailors can you—and made a fashion statement on the red carpet!
I have a varied experience with tailors in many cities—wherever I have lived. The first encounter was being measured up for uniforms by run-of-the-mill school tailors as my mother used to sew all my clothes.
A truly awesome and unforgettable experience was with a Master called Rozario, (who never put in a stitch into any of my garments). His establishment was a space under the staircase of a dingy old building in Bombay/ Mumbai. But boy! His address was equal to any Saville Row establishment, absolutely top notch for these parts—opposite the Gateway, right next to the Taj Mahal Hotel. He was my uncle’s tailor and was highly recommended to my father.
The process of getting a suit made was not simple. First the cloth was chosen and taken to Rozario for approval, then only paid for—something you could do in ‘those’ days. Then the design was debated and mulled over, chosen from old Burlington catalogues. Even the lining, the lapel, placement of pockets were seriously considered, shortlisted, rejected and with a sigh finally approved by the Master. “I need two trials, both times around four PM. After dark wont do Sir!” was the injunction and a date after three weeks was fixed in Master’s diary for the first trial.
The trial was not a simple case of trying out the suit in a half finished state with pins and threads and chalk marks all over the place. Rozario would ask my father to don the pieces—it was still not a suit or trousers and jacket—and looking like a scarecrow with bits of white lining hanging all over Rozario would undertake a survey. My Dad had to stand in various positions—on the stairs, pavement, getting out of the car, squatting stylishly on the worn wooden treads of the shop, sitting on top of the counter with a little leap and even occupying the wooden stool used by the Master...all this to check out the fall of the suit, the drape, the crease, pleats etc. This exercise would take close to an hour give the rest of us who accompanied Dad enough time to take a stroll on the cobbled pavement along the sea, have a snack of peanuts and chick peas, do a little shopping in the bylanes of Colaba and then come back in time to hear Rozario fix up the second trial a fortnight later.
The second trial saw the garment in a nearly-finished condition with tacks of thread in a contrasting colour running all over the lapel, pockets and other prominent spots on the suit. The same process of examining the garment in various positions was carried out; adjustments to the length of the trouser (Dad had to wear shoes and socks compulsorily for this stage of affairs) and the tightness of the jacket seriously debated, finalised and the final date of delivery mutually decided upon. This too would take about forty minutes to an hour.
A week later, the outfit was ready and Dad had to wear the suit for any final tweaking. The bill was settled and finally Rozario would open up about lighter matters of discussion like politics, cricket, poverty and slum life.
The important aspect about this whole enterprise was Rozario would accept only one suit commission at a time and my father, affectionately called Tiger by his sons and nephews, and not naturally known for his patience or forbearance, behaved with the utmost equanimity while he was in Rozario’s hands.
Years later I went in search for Rozario but the under-the-staircase space was occupied by a leather handbag shop. My husband as a banker in need of suits, settled for readymade stuff from a famous brand.