Empire International Tailors has been making quality suits in Hong Kong since 1983. Hive Life sat down with Managing Director Mark Asaf for some fashion advice and a glimpse into Hong Kong’s once-thriving tailoring scene.
At the height of the Hong Kong’s tailoring industry in the 1900s, it was once regarded as ‘Asia’s Savile Row’ with men flocking from far and wide to get a suit fitted by some of the world’s experts – at a fraction of the time and price. Tucked away on Mody Road on a street stall connected to the old and unassuming Houston shopping centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, Empire International Tailors was one of them. Founded by Anthony Asaf in 1983, they have been dressing men for over 36 years with a base of loyal clientele all over the world. “When the final results come in and we exceed someone’s expectations, that’s just the best. Being a tailor to someone is like being their barber. If they feel comfortable in a suit, they want more of the same,” explains Mark. “We do trunk shows all around the world and you have to be really good to do long-distance tailoring. We take 22 different measurements as well as photographs, and then we come back and study that information. We’re pretty proud to say that we get about 80% of them right in the first shot!”
For Mark, who is the second generation to work in his family’s business, Empire Tailors is more than just a nine-to-five job. “My grandfather moved to Hong Kong in the 1950s and worked in the British Police Force. Back in the 1980s, the tailoring scene was thriving and my father worked for two other tailors before starting his store. He mainly learnt the business by listening and observing.” That business is, in many ways, unchanged today, as Mark brings us on a tour of the now-worn Houston shopping mall, home to an impressive tailoring ecosystem they’ve built over the years, including a fitting room situated below the main storefront as well as an in-house workshop. He stops and points out a stall that used to be one of Empire Tailors’s storefronts. “We used to have four stores upstairs at one point and now we’re down to one. This was in 2009 shortly after the 2008 financial crash,” continues Mark. “When I heard that business wasn’t doing so great and my dad was thinking of retiring, I made an overnight decision to drop out just before exams. When you’re a family business, everything is personal. It’s about putting food on the table, so we take everything very seriously. I think my father’s forgotten about retirement now,” laughs Mark.
Here are five tips Mark recommends when getting a custom-tailored suit from the tailors.
Research and visit a few tailors before deciding on the right one.
Just like anything else, research is the key to success, it seems. “I’d suggest someone looking for a Hong Kong tailor to do some research. Check online and read the reviews. Now, people come in with a list of requirements. They’re definitely a lot pickier.”
Canvassed or Fused?
If longevity, comfort and durability are what you’re after, opt for the former of the two options. ”With canvassed jackets, the interlining is hand-sewn into the outer shell and it serves as the foundation of the jacket. It’s normally made using horsehair and will drape better and hold its shape. If you get a fused jacket, it’s held together with glue and will eventually bubble if you wash it enough. It’s cheaper and quicker to make. If you look at the lapel, you can normally see a white or beech sheet sewn into the jacket. If you only see fabric, it’s fused,” says Mark.
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Give your tailor time and avoid 24-hour tailors
If you’re making the effort to go to a tailor in Hong Kong instead of buying a suit off the shelf, give them time to craft the perfect suit for you. Suits made at Empire Tailors require a minimum of three to five business days, but Mark recommends giving them at least two weeks to get the best bang for your buck. “If you go to a 24-hour tailor, you skip the whole point of being allowed to be picky and get it exactly how you want it.”
More expensive doesn’t mean better
Mark advises against picking a fabric purely based on price and thread count. “The thread count usually determines how fine the fabric is. Higher thread counts are usually more expensive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. They’re finer and softer but the fabric is more fragile.”
Consider the occasion and weather conditions
This might sound obvious, but amidst all the excitement of choosing from the colours and patterns on offer, this consideration often falls to the wayside. “If it’s for work, consider how serious the work environment is. If you’re someone who doesn’t wear suits very often, I would tell you to get something all-purpose. If it’s one of your first suits, I’d suggest a dark navy as something you can throw on without thinking too much,” advises Mark. For a city like Hong Kong, known for its hot and humid summers, Mark suggests, “Pick a lighter weight fabric and go for a half-lined jacket to allow for more ventilation.”