Visiting tailor's fine suits fit the bill

TO A discerning eye, an expertly tailored suit can speak as eloquently about the style of the man wearing it as what comes out of his mouth; sometimes more so.

TO A discerning eye, an expertly tailored suit can speak as eloquently about the style of the man wearing it as what comes out of his mouth; sometimes more so.

While off-the-rack suits are plentiful and can be inexpensive, customers with the taste and means to indulge themselves can opt for a more traditional approach to suit-fitting - something Arshad Mahmood is happy to provide on his latest visit to Australia.

He is the managing director of Apsley Tailors, a firm based in London's exclusive Pall Mall that traces its heritage back through 124 years and numerous generations to colonial Hong Kong. Back then, the only option available to gentlemen of means was to purchase a suit that was hand-built and painstakingly crafted to their precise dimensions.

Originally known as Punjab House, the company evolved into Apsley when it moved its headquarters to London in 2000. From that base, Mahmood and his team of skilled tailors now travel the world, visiting clients on their own turf to offer their specialised skills.

From his Melbourne base at the Hilton on the Park hotel, Mahmood says he has 15,000 Australian clients on his books. Most will be contacted prior to each of his company's regular trips Down Under, to offer them the opportunity to add to their wardrobe with a suit cut in the latest style.

He sees old clients and adds new ones, including NRL club Sydney Roosters, to whom his company has just become the exclusive suit supplier. "We just did a deal with the Sydney Roosters, and delivered their suits," Mahmood says. "These boys were so happy. Most of them were saying, 'This is the best-fitting suit I've had', and I think that's a very good compliment."

Mahmood also runs his talented eye and renowned attention to detail over several royals, including Prince Edward, a king of Nigeria and members of the Dubai royal family.

Numerous English Premier League footballers and coaches also utilise his services, along with A-list celebrities and top business executives.

When on the road, Mahmood spends a minimum of 10 days in any place he visits. This allows him to perform initial measurements and send the data to either Hong Kong or London, where the suit will be made, then to oversee a final fitting and adjustments when the completed suit arrives.

The latter, says Melbourne-based client Graeme Watson, is what sets Mahmood apart from the competition. "The last couple of people I saw, I was a bit disappointed between what I thought I was going to get and what actually turned up," says the 60-year-old property developer, who maintains that his appearance is of critical importance to the success of his business.

"With Arshad, he's much more the real McCoy. Because he comes back, he can't hide. The other people will mail you the suit, and if it's not what you want, then what are going to do about it? Whereas this man stands behind his gear. He is a very classy act."

The third generation of his family to run the renowned tailoring house, Mahmood says there was never any question about his calling in life.

"It comes to you in your blood. I was 13 when I started this, and I'm enjoying it. If you don't enjoy the work, you can't do it, simple as that," he says. "The travelling is really hard, sitting in a hotel room and talking to different people, but I just enjoy so much telling people what they should wear, what is in fashion, what would look nice on you."

While Mahmood is well set to cater for clients who seek traditional styles, he also stays on the cutting edge of fashion and will usually wear the latest designs himself to show clients what they can have.

He says: "When someone comes to you, you love to tell them, 'You should be wearing this.' Eighty per cent of people love it, and 20 per cent say, 'You know what, I'm paying and I want what I want.'

"I have to wear something which is up to date, in fashion, which appeals to people.

"These people in the UK who play football, they earned £80,000 [$A120,000] to £85,000 a week, but they have no sense of wearing clothes. Every time they see me, they go, 'Wow, this is really nice'."

Asked what is on-trend in suits at the moment, Mahmood nominates a slim-fit suit in medium grey - not charcoal - with narrow lapels on the jacket and side buckles on the pants.

"Tailoring is an art and you have different artists, and it all depends how much people trust you on your art," he says. "It's a very personal service. You come to know all about people and they come to know all about you. That's why people wait for you, and that's why they're happy to spend more money."

How much? Mahmood says his suits start from about $850, including his personalised fitting service, and there is no upper limit. He holds the record for assembling the world's most expensive suit, which was encrusted in gold and diamonds and valued at £70,000.

Watson says he will pay about $1500 for a suit jacket being designed by Mahmood, and considers that a bargain compared with jackets he could buy off the rack.

"I'm here to have a jacket made, a real one-off, for probably a third to a quarter of what it would cost if I went down to Collins Street," Watson says.

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