Indian Sam tailors hi-tech shorts that suit all

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 10.01.04

Hong Kong, Jan. 9 (Reuters): Sam the Tailor has measured them all — from towering Chinese basketball player Yao Ming to bulky former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and svelte David Bowie.

But next time, if a celebrity feels reluctant to get a personal measurement in Sam’s back-street shop in Hong Kong’s crowded Kowloon district, they won’t have to. They can just put on a pair of high-tech shorts, which takes their measurements.

The disposable shorts, which come in different sizes, help project a customer’s figure and size in a special fitting-room developed in the US with Sam’s help.

“The new thing is coming out. You’ve got a computer machine, which measures everything,” said Manu Melwani, the real name of the Indian tailor known in palaces, boardrooms and to stars around the world as “Sam”.

“Some customers feel very shy when they get measured inside-leg.... We will give him one of the underpants, boxer shorts, tight ones. When he wears them, the measurement will tell us what his shoulders are, and everything,” he said.

Perhaps this is something of a shame for such a traditional business, which was founded by his father 50 years ago and built on a reputation for quality, discretion and decency.

The Melwani family men decided to become “Sam” after one Englishman a long time ago couldn’t be bothered to remember their Indian names and called his father that instead.

Melwani is reluctant to talk about individual clients.

But his shop is decorated with snapshots of famous people.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, Richard Nixon, Luciano Pavarotti, Roger Moore, Bruce Willis, all smile from the wall above.

It is not easy to imagine these celebrities in his humble shop in the back of a building in Nathan Road among the discount shops and fast food restaurants for low-budget tourists.

Melwani says the secret is patience. “Listen carefully and find out what they want. Just satisfy them. We have regular customers. They all come back.”

He will invest about $30,000 to install the high-tech boxer shorts to serve his customers, famous or not.

Humble he may act, but Melwani does not hang about his tiny shop, which is barely wide enough to swing a tape measure, waiting for the next customer.

He frequently travels, mainly to Europe and the US, visiting clients at their home, hotels, offices or even airports.

Maybe this is how he managed to tailor a suit in double quick time in July for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had to cut short a Hong Kong trip because of an approaching typhoon.

Melwani is also open to unusual requests and requirements. “We do all kinds of secret things for magicians and everybody,” he said.

He revealed he had produced for British comedian Ronnie Corbett a suit held together by Velcro tape, which gradually dropped to bits on stage.

Australian entertainer Rolf Harris had three-legged trousers made for his song Jake The Peg which was about a man with three legs.

It all started with military uniforms for the British, who ruled Hong Kong until 1997.

Melwani’s late father Naraindas opened the shop in 1957, five years after arriving from Mumbai with his wife and Melwani, his baby son.

His reputation for tailoring immaculate officer’s uniforms spread and the first celebrities started to arrive, such as the visiting Hollywood star Cary Grant.

Melwani went to London in 1975 to hone his tailoring skill at the Savile Row Company in Savile Row, a renowned family-run English tailor founded in 1938.

Melwani now employs 55 people at his seven workshops.

But times change and as China took over Hong Kong, Chinese customers are arriving. “Our main customers are now locals from mainland China. We are pleased about it.”

In one afternoon early in December, the shop was crammed with customers waiting their turn for fitting and measurements.

“I came for a night to see Mr Melwani. A man cannot live without his tailor,” said Jonathan Elvey, an English lawyer and pianist based in Greece, who just had a concert in Shanghai.

While choosing textiles for his shirts, he said: “Mr Melwani makes me everything, except for underwear.”