My Birthday Suit: Ordering a bespoke suit from Tokyo's prestigious Ginza Tailor - Part 2
On the morning of March 24th, I received a call from Ms. Miura informing me that I could drop by for the first fitting at my convenience. Even in its bare-bones state, this suit had a distinct presence and fit amazingly well for something that was only in rough form. First, I tried on the trousers. They looked quite flattering, and required a minimum of work to decide on the optimum break. Otherwise they were fine. The two inward-facing pleats were so subtle I had to feel for them; for a moment I thought they were flat-front. A few aspects of the jacket alarmed me at first, but Mr. Hirata obviously saw exactly what I saw and more, and with a few nips and tucks it took on a shape that I could see would look outstanding in the finished jacket.
Photo: The kanji monogram on my new navy suit, showing the lining detail and an example of the navy lacquered buttons (Photo: Twin Six).
When the fitting was finished, we consulted further on the kanji monogram, of which I had three variations of the character 阿— “A”, the first initial of my surname — to choose from, and chose the simplest cursive form. This character was historically used to transliterate Sanskrit scriptures, and is most commonly recognized as the first character in the name of Amida Buddha. Years ago, a Japanese girlfriend of mine chose kanji to represent the syllables of my name. Fortunately, she had impeccable taste, and this kanji was the obvious choice for the first syllable of my last name.
The monogram chosen, I got a second chance to choose the buttons, and after considerable deliberation, changed from the dark navy lacquered buttons to a dark grey water buffalo horn with a lighter, almost pearlescent grey rim. After confirming a few of the other details, we chatted for about fifteen or twenty minutes. I asked if they had many other foreign clients, and was surprised to learn that there are several who work for foreign companies with a presence in Japan, the majority of whom apparently speak Japanese well enough to negotiate the vagaries of ordering a bespoke suit.
The fabric for this first suit was a Dunhill 120 (not super) that’s 260g/m, which puts it in the 8-10 oz. range (perhaps closer to 10). I was told they could put the Dunhill label inside along with the Samurai label, but I declined.
For the Samurai line, you get one fitting with the suit in something approximating its finished form with the sleeves attached; not the basted stage but still highly adjustable. For the fully handmade suits, you get several fittings, including at least one basted fitting. Since this is my introduction to the world of bespoke and I’m experiencing it entirely in Japanese, I wanted to start with their entry-level bespoke line. I’m building a relationship with Ginza Tailor that will continue for many years to come, and when my pattern is perfected I’ll be moving up to the fully handmade suits.
Photo: First fitting for my second Ginza Tailor suit in navy kid mohair blend.
Saturday, April 14th, I returned to Ginza Tailor, where I tried on my completed suit and shirt. The shirt fit beautifully and was extremely comfortable. The suit, however, had a bit of a bulge and fold in the right-hand chest area, and whether it bothered me or not (which it did), Mr. Hirata, my cutter, was not going to let the suit leave the premises in that state. He apologized repeatedly and asked me if I needed the suit for any occasion in the near future. I assured him I would not. He explained that the bulge was because my right shoulder is lower than my left and that he would have it fixed by next Saturday. When I put my Ralph Lauren MTM suit back on, we noticed the same sort of bulge, though somewhat less pronounced.
Two weeks later, I returned to try on the altered suit again. This time I did not wear a suit, as I had on all my previous visits. Instead, I wore khakis and a threadbare old oxford shirt handed down to me by my grandfather. There was a method to my madness in doing so, namely that I planned to order two new oxford button-downs.
Trying on the suit jacket, Mr. Hirata and I still felt the chest was a bit too full. I also felt that the sleeves were a tad longer than I prefer, as they showed no cuff at all with my arms hanging at my sides. This might have been a tricky adjustment at this point, since the sleeves have working buttonholes, but only a very slight adjustment was necessary to reveal about a quarter inch of shirt cuff. Nor were both arms symmetrical, each requiring slightly different amounts of adjustment, and though I was quite aware of the asymmetry, Mr. Hirata was careful to explain to me that one arm needed slightly more adjustment than the other.
Here is where the value proposition of bespoke became immediately apparent to me. An explanation of why will require a brief digression. I began my suit-wearing career with three thrift-shop suits altered by no other than that paragon of tailoring, the dry cleaner. It was what I could afford at the time, and for the once or twice a year I had occasion to wear a suit, turned out to be perfectly serviceable. This state of affairs changed rapidly, however, when I began wearing a suit every day. The coarse wools began to feel like sandpaper, particularly in the summer heat – and Tokyo is more brutal in summer than New York. As my corporate life progressed, necessity became the mother of greater sartorial sophistication, and I invested some of my savings in three Ralph Lauren MTM suits. My first day wearing one of these new suits to the office, my boss called me aside to announce that the company had decided to promote me with a commensurate raise. Clearly, it was my competency and not the suit that had earned this, but the confidence I felt in wearing a smarter suit and the comfort of a better worsted drove home the importance of attention to dressing well.
Fast forward two years, add a batch of three more RL suits, half-lined for summer wear, and dispense with trying on the suit because you’ve been satisfied with the first three. Throw in the wildcard of having these suits tailored in Japan, and the result is three suits with the sleeves very slightly too short. Reach for your morning paper and your French cuff gets hooked on the outside of your jacket sleeve. Perhaps everyone else considers you impeccably dressed, but one person invariably notices your discomfiture, and that person is you. At length, this drives you to ask your cutter to take the five minutes necessary to adjust the sleeves of your first bespoke suit to something resembling perfection.
The sleeves adjusted and two funnel-shaped chalk marks added near the armpits indicating the next round of alterations to the jacket, we turned our attention to ordering new shirts. To cut an already too-long story mercifully short, I ended up ordering two French cuff shirts, plain white and pink with contrast collar & cuffs, and two oxford button-downs, one in blue and one in pink.
Meanwhile, on May 19th, I went for the fourth fitting and was satisfied that at this stage Mr. Hirata and I have achieved something close to the perfect fit for less than the cost of a Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece MTM suit scarcely a block away.
Photo: My first Ginza Tailor suit showing silk brocade lining detail and water buffalo horn buttons (Photo: Twin Six).
The jacket is much more structured than I’m used to, and a suit of armor would be an apt metaphor right down to the slightly lustrous gunmetal silver sheen of the grey fabric. The fit is fantastic, though the feel of the fabric against my the skin of my legs while I’m sitting at my desk is rather more prickly than I’d prefer. While I’m standing or walking, however, it is perfectly comfortable, and this along with the lapel roll and the sleeves that show at minimum a quarter inch and at maximum about three quarters of an inch of shirt cuff are confidence boosters.
On June 23rd, I returned and ordered my second Samurai suit in a plain, muted navy. This was ready for the first fitting on July 14th. The fabric I chose is a kid mohair blend in a relatively light weight. A friend kindly made time in his schedule to photograph the fitting and then shoot some photos of me in my first Ginza Tailor suit. (To my eternal shame, I forgot my pocket square, and having no excuse given my already respectable collection, as penance I went to Barneys New York afterward and bought four. Better to close the barn door after the horse escapes than never to close it.)
Photo: Because the lights in the fitting room did not show the true color of the suit, we stepped out into the showroom to get some photos by natural light.
One notable incident during the fitting was that while adjusting the sleeve length, Mr. Hirata remarked that the right sleeve of my shirt needed to be shortened by 7 millimeters. I had intended to mention that the sleeve’s being too long was something that bothered me, but he noticed first without any prompting from me. He adjusted the length of the jacket sleeve based on the adjustment that needed to be made for the shirt, and agreed that I should bring in all the shirts they had made for me previously to be adjusted accordingly. Sometimes, what works in the fitting room must subsequently be adjusted for slight discrepancies in fit that only become apparent in the course of wearing the suit on a day-to-day basis.
Following the fitting, my friend had some questions for Mr. Hirata and Ms. Miura.
“How long have you been working as a cutter?”
Mr. Hirata: “I’ve been working as a cutter for about thirty years. Before that, I worked for ten years as a tailor, so altogether forty years.”
“Do you specialize in one particular style of suit?”
Mr. Hirata: “I like close-fitting suits, so I prefer the English style. Of course, if a customer requests an Italian silhouette, it’s not as if I can’t accommodate his wishes. But I feel the English silhouette has a certain smartness and refinement, and that’s what I strive to emulate.”
“Does Ginza Tailor have many famous clients?”
Ms. Miura: “Many years ago, the late President Sukarno of Indonesia had us make his suits. Past Prime Ministers of Japan have ordered their suits from us, and Prime Minister Abe, Japan’s current Prime Minister, is also one of our clients. Those are just a few examples.”
“Well, thank you for letting us take pictures today and for letting us ask a few questions.”
Ms. Miura: “Not at all. It’s been a pleasure. Your suit will be finished on August 11th, and we’ll contact you then.”
“Thank you, I’m looking forward to it.”
With this, my friend and I proceeded to a nearby wine bar, where he snapped a few more pictures before meeting up with a lady friend. I then went to Barney’s and purchased four two-color silk pocket squares (at a surprisingly reasonable price). As I was walking down Ginza avenue on my way home with a burnt rose and maroon pocket square tucked in my breast pocket with a studied artlessness, a rather attractive and elegant Japanese lady fixed her eyes on me, and we both turned to look at each other as we passed, smiling coyly. It is one of those rare moments that occur every so often; a tacit affirmation that the combination of my own choices and the skill of my tailor has culminated in an ideal expression of my dandy impulses.
My style icon stands in as my body-double.
Photos: T. Shores