My Birthday Suit: Ordering a bespoke suit from Tokyo's prestigious Ginza Tailor
Thursday, March 8th 2007, my birthday, was the day I chose to treat myself to my first ever bespoke suit. It also happened to coincide with the first day of a four day sale on spring and summer fabrics at Ginza Tailor, one of Japan’s most reputed bespoke tailoring establishments. I had first been to Ginza Tailor in early January at the suggestion of an acquaintance living in New York whom I know only through our dialogues on the Internet. In that sense, it was a journey of discovery for me and vicarious enjoyment for someone else. The fact that I live in Tokyo within easy distance of the tony Ginza district, where I work as a translator, the culmination of nearly twenty years spent studying Japanese, ten of them in the country, makes me not only qualified but almost obligated to partake of the bespoke experience here and convey something of it to my fellow sartorialists.
As a prelude to this new and slightly daunting quest, I had made an appointment to be thoroughly pampered by the lovely ladies who staff Gentry, Ginza Tailor’s exclusive men’s hair salon. I first consulted with my stylist about the kind of cut I wanted and then got a shampoo from a different young lady. These ladies certainly have a knack for keeping a pleasant stream of conversation going, and the self-conscious apprehension one would feel amidst a group of women getting their hair done is absent, since it is a men’s-only salon. After the shampoo, my stylist, Inagaki-san, cut my hair and then it was time for my scalp treatment, complimentary as it was my birthday month. One of the young ladies washed my scalp thoroughly with something called pi-water, which I had never heard of, while Inagaki-san gave me a manicure. After a good twenty minutes of this relaxing and invigorating pampering, I was shown to the lounge at the back, where I relaxed some more with an espresso and a chocolate truffle.
By and by it was time to proceed, and Inagaki-san accompanied me to the Ginza Tailor reception, where she had called ahead. The staff on hand to greet me included a stylish middle-aged woman who spoke quite good English, which I suppose was to ensure that all communications proceeded smoothly and stress-free. For a non-Japanese speaker, this would be a definite value-added service, however she realized early on that the language presented no problems for me. I was led upstairs to select the fabric by Mr. Hirata, Cutter, a pleasant-looking middle-aged gentleman dressed in a dark, subtly checked blazer with a light grey vest and grey slacks, and Ms. Miura, Product Development and Technical Management, a lovely young lady dressed in a charcoal pant suit. Asked my budget, I replied that I was looking to spend 200, 000 yen or less. This would allow me some latitude in my selection of fabrics for their Samurai line.
Ginza Tailor’s Samurai line is a kind of entry-level bespoke. It’s made from scratch according to your specifications and your measurements, and has a greater range of options than made-to-measure (MTM). You go for one fitting before your suit is completed, at which point you narrow down further options, such as the kanji monogram and buttons. They take about another four weeks to complete your suit. The Samurai is not a fully handmade bespoke, as they machine sew as much as possible, but a single tailor makes each suit from beginning to end. Their handmade line, by contrast, is a fully handmade bespoke suit with a far greater variety of options. According to the website, they only produce some 600 of these per year. At their lowest level, they have what they call “easy-order,” which I assume corresponds to MTM, made from a pattern and tailored to fit. In any case, I was there for my first bespoke suit with the idea of eventually refining my pattern with them before moving up to the full handmade suits.
I wore a plain navy Ralph Lauren 3-roll-2 suit with a white Hilditch & Key shirt with grey mother of pearl Dunhill cufflinks, a navy and light blue zig-zag Dunhill tie, and black Edward Green Malverns (a classic and very English wingtip on their ever-popular 888 last). My intent was to wear what I wear to work every day with nothing to distract from the basic cut and fit of the suit and shirt. Likewise, I wanted to commission a suit that accentuated the fit and artistry, and therefore wanted a plain fabric, though I hadn’t ruled out pinstripes, and if pinstripes, I preferred grey with pink pinstripes. This is a combination I’ve been fond of ever since finding a stunning Corneliani suit in charcoal with copper-pink pinstripes that happened to fit. Truth to tell, I was not considering this option too seriously except perhaps for a subsequent suit, but I wanted to see a variety of fabrics to narrow down my options while planning one step ahead for something just slightly unconventional and dandy.
Bolt after bolt of fabric was taken down from the surrounding shelves and presented for my inspection. Very few were completely out of the question, and I was directed to stand in front of a floor-to-ceiling mirror where I was draped with my chosen fabrics, which Mr Hirata and Ms. Miura folded over and arranged to approximate a lapel. During the course of this process, I explained that because my work involves meeting with investors, I want to look businesslike and not the least bit frivolous. Since I genuinely liked all the fabrics, I was able to maintain a bit of a poker face while evaluating each one. It was with some gratification, therefore, that the shop staff and Inagaki-san, my stylist, who was still present at this stage, opined that the fabrics I preferred were more becoming on me than the ones I was already privately considering eliminating. This inspired me with confidence in the judgments of the shop staff. After a process of elimination, I settled on a moderately lustrous plain grey Dunhill 120s fabric in the 8-10 oz. range with a distinct longitudinal grain to the weave that vaguely hints at pinstripes. The opposite face is a lighter grey.
The next step was to take measurements and discuss the details of the suit to be made. Inagaki-san excused herself at this point, and I thanked her for taking the trouble to be present and offer her opinion. Mr. Hirata then measured me while Ms. Miura wrote it all down. I have never been more thoroughly measured for anything. Measurements were taken of my jacket both on and off. At the beginning of this process, I asked Mr. Hirata if there was anything he noticed about the fit of my suit that he would change. He explained that he would bring in both the shoulders and the waist, because the shoulders are too wide and this leaves a hollow area at the top of the sleeve that wrinkles in an unsightly way when I move my arms and the jacket is a bit full at my waist. The problems he pinpointed were exactly the things that bother me about the fit of that suit jacket, and this gave me further confidence that I was dealing with a staff of professionals whose judgment I could trust.
I had decided to order a shirt at the same time because I felt that this would be best to assure the proper fit of both, so my round of measurements included measurements for the shirt. One specific request I made was to have the left cuffs made slightly wider to accommodate my watch, and demonstrated how my shirt cuff tended to catch on the watch case. Naturally, this was also taken into account for the jacket sleeve. At length, it was time to consider the options available for Ginza Tailor’s Samurai line. I opted for a plain grey lining with this fabric for the pocket trimming and the underside of the pocket flaps.
The fabric for the lining details is produced in Kyoto’s famous Nishijin weaving district. I was recently surprised to see the very same fabric used as a decorative runner on a table in one of the conference rooms at my company.
For buttons, I chose the dark navy lacquered buttons, which were nearly indistinguishable from the black except for a slight softness; the black was really very stark. The sleeves will have working, kissing buttons. The process of choosing a monogram for the inside of the lapel was unique. They offer monogramming in kanji, the Chinese characters used to write Japanese, but not initials in Roman lettering as I’ve always had done previously. I decided to go with the kanji for the first initial of my last name, 阿, which is the “A” in the name of the Buddha Amida. They also offer the kanji in several styles. I chose a stylized classical form of which they produce three variations for me to choose from when I go for my fitting.
For the shirt, I chose a pink fabric and thin, white mother of pearl buttons and grey stitching. The French cuffs will be made roughly a centimeter longer than those of my existing shirts so they don’t catch so easily on the edge of my jacket sleeve when I extend my arm. Once I’m satisfied with the fit of the shirt, I plan to gradually replace my entire rotation. The shirt I opted for this time is from their MTM line rather than their full bespoke, which is more than double the price. I prefer to zero in on the ideal fit before spending the money for the full bespoke. Likewise with my suit, I chose to go with the Samurai line rather than the fully handmade suits costing twice as much or more. There will be time to sample their more exclusive offerings as budgetary constraints allow and as I develop a closer working relationship with Ginza Tailor.
Finally, having completed my order and confirming the details, we proceeded downstairs to the salon, where I was given a warm hand towel and served green tea, a basic common courtesy Japanese businesses extend to their customers. Meanwhile, I engaged in lighthearted conversation with Mr. Hirata while Ms. Miura tallied up my order. The total was somewhat less than the 200, 000 yen I had budgeted, and this included both the suit and the shirt. With the exchange rate on my side at that point, paying with an American credit card made sense. As I got up to get my credit card from my coat pocket, I bumped my head on the enormous chandelier directly overhead. In an attempt to salvage the situation and mitigate my embarrassment somewhat, I asked if the large frosted glass leaves that composed it were Lalique. Not only was I assured they were, but was also given a small tour of the numerous Lalique decorative elements around the salon, including a specially made panel in the door and the rather large columnar interior door handle as well as an antique bowl with a beautiful patina. I’ve always had a soft spot for Lalique, as my mother has a rather sizeable collection and I have several pieces decorating my apartment, and if I had not already been sufficiently convinced that I was dealing with a top-flight establishment, the fact of their having custom made Lalique fixtures would have erased any doubts.
After scheduling my fitting for March 24th, the time came to go, and as a kind of parting shot, Mr. Hirata asked me the name of the person who had recommended Ginza Tailor to me. At this point, I had to admit that I’d been referred by an anonymous friend from an internet forum, and after being seen off with gracious bows from the Ginza Tailor staff, I had myself a good chuckle over the irony of actually delivering a line that originated as a lampoon on the FNB forum.
To be continued . . .
Ginza Tailor web site