Look no further for the best tailors in Abu Dhabi. We send four writers on a fashion mission to consider fabric, finishes and prices on their desired garments and report back on their experience. See the pictured results to decide if they got their money's worth.
For many, the term "custom made" sounds over-indulgent and expensive, not to mention overwhelming. Which is a shame, because armed with the correct advice, making the most of a made-to-measure service can not only save money, but also allow us to enjoy the skill and craftmanship involved in a process often solely reserved for a price range that is out of reach. Simply know your limitations and never be afraid to ask for help. Even if fashion is nothing more than a practical notion, having clothing specifically cut to flatter your body can be a unique experience in learning about your own taste and style.
Desired garment Summer dress
Overall cost Dh430
Time taken Three days including two fittings
Tailor's name and shop Gabriel, Orchid Tailoring
It isn't a promising start. Mr Santa is standing in silent contemplation. One hand holds the photograph I have just handed him. The other is placed firmly over his mouth. He is shaking his head when, finally, the first word he utters is: "No".
"No. I am not confident that I can do this. Better buy ready-made, in Abu Dhabi Mall," he concludes, setting my picture to one side. Apparently that's that.
I'm starting to wonder if this is the right Mr Santa. Is this modest room squeezed between a typing service and another tailor (is that the one I should be in?), in a pink-fronted building behind 3rd/Khalifa Street the right Orchid Tailoring? Is this the place about which I read such positive things online when searching for somewhere to buy a bespoke dress?
"I have confidence in you, Mr Santa," I say. "I am told you are very talented."
To this Mr Santa relents, and opens what I had thought was a cupboard door. I catch a glimpse of a room full of activity and the hum of sewing machines, as he delegates my dress to a man he introduces as Gabriel. Gabriel looks at me, looks at the picture and back at me.
"How will it fasten?" he asks. "A zip?" Gabriel, it seems, is as skilled in the art of the undersell as Mr Santa. He informs me that he won't be able to do the pleats I wanted and the hem will not be fluted. He doesn't appear any more confident than Mr Santa but he's the one landed with the job, so he tells me how much material I'll need and suggests I go to Cairo Fabrics.
This is across the road - a fact I realise only after having circumvented the block several times. Cairo straddles three floors on which bolt upon bolt of fabric is heaped. I know what I am looking for when I go in. I want indigo for the skirt and panels and a fine lace for the transparent section of the top. Twenty-five minutes later I emerge with three yards of yellow floral viscose, a yard of nude silk and a knot of something approaching panic in my chest. I know that I have paid Dh180 though I'm not sure what anything actually cost, nor am I convinced I can find Mr Santa's shop again.
But I arrive back at Orchid Tailoring and lay down my purchases like a challenge. Gabriel takes the measuring tape from round his neck and starts mapping my shape. He measures from shoulder to shoulder, clavicle to navel, around my arms, waist, hips and neck, pausing only to note down figures he doesn't share. How lovely, I think, not to have to worry whether the resulting stats represent an 8 or a 10 or something in between. How lovely not to have to pick a size X, Y or Z but to simply get a size You.
Gabriel asks when I need the dress. It is 8 o'clock on Sunday evening. I say Wednesday and expect him to recoil. He says to come any time after 4.
By the time I return I have convinced myself, and anybody else who cares to listen, that the whole venture is a disaster: the wrong fabric (what was I thinking?), a reluctant tailor (why did I force him?) and a rushed time frame (three days?).
Mr Santa greets me like an old friend. Then rather blows it by asking why I'm there. Gabriel emerges from his cupboard with a coat hanger bearing a saggy version of the picture, but it's promising. As I instruct Gabriel that everything must be tighter and shorter I hear the echo of my adolescent self.
Gabriel offers to make the changes while I wait but I'm happy to come back the next evening. When I do, the dress is a tiny adjustment from perfect. The cost is Dh250, making the total price of the dress that has been drawn, cut and stitched for me Dh430.
As I wait I catch Mr Santa informing a customer that she should just get her cushion covers from Carrefour. It's a wonder he ever gets any new business at all. But somehow it makes perfect sense that his shop is so busy. Because if you do manage to make it past the hurdles and get him, or one of his team, to stitch something for you, the real mystery is why you would ever go anywhere else again.
Orchid Tailoring, behind Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank off 3rd/Khalifa Street, 02 627 2115
Desired garment Wedding suit
Overall cost Dh900
Time taken 21 days including two fittings
Tailor's name and shop Henry Sequeira at Freddy's of Abu Dhabi
Having never worn a tailored suit before, I am not confident, but a friend recommends Freddy's of Abu Dhabi. Set up by Freddy Goveas, and now under the ownership of his nephew and head tailor, Henry Sequeira, he tells me Freddy's of Abu Dhabi has been a staple in gentleman's tailoring since 1968 in the capital.
The store, in a bustling part of town, is cramped, and teeming with garments in various stages of production for other clients. I have a fair idea of what kind of fabric and colour I want - it is my wedding suit, after all, which probably made Mr Sequeira's task of matching the thinnest grey Italian wool easier than if I had gone in blindly.
We look through a catalogue of suits together — I am confident these guys could probably reproduce any stitch, seam or cut I ask for - but I end up going for a slim-fit, three-piece suit in a light grey wool. He quotes me Dh1,200, which I am more than willing to pay, but he suggests that with the thin, 1960s lapels I want, it would be a better looking suit if I lose the waistcoat, which drops the price by Dh300.
He takes my measurements and after I make a Dh200 down payment, informs me my first fitting will be in two weeks. We follow up with a few minor adjustments, and I am told it will be ready for collection a week later, complete with a garment bag to travel with.
As I said, this is my first tailor-made suit, so I have nothing to compare it to, but having had people with more experience than I take a look, I am confident of the quality of workmanship.
Over all it feels and looks sharp, a quality I would not have got near to with my budget if I had bought from a store.
Freddy's of Abu Dhabi, off Liwa Street and Hamdan Street, 02 627 3777
Nadia El Dasher
Desired garment Pleated dress
Overall cost Dh150
Time taken 14 days and two fittings
Tailor's name and shop Sasidharan, Qubtiyya Tailors
Having grown up in Abu Dhabi I have tried many of the city's tailors, but always seem to return to Sasidharan, one of the two men working at the 15-square-metre Qubtiyya Tailors. Technically he is brilliant, far superior to anyone else I have come across in terms of complex pattern cutting or clever drapery.
That's not to say he doesn't have his problems; there have been many close calls with timing issues, including the alteration of my bridesmaid dress for my brother's wedding that had been left until the day before. Let's just say punctuality is not his strong point; after the last time I vowed not to return.
So I stick to my word, and instead send my mother undercover, armed with five yards of two kinds of fabrics that I get from Syed Kamal Textiles on Hamdan Street - one a pistachio-coloured fine silk, the other a printed cobalt blue (which I wasn't so keen on, but couldn't resist at Dh50).
Sasidharan looks at my inspiration and rough sketch, before choosing the blue, explaining the pistachio fabric won't drape as well once pleated as it isn't fine enough. In fairness, exactly one week later as planned the dress is ready for the first fitting.
I am not an easy customer: I know my stuff, so I examine the stitching and the pleating meticulously before trying it on to check on the length and neckline. The pleats have been stitched too far down, almost hitting the waist, which isn't a good shape for me. I suggest he stop the pleating just below my collarbone instead, but otherwise I can see the dress is on the right track.
A few days later I return for the second fitting and the dress is perfect. We bargain for a short while on cost, which I insist on, and we agree on a reasonable Dh100, almost half the price of where he started. It looks just like my initial inspiration taken from the Chloé Spring/Summer 2012 runway - except it cost me only a total of Dh150.
Syed Kamal Textiles on Hamdan Street 02 635 1453; Qubtiyya Tailors, Tourist Club Area, Mina Road, behind Al Diar Capital Hotel, 050 682 5238
Desired garment 1950s-inspired summer dress
Overall cost Dh475 (Dh25 a metre for 2.5 metres each of fabric and lining; Dh350 for tailoring)
Time taken 10 days
Tailor's name and shop Ramzan Ladies Dress Tailoring Shop, 02 632 1804
There are dresses and then there are uniforms: time-tested pieces that work well no matter how the fashions change, pieces you always go back to, simply because they make you feel good. In among the racks of my more expensive designer dresses I have collected over the years hangs my uniform: a simple but beautifully cut cotton dress I bought in Italy two years ago. A pale blue dress that transformed me into Audrey Hepburn on a Roman holiday. Or so I like to think. Only now from overwear it's literally falling apart at the seams, well-loved but a little shabby, like the Velveteen Rabbit.
On the label: Cristina Linassi. No, I've never heard of her either, but from my research there is only one shop in Venice, and while I'm sorely tempted to travel, I decide to try to recreate it in a few different colours with the help of a tailor.
Enter my stylish friend Nadia, who after much deliberation sends me to Mohammed Ramzan, drawing me the given "Abu Dhabi map": Corniche here, up Airport Road there, turn right just before Etisalat and watch for the sign on the left as you drive about two blocks down that road.
But first, I need to find the fabric: I'm not a tailor, but I have enough experience to know the better the fabric, the better the copy. Nadia sends me to Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre, which has an overwhelming number of flashy fabric shops on the first floor. None has the simple fine Italian cotton I'm looking for, so I timidly enter the Wardrobe: Gents Tailoring and Textiles.
The "gents" are happy to help, and select a fine, pale yellow and pale pink cotton for two dresses from their bolts of shirt fabric, and like any good fabric shop, if you just show them the dress they will give you how much the tailor needs.
Over to Mohammed Ramzan, which is busy with local ladies on a Saturday afternoon. "All dresses - no problem," one of the tailors tells me, waving his hand, quoting me Dh350 to copy a dress. (Nadia later shakes her head at my rookie mistake, saying I could have bargained him down to Dh250; next time I'll know.)
Another tailor is cutting a far fancier fabric, heavily embroidered with pearls, which he tosses playfully up in the air as his scissors cut them loose. He takes a break to study my dress and the cloth I've brought him, cutting little samples off and stapling them to my receipt. I've also brought him smaller mending jobs which are fixed on the spot, in the attic upstairs where I can hear the sewing machines madly humming away.
Ten days later I return to pick up two Perfect Copies of my Perfect Dress. Goodbye Cristina Linassi, hello Mohammed Ramzan.
Ramzan Ladies Dress Tailoring Shop, 02 632 1804