We tear up a few myths about gentlemen’s couture and give life to some of the better ones
Men's tailoring: the art of bespoke couture in the UAE
Can you imagine some of the most iconic moments in cinema history if the person on screen were dressed differently? Think about Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest as he’s pursued across fields by a plane, while wearing Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt; Sean Connery lighting his cigarette at the baccarat table in the beginning of Dr No, in jeans and a ribbed sweater instead of that beautiful midnight blue tuxedo; Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair clad in a tracksuit and trainers rather than his three-piece Glen check suit, pale blue shirt and dark blue tie. It’s fair to say these scenes would not have had quite the same impact.
Despite the naysaying of exponents of scruff, the art of tailoring a suit has never completely vanished and many of us are perfectly happy about that. Fuelled by the “dress-down Friday” phenomenon in western offices, where regularly suited and booted business people felt at liberty to wear less formal attire to work for a day a week, standards of attire have slipped beyond all imagination. So many believed that the suit was headed the way of the dodo. But when we’re desperate to make an impression, deep down we all know the power of a well-tailored suit. Nothing comes close to it.
The 'sartorial enthusiast'
Not that we need to be due in court, at the altar or performing in front of a Hollywood director to merit having one in our wardrobe, of course. But what many of us fail to realise is that there is a huge difference in the fit and quality of an off-the-peg suit sold by the dozen in high street fashion stores, as compared to a suit that’s been handcrafted by a tailor. And the distinction is important – much more so than a mere vanity project, dressing better can have a palpable effect on how you see yourself and are seen by others.
It’s something close to the heart of Dubai-based Hisham Wyne, a freelance copywriter, broadcaster and corporate speaker who’s been engaging with UAE audiences for the past 13 years. Wyne, 35, who hails from Pakistan, is instantly recognisable on the circuit thanks in part to his deserved reputation as a “sartorial enthusiast”. When you see some of the suits this man wears, you might rightly assume he turns to a tailor, for there is simply no way the high street would cater to such eclectic style.
“I’d describe my way of dressing,” he says, “as quite classic with a twist. I love playing around with colour and tend towards what you might call the ‘deconstructed Italian look’ – warm climates are not ideal for traditional British tailoring, especially for someone like me who moves around an awful lot while wearing a suit.”
Wyne is no snob when it comes to piecing together an outfit. “I have everything from a Dh50 shirt picked up in Bur Dubai, all the way to the high end, which is where the really fabulous fabrics are. The problem is that these expensive cloths are not known for being hard-wearing, so I’ve developed a rather strange approach to tailoring. For instance, I have a tuxedo, which normally people might pay a lot of money for, which I bought in Bur Dubai – it’s not worth spending huge money on ‘party pieces’ you might not wear more than once every couple of years. Instead, invest in the clothes that are likely to get plenty of use.”
Creating a memorable style
He cautions that “shopping off the peg is usually a monumental waste of time and money”, and that a substantial portion of the price you pay for a suit from a major fashion house will be just for the name on the label. As for having a tailor, Wyne turns to Jean-Jaques, the head tailor at Elegante, which is tucked away within Dubai’s Oberoi Hotel in Business Bay. “The man is a miracle worker and the quality of the work they do there is beyond compare. And I know a lot of people are put off going to a tailor because they believe it’s expensive and an extravagance, but the prices are really not bad – you can have a two-piece made for less than Dh4,000, which will be so much nicer than one that’s bought from a normal store.”
Click below to play a video from Elegante:
Wyne says that his appearance has been very much a part of his success as a businessman. “I work a lot in the public domain,” he says, “and I represent brands, many of which are huge multinationals, so it’s really important to look smart. I never leave the house without being properly dressed, and when a client sees that you take an interest in your appearance, it helps build trust. Plus, as a self-employed person, I’m always on the hustle and drumming up new business, and in that respect it helps to stand out, to be remembered positively for the way you look.”
His flamboyant style is certainly memorable and much of that is down to his bold use of colour – something he thinks most men are petrified of. “So many drab and boring looks out there, when you can actually have fun with mixing and matching. To help work out what colours work well with each other, it can be as simple as using a graphic designer’s colour wheel, which is how I started out. And, of course, a good tailor will always have excellent advice on hand. The other thing I try to do is ‘rest’ my clothes for periods of time, so people always think you’re wearing something new.”
Advice for beginners
As a seasoned suit-wearer, does he have any advice for men just starting out with tailoring? “If all you’ve been used to is casual clothes, the best way is a steady transformation, so you get comfortable with your look. A smart pair of chinos can work well with a tailored jacket, it doesn’t need to cost much and that way men feel less awkward about more formal attire. Another thing that puts many men off formalwear is the believe that it’s physically uncomfortable, but to feel good in your clothes they don’t need to be casual, they just need to be tailored.”
Even if you can’t run to a tailored suit, there are ways to personalise your wardrobe that won’t break the bank. For instance, Bombay Shirt Company offers a brilliantly simple and effective service with shirts made according to your specification. You can visit the company’s store in Dubai’s DIFC but the online ordering facility is both fun and intuitive to use. With it you can choose from about 300 virtual fabric swatches while seeing your shirt come to life on the screen, altered with your preferences for collar size and cut, sleeve and cuff style, placket type, button and thread colours, back style, bottom cut and even whether to have a chest pocket or not. Once you’ve got it looking exactly the way you want, put in your measurements and the rest will be taken care of.
“The perfect fit, or we remake for free,” promises the company and, if that’s not enough to tempt you, consider that this custom service, including delivery, costs less than Dh200 per shirt, depending on the fabric chosen. That’s great value for money, especially when you factor in the unlikelihood of bumping into someone else wearing the same shirt.
Options available in the UAE
At the other end of the tailoring spectrum, if you’re happier with the old-school approach rather than the virtual experience, perhaps Abu Dhabi’s Technical Scissors or Allure Tailoring would be more appropriate. Allure has been taking care of the capital’s sartorial requirements for 37 years, and Amit Nichani, the store manager in Al Dhafra Street, says the outfitter has seen an upswing in demand for 1920s style elements, such as peak lapels. “Checkered fabrics are also back in trend this year,” Nichani says, “but having said that, the majority of our clients still prefer classic and slim cuts.”
What the tailors at Allure offer their clients is more than a sales service. A good tailor will get to know a great deal about their customers’ lives, becoming a confidant and guide on style and longevity. “The first thing we ask our clients,” says Nichani, “is about their work routine. Do they travel a lot? Do they spend a lot of time sitting or moving around? These are important considerations in a hot country like the UAE and we recommend pure wool or wool blend fabrics with a thread count ranging between Super 120s and 140s for work suits that need to last.”
Again, despite the personal service and painstaking attention to detail, a two-piece made-to-measure suit from Allure starts from Dh2,250, with three-piece suits starting from Dh2,850. If you want to go all-out with ultra-luxury cloth, expect to pay between Dh15,000 and Dh25,000. Nichani says many of the company’s clients are UAE nationals who travel a great deal and have developed a taste for fine, bespoke clothing. And just when we might have thought young men had lost all interest in looking smart, he says the opposite is true.
“With every passing year, we have seen more young people trying out tailoring and then sticking to it. They appreciate the customisation options and the signature styling that comes with a tailored outfit. However, a large chunk of our clients are successful middle-aged gentlemen who believe in style over fashion. It’s heart-warming to see the fine tailoring industry grow and mature in the country. When we started off in 1981, things were not the same. A lot has changed in the past 10 years or so, and the city has accepted formalwear as the new normal.”