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Bespoke tailoring

In Connaught Place, you can still find tailors and drapers who specialise in men’s suits, though theirs is now a niche service

More often than not, a garment is celebrated for its outer appeal and all the embellishment that goes in it. Be it the snazzy fabric, an exotic cut or the most sought-after label tags that are hand sewn to the inside of a collar; all these details are a prerequisite for a good piece of clothing that can fetch compliments in abundance.

Delhi’s Connaught Place, which is considered one of the largest business and commercial centres in India, is a Mecca for all Indian and international apparel brands who aim to create retail spaces in the country.  And ironically, this is also where one can easily spot ‘Tailors and Drapers’ written on boards outside numerous tiny shops in and around CP’s circles and blocks.

As we walk into one of these shops named Vedi and Sons, we see a multitude of rolls of shirting fabric, neatly tucked in shelves around the shop. Bedi, the owner of the shop who is in his 70s, is standing across the counter in the sunlit room, using a chalk to mark a dark heavy cloth that is on its way to becoming a blazer.

When Patriot asked if he could speak to us regarding what kept him going in a market ridden with ready-made clothes, he told us in a sharp tone to come some other time as he was busy and in the middle of a job. One couldn’t persist, as the man obviously exercises a discipline that he has acquired from his clients who have worked in the army.

But the shop can definitely make one reminisce about all the meticulous stitching that went into men’s apparels years ago when almost every male member of a family used to get their clothes stitched from a tailor and numerous trips to the tailor for alterations, to collect fabric and check if they have got the desired results. Lengths and lengths of fabric were cut and sewn and came reborn as shirts and trousers.

But what is the true essence of getting a tailor-made suit that few seem to be bothered with these days? Sachin Vaish, managing director of Vaish, a premium boutique adjacent to Rivoli cinema in CP, starts with a story about how his grandfather who was fond of the English way of styling, came from Meerut to Delhi to study the English language and started trading fabrics back in 1940 from the same premises.

“We were under a British occupancy for the next seven years. World War II was on in Europe and there were barracks where Palika Bazaar now stands for an increasing army presence to fight in Burma. Since the army would pass through Delhi,  many army officials were my grandfather’s customers,” shares Vaish. Tailoring became a natural demand from these army men, who wanted the best Italian and English materials to be used for making their suits.

“After some nine years, he decided to go to Savile Row in London to learn the best of tailoring and the techniques of his craft,” says the youngest Vaish in the business, who himself went to Pearl Academy. For someone like his grandfather, with a set business, it took a lot of courage to move to London for 18 months and take a diploma in pattern cutting and tailoring, a document that is hung in the boutique premises.

This made his grandfather attain skills that led him to create suits for the royalty of that era. “After my father, Ashok Vaish, joined the business in the early 1960s, more than the industrialists, his clientele comprised of the heads of kingdoms like the Nawab of Rampur, Maharaja of Poochbihar, Patiala and Jaipur,” shares Sachin Vaish. Subsequently, it was the Tatas and Birlas, the new Maharajas of free India who went on to wear tailor-made Bandhgalas and English suits.

“I think until the 1970s, these small business owners made the effort to dress up, whereas after that it became more casual and men decided to go for shirts or T-shirts thinking, ‘Arre, mujhe kaun dekh raha hai’.” (Who’s looking at me). This, according to Sachin, was a downer for men’s fashion in the area.

But he also believes that recently, there has been an increase in the number of people who want to dress up and want to wear a bespoke outfit for a function or a meeting. The ready-to-wear brands enabled people to start dressing up and also be able to afford it.

“From the 80s and 90s till about seven to eight years ago, foreign ready-to-wear brands like Hugo Boss, Armani and even Marks and Spencers were finding a lot of favour and the culture of going to a tailor was tending to fall.” Sachin is of the belief that globalisation has resulted in an increased understanding of a tailor-made outfit among those who have a certain liking.

He adds that now is the time when young people, who have known about Vaish, want to get a suit made by them for its significance and the way it fits the quirks of a body, instead of going for a branded ready-to-wear piece made using standardised size charts.

When asked about designer-made alternatives available in the market, he goes on to say, “I think about eight people out of 10 are looking for a tailor-made suit and want something understated but of a higher quality. In that regard, it is difficult for fashion designers in the country to match us in terms of a well fitted tailored suit. We make sure we interview our clients to understand their personality to ensure a piece that is unique. It may not be a suit with a zipper in five different places, something we usually see in a designer outfit.”

Ashok Vaish, father of Sachin Vaish, who heard his son describe his experience, joins us to share his ideas. He tells us about the financers on Asaf Ali road, the royalty who worked in the army, the diplomats from Chanakyapuri and now the working class of corporate groups in CP, who have been a part of their clientele. All of these examples speak volumes about the relevance of all these tailor boutiques.

“We are one of the oldest shops in CP, out of the 4-5 left from the old times. Ready to wear can cover 80% of the people, but the rest will need a tailor-made garment. What if someone is too tall, or too short or with a hump on the back? All humans are unique and we try to address those difference by creating custom fits for them,” adds Ashok Vaish.

“These bell bottoms and fancy buttons are all looks. Fashion works with looks. We work with people, we work with you,” he says.

The culture of garment shopping is popular in CP, so much so that every possible brand has their stores in the market, even when they’re going through loss in the particular store. “This is to ensure their presence,” explains Ashok Vaish.

Umang Vaish, who has another shop near Regal Cinema, is part of the Vaish family that is in the same business of tailoring. “We have been running the shop here for the last 50 years.” Sharing their USP, he dissects the term, ‘bespoke’ that according to him, means being spoken for, which has been the brand’s mantra for the longest.

There are Vadheras and Iqbals too, of the family-led tailoring business in the vicinity of CP, who have been custom-making suits for the trading and business community in central Delhi.