By Kristiano Ang at TheWallStreetJournal
For years, many of the rich and famous and the sartorially smart have sought out Hong Kong and Singapore tailor shops for a bespoke suit. The men were all after one thing: the look of Savile Row at a fraction of the price. But inflation is creeping into the apparel industry, and prices for those fine suits and shirts are on the rise.
One Hong Kong tailor that has raised its prices is W.W. Chan & Sons. According to Patrick Chu, the head cutter there, a standard two-piece suit made from VBC wool goes for about 9,000 Hong Kong dollars (US$1,160), up 10% in two years. VBC wool, from Italian maker Vitale Barberis Canonico, is considered good quality, but is not the highest-quality material.
video bonus. Dressing well: Tell a story from Michael Alden on Vimeo.
The culprit is the rising price of fabric. Cotton prices climbed a record 91% in 2010, and the price of crossbred wool hit a 14-year high in October, up 50% over 15 months. Mr. Chu says the price of premium wool such as that made by Loro Piana rises by about 10% every six months. But higher material costs are only part of the story: Increasing demand caused by rising affluence is another.
“We’re so busy that we’re having to turn some people away,” says Mark Cho, co-founder of The Armoury in Hong Kong, which hosts an in-store corner for W.W. Chan. Customers in search of one of the tailor’s suits should expect to pay more after the Lunar New Year holidays, he says: Prices will go up by 10% to 20% in mid-February.
It’s a similar case at the Kowloon tailor Lee Baron. Owner Peter Lee says that more customers are asking for suits with a full canvas lining, which begin at HK$5,000. Increased demand for these suits, which can take up to 50 hours to make and are HK$2,200 more expensive than their half-canvassed equivalents, have led to his tailors demanding higher wages. So far, Mr. Lee has managed to keep prices down. He admits, however, that he has “to start talking to my tailors. They’re asking for more because everything in Hong Kong is more expensive now.”
Prices are on the rise in Singapore, too. At Pimabs, an upscale label run by designer Leslie Chia, they have risen by 30% since 2009. Shirts that in early 2009 cost 229 Singapore dollars (US$177) now cost S$330. Mr. Chia says that his prices are currently stable; his suppliers have stockpiled wool and cotton fabric. But he’s keeping an eye on prices.
Some Singapore tailors, including Anthony Tan, owner of Mode et Creation, refused to comment about potential price increases.
Despite the rising prices, business will probably remain strong for tailors in Asia because they’re still inexpensive relative to their Western counterparts. At Kevin Seah, for instance, a bespoke-tailor with some of the highest prices in Singapore, a two-piece suit in the most expensive cloth, a brand of vicuna wool, costs between S$7,000 and S$8,000, or about US$5,400. That’s a bargain compared to prices at Kiton, the high-end Italian clothier where that kind of suit can easily cost US$10,000.