Affable and Affordable Bespoke Tailors: Apsley of London
Tuesday 18 March 2008
I’ve always tried to remember that a thing is never so intimidating as when it is done for the first time.
Standing outside Apsley’s peering in on the expensive looking interior, you would be forgiven for having a pang of nervous apprehension. This isn’t helped by the shop’s location in the heart of gentleman’s club land, next door to a charter company for super yachts. The place looks as if it could cost, and might upbraid you sharply should you be found wanting.
Just the Facts
Distinguished tailoring house, new to London and providing affordable bespoke clothing. Excellent service, relaxed environment in a good location provides just the right experience. In terms of value for money, it’s difficult to do better.
Service: Bespoke Shirts, Suits, Trousers, Jackets and Coats
Price Range: Shirts £60-£160 per shirt (minimum order of 4), Suits from £400-£2000 cloth dependent, Trouser from £150 cloth dependent
Location: 13-13a Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5LU, Tel: 0207 925 2238
In fact, unless you’d been tipped off in advance, you would never guess this was affordable bespoke tailors, staffed by extremely diffident and obliging people.
I discovered this tailor by accident. My boss received a letter of introduction from Apsley, inviting him to visit for a trial fitting and free shirt. He wisely decided to give them a try; intrigued I wisely decided to tag along. Glad I did too.
The Feel Good Factor
If you turn up at an establishment from GQ or some such body you’d expect to be well received. I’m just a blogger, but that made no difference to Mr Mahmood or Mr Chopra, who run Apsley. Once reclining with complimentary coffee upon the broad leather sofa I felt very comfortable. Both men showed an eagerness to serve my boss and talk to me that speaks volumes for their sense of customer care. Neither man could have been more attentive or friendly. I could so easily have been dismissed (and believe me it happens) but I wasn’t.
Cutting the cost not the service
It is a point of pride for Mr Mahmood and Mr Chopra that they offer such reasonable prices for their bespoke tailoring. But even more important is the level of customer service.
Mr Mahmood says apologetically: “I was failed in the UK. I interviewed one cutter; it took him 4 weeks for the first fitting! It was clear that I couldn’t work with these people”.
He believes there is little sense of service in the UK: “Your spending £2000-3000, and you walk into a tailors and some tell you to come back in two weeks, just to be measured. Where I am from we do things in 24 hours. So I thought I really need to offer a very special service here”. With the workrooms on site and tailors imported from Hong Kong, if you wish you can have a first fitting within 24hours of being measured.
Throughout our conversation on whatever detail we discuss Mr Mahmood repeats again and again the mantra “We’ll do what ever you want...”.
And I believe he means it. But then his clients aren’t known for accepting second best.
Tailors to the Empire
I found the history of this tailoring house endeared them all the more to me, and increased my confidence in the product.
The name Apsley is relatively new to London, the parent company behind it is long established. Known in Hong Kong as The Punjab House, the company dates back to 1889 and the British Military were their first patrons; and remain their most steadfast.
With so much of their business coming from the Armed Forces their future looked in doubt after 1997, when the British handed Hong Kong back to the Chinese. Mr Mahmood took over the business from his uncle in 1996 and decided to bring it to London. They arrived in 2003 and having put the word out his old military cliental flocked to his door. First in line was Field Marshal Sir John Chapel. While business started in a small shop of just 13 square ft the move to the UK was so successful that they eventually moved to their current location, and opened a UK workshop.
While the recently remodelled London shop is light and breezy the pictures of past military patrons on the walls speak of a distinguished history.
What’s the catch?
(Cut in London)
I am not the first person to ask this question. While showing me around the work room Mr Mahmood says that despite their credentials their prices lead some people to doubt Apsley’s is genuinely bespoke.
Quite simply they’re cheaper than most bespoke outfits because of the retained Hong Kong connection. While the cutting and first fitting is done in the UK workroom (below stairs), once done the suits are then completed in Hong Kong.
At any one time he has at least two tailors on site so besides the cutting and first fitting any subsequent alteration can be undertaken in the UK. These tailors are brought over from Hong Kong on rotation, staying for 4-6 months then returning home for 3 to 4 weeks. So not only can he deliver a bespoke suit for less, the total build time is about 3-4 weeks from the time you arrive in the shop.
And what do you get for your money?
(A Floating Canvas)
With prices as low as Apsley’s you might be tempted to believe you’re missing out on something. Well, your not. These guys are the real Tabasco.
In terms of construction they have extensive cloth books with all the expected brands of fabric available, from Zenga to Scabal, and a wide range of Silk linings. It goes without saying that you get a fully floating canvass construction; hand stitching; fully functioning buttons holes; extra cloth along the seams to allow for increased girth; and being proper tailors physical imperfections like a drop shoulder can be dealt with.
Stylistically the rest is up to you.
As for the shirts, they have a vast array of swatches to choose from. The prices make them a deal clincher for me. Starting at £60 pounds going up to £160 for the very finest super 200s cotton, compare that to what Jermyn Street will take off you (for an off the peg shirt!) and you can’t deny it’s impressive value. Yes you have to order 4 at a time, but consider how many shirts you buy in the course of a year, you’re still quid’s in. My boss’ shirt (remember him), looked good and has subsequently laundered well. Mr Mahmood is very insistent that whatever the client wants they will do. Cost is cloth dependent and not on the details you decide to add.
A good first step
Lets not beat about the bush; starting prices of £400 for a bespoke suit and £60 for bespoke shirts is unbeatable value. Think about other tailors, designer labels even modest high street offerings and they don’t compare. Of course the price increases with the quality of the cloth, but tell them what you want stick to your price and you won’t go wrong. Businesses like this survive because of repeat business from the same customers over long years. As a parting shot Mr Chopra, the General Manager, tells me “We regularly have clients who come in wearing clothes tailored forty years earlier in Hong Kong”. They have no reason to embarrass you with a bill you can’t afford, not give you want you want, or provide an inferior quality product.
The people at Apsley do all the right things in all the right ways. For the money I am yet to find better.
Posted by Stealth