First Person

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 June, 2007, 12:00am

Should office workers shed their suits and ties and dress down for summer? Not if they want to maintain their professional dignity, says tailor Manu Melwani, of Sam's Tailor, who was last week awarded a knighthood by one of his celebrity clients, Crown Prince Philippe of Belgium.

I have been making clothes for His Royal Highness Prince Philippe for the past 10 years. He orders shirts, suits, sports jackets and trousers. I heard that he was going to make me a knight shortly before he came here last week with his trade delegation, and I must admit I was a little bit shocked.

My whole family came with me to the ceremony. I was thrilled and very honoured. I know the prince very well, but to get something like this from a royal family is quite an honour. I am only sad that my father and mother did not live to see me receive this honour. They would have been very proud.

I make clothes for nearly all the European royal families, but I cannot disclose any details of what I do. I've never had recognition like this before. I have met presidents from all over the world, but this is something different. It's the biggest honour I've ever received.

I have been to Belgium, but it was a long time ago when I was a young man. Now that I've received this honour from the country, I will go back and see if I can do more business and trade with Belgium.

Sam's Tailor was started by my father, who came from Bombay in October 1957. It is a family business. He had two sons, Sham and me. Now I have a son, Roshan, who has also gone into the family business and will one day take over from me.

We learned how to do business from the British. When we started, we dealt with military people and we had a lot of local dignitaries as customers. The British taught me how to dress people up and to follow the example of the Savile Row tailors, who are the best in the world.

The secret that the British taught us was to keep quiet about the business you are doing. Keep secret a customer's measurements and how they dress. They taught us how to make suits for morning, daytime and evening and hunting jackets, lawyer's suits and gowns, and even Beefeaters' outfits.

In 1975, I went to Savile Row in Mayfair, London, and learned my trade. The British taught me that if you want to go into business you need to become an apprentice and that is what I did. Then in 1992, when my father passed away, I took over the business.

We still have a very cosmopolitan business base. We have customers who are British, French, German, Belgian, Norwegian and all the nationalities who are in Hong Kong. We also have a percentage of Chinese customers that is growing slowly.

About 12 per cent of our customers are from the mainland. We have to speak Putonghua to cater for them. They appreciate the cut of a suit and the way a tailored suit is made and have more knowledge about it now. We have many celebrity customers as well. When they come to Hong Kong, we take care of them by listening carefully to what they want. That is why they come to us. There is more competition today, but there is enough business for everyone in Hong Kong so it isn't something that worries us.

I don't agree with the idea of dressing down. People should dress up to show their personality and to show what kind of salesmanship you are bringing to the other person.

If you are the financial centre of the world, you cannot dress down. It looks quite horrible. Whether you are a banker, a lawyer, a stockbroker or an accountant, you have to dress well when you are in Hong Kong. You can't afford to dress down because it is about the way you represent yourself to another party. It says everything about the kind of person you are.

If you dress well, and have your hair done properly and your shoes shining, people will appreciate that you are a professional and someone who cares about the way they represent themselves to other people.

Dressing down is not the answer. Instead, you should buy a lightweight suit with half-lining and no lining in the sleeves. You can wear a short-sleeved shirt beneath. That way you can stay smart without getting too hot. And I think the way you look is very important in Hong Kong, whoever it is you have to meet.