HERE IS AN abiding Hong Kong mystery. Sam's Tailor, as the sign has it, is a tiny cupboard in an undistinguished arcade off Nathan Road. There are 2,500 tailors in the SAR of whom Sam's is surely not the best, and yet the walls of the shop glow with a stellar photo-parade of male achievers. The testosterone count is high - Pierce Brosnan! Robin Cook! Chris Patten! Alan Greenspan! Margaret Thatcher! Chaps, and honorary chaps like the Duchess of York, arrive at Kai Tak, leap into taxis (or armoured limousines with outriders) and urgently cry 'Take me to Sam's!', where they order trunkloads of suits and shirts. Now why on earth should this be? 'God is great,' observed Manu Melwani piously when I put this conundrum to him. Melwani is Sam - or to be more accurate he is son of Sam, his father having started the business in October 1957. He joined in 1975 when he was 27 and since then, he's been standing (he never sits down) behind his narrow counter, glueing impressive name cards to its surface, and making occasional furtive forays to select hotel rooms in which he measures up inside legs and has his picture taken with the stars. 'They will call me from the mobile phone or from the car. They will say, 'I have to see you at once.' They have already booked the code word, the hidden name, and they tell me that name, and they say, 'See you at such and such a time,' ' Come on, I said, surely the hotels tip you off. 'Never. Never! It's all word of mouth.' And, let's say, a little judicious prompting. I couldn't help reading - literally, they were thrust at eye-level - some of the letters collated by Melwani over the years. 'Dear Mr Sam,' began a typical example, 'The Duke of Edinburgh has asked me to write a thank you for the shirt. His Royal Highness did receive the present some time ago and I would have thanked you earlier but your address was not enclosed.' I particularly liked the post-Gulf War one from General Colin Powell which began: 'What a great delight to hear from you after 27 years ...' Nonetheless, a tailor can never have too many customers and while I was jotting down names Melwani leaned over the card-encrusted counter and added, 'You must help me by recommending me to people.' Well, I'd tried this once before when I'd thought it might be funny to matchmake Melwani with a Famous Person and do a story on the making of a Sam's suit. After months of trying to find someone who'd agree to do it, Sir Peter Ustinov, who happened to be passing through Hong Kong, indicated he might be willing. Negotiations were at a delicate stage when Melwani took it upon himself to start ringing Sir Peter in his room at the Mandarin Oriental. The great raconteur was not amused (the word 'pest' cropped up several times in a subsequent analysis of events), I had to fall into serious grovel mode and it all ended most unhappily. The only reason I'd come back to Sam's was because I simply couldn't believe that Karl Lagerfeld - Karl Lagerfeld - had strolled down this unprepossessing alleyway last month and ordered six black suits and 68 white shirts. Why? 'He knows about me,' said Melwani complacently. 'Recommendation.' Not only that, I'd heard Lagerfeld was accompanied by his muse Amanda Harlech and - 'Please,' interrupted Melwani, softly. 'Lady Harlech.' Right, right - so, they both came despite the fact that Sam's is not the best tailors in Hong Kong? 'I think we're the best at making clothes, at paying attention to people, at stitching, threads, cutting. You have to pay attention, seven or eight minutes each time, to the body and this we do.' He's precise about such matters. He'd told me earlier that women customers comprised about seven per cent of his clientele, and that tourists were 12 per cent. The last time I'd been in the shop, in the days when tourism was a viable industry here, a steady stream of visitors, ranging from an Irishman living in Estonia to a crowd of Australians who'd read about Sam's Tailor in their guide-book, flowed through. Two weeks ago, in an hour-long visit, the only thing flowing was the rain. 'For me, it's all right,' murmured Melwani. 'I depend on the local market, lawyers, stockbrokers, they know me, they still come.' And of course the name of Sam's goes out to the world. When Lagerfeld wears out those 68 shirts, all he has to do is place an order for 68 more and they'll be dispatched immediately to Paris. Indeed, Melwani insisted that he has sent orders out to every known quarter. Would that include, say, Tierra del Fuego? There was a seven-second pause. 'Argentina,' said Melwani smoothly. 'Oh yes, I think ... two shirts.' After I'd stopped laughing, convulsed with admiration, he said, 'You know it's a tough business, you have to remember everything, know everything, be very fast.' This, surely, is his secret. He is blessed with an excellent memory, he calls everyone 'sir' and 'madam' (ad nauseam, frankly), never raises his voice and has an unshakeable confidence in himself. When I asked him if he felt uncomfortable socialising with the great and the good (as he certainly does, he showed me the photos), he magnificently missed the point by replying, 'No, it's fine, we treat them like normal people.' His favourite analogy for what he does is that he's a doctor or a lawyer; he brackets the two professions. Thus, asked why he enjoyed his work, he replied, 'It's like a doctor's or lawyer's job, you take care of patients and clients.' When I wondered why he confined himself to one poky shop, he said, 'It's like when you go and see the doctor and lawyer, they see the client one at a time, like a private patient.' Was he ever nervous? 'It's like a lawyer going to court or a doctor giving an injection, it's your job, you must not be nervous.' What about complaints? 'Five fingers are not the same size,' sighed Melwani. I had no idea what this mysterious remark meant but he added, 'It's not easy to boil rice. You must keep in touch with the clients, then you solve any complaints right away.' An unseasonal thought occurred: what size is his Christmas card list? 'Oh, I can't tell you.' More than 2,000? 'Yes, more.' More than 5,000? 'More.' 10,000? 'That's close.' Whether Sam the Tailor is on Sir Peter Ustinov's list, of course, is another matter entirely but, as Melwani said when I finally brought up his name, let's not talk about that.