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George H. W. Bush: the US president who always had time for his Hong Kong tailor

  • Tsim Sha Tsui suit maker Manu Melwani recalls decades of stocking Bush family wardrobes with the finest threads
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 12:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2018, 12:16am

Before George H. W. Bush became president of the United States, he visited a small Hong Kong tailor’s shop hidden in an arcade in Tsim Sha Tsui.

“I don’t remember [his first visit], but he remembered my shop,” said Manu Melwani of Bush’s subsequent trips to Hong Kong.

The owner of Sam’s Tailor – one of the city’s most famous suit makers – then began a journey stocking Bush family wardrobes for decades to come.

“It’s a long history, I know the family very well. So I was very sad [at his death] because I’ve been taking care of this man,” Melwani told the Post.

Bush died at 12.10pm on Saturday Hong Kong time, according to family spokesman Jim McGrath. He was 94.

Melwani recalled being shuttled in and out of hotel rooms amid tight security to take measurements and carry out fittings during Bush’s visits to Hong Kong as vice-president and president from the 1980s onwards.

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“We measured and we showed him some samples and we came out right away ... just about 45 minutes,” Melwani said.

The Post reported in 1985 during one of Bush’s visits as vice-president that he had stayed at the now demolished, five-star Hilton hotel in Central.

He was flanked by an entourage of about 120 bodyguards, aides and accompanying US journalists, renting out two floors of the building.

The earliest record the Post has of Bush in Hong Kong is from 1978, before he became vice-president or the 41st president. He visited as a banker on a business trip, according to an article dated April 23, 1978.

He spoke at a lunch at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Central, and fired the Noonday Gun along the waterfront in Causeway Bay, a cannon let off daily at midday.

One of the most memorable pieces of tailoring Melwani recalled making for Bush was a bespoke suit jacket with a unique lining.

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“When he came to see me, he asked: ‘What [kind of] fancy lining can you make for me inside the jacket?’ So I did an American flag. Just special for him,” Melwani said.

He remembers Bush as one of the nicest people he ever met and someone who helped his business grow from a small family-owned shop opened in 1957 to one with a worldwide reputation.

Melwani and his son Roshan’s clients include an assortment of the world’s rich and famous. Three American presidents – Bush, his son George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – have all been customers, as well as late music icon David Bowie, Britain’s Prince Charles and supermodel Naomi Campbell. Photos taken with prominent clients adorn the walls of his shop.

“He always sent me a lot of good customers,” Melwani said. “When anybody asked him who his tailor was, he always mentioned my name. Go to Sam, he’s a good guy, he would say.”

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The last time Melwani saw Bush was about 10 years ago when the former president had retired and came to Hong Kong to give a lecture on a ship.

Bush and his late wife Barbara ordered suits and shirts for his children and grandchildren as Christmas presents, Melwani said.

Despite being one of the most powerful men in the world, Melwani said Bush stayed grounded.

“He was very down to earth, one of the best people I’ve ever met,” he said. “Very easy to talk to, always very helpful.”