From Fabric to Suit -- a review of Ng Sifu’s CMT.
3-Piece Dormeuil Navy Suit by Ng Sifu.
Hong Kong is like a goldmine for suiting – from the eager commission based ‘salesmen’ that roam Nathan road, the plethora of international brand names found in luxury malls (e.g. your Brioni’s, Zegna’s, etc.), the Chinese tailor houses of Tsim Sha Tsui, to the big name players of the city. They all have something to offer. But Hong Kong can also be like a minefield: make one bad step and boom! Make one bad step, and you will end up walking away with something you would never actually wear (I have been relegating all my mistakes to one part of the closet now). Today, I present you a different method of commissioning a bespoke suit in Hong Kong: CMT.
CMT is the industry-initialism for ‘Cut, Make, and Trim’. It is a process whereby a bundle of fabric gets carefully cut out accordingly to one’s pattern (the cutting) which then gets fashioned, after several fittings, into something resembling a suit (the making), and, finally, the buttons (and button-holes), cuffs, and pockets are finished (the trimming). In essence, you input fabric, CMT occurs, and a fully functional suit is outputted.
Now, the case for CMT is not made on the basis of convenience but rather, often, is made in consideration of cost. After all, if the client is obtaining their own fabric, then there is less opportunity for mark-up to be applied. However, there are other reasons for CMT: perhaps, there is rare fabric/lining that is difficult to source locally, or, perhaps, one has leftover fabric waiting to be used. I, for one, treat it as a past-time hobby and as a means to get tossed into the pedagogical deep end.
In the present post, I aim to document my four-week experiment in getting a bespoke suit made from Ng Sifu’s little workshop in a quaint district of Hong Kong called Sham Shui Po whilst hopefully sharing some helpful anecdotes here and there. This is, in some respects, a continuation of my last review which can be found here. Contrastingly, this time around, I will be focusing more on the fitting process, cutting style, suit construction, and my overall experience.
Back in February when I was itching to get something made again, I had 2 bundles of Dormeuil fabric lying around. On the left is a medium grey ‘Voyage Prive’ 3.4m (weight: ~305g/metre) and on the right is 4.6m of a very light (weight-wise), fine, and elegant-looking navy cloth (I forgot from which collection, if anybody can advise me that would be great). I haven’t had a blue suit made in some time and so, I decided to opt for the latter. Now, I must say that 4.6m was really plenty to work with and, upon taking it to Ng Sifu, I was advised that it might be possible to squeeze in a 3 pc with full fabric vest *AND* an extra pair of trousers (bear in mind, I’m not a short or small guy – just think about how difficult it is to cut for 2x long trousers). In the end, after some tailoring voodoo, Ng Sifu was able accommodate a waistcoat with ‘fabric back’ and an additional pair of trousers (which had turn ups by the way). This, in my opinion, is where HK tailors really shine – their cutting method allows for efficient use of fabric. I guess this is congruent with HK mentality: ‘save every penny possible!’ (or, equivalently, ‘maximise profits!’)
The Fitting Process
Generally, in Hong Kong, it is seldom for the cutter to be on site as to be able provide fitting services for the client. The reason is because the Sifu’s (cutters, makers, and, trimmers) are almost always located in workshops away from the rent-high districts and they are sometimes even located across the border in Mainland China. The unpleasant truth is that it is simply unfeasible or too expensive to have the garment produced under the same roof as the easily-accessible tailor shop where clients visit.
But suppose you have particularly uneven shoulders or other idiosyncratic postural issues (e.g. pelvic tilt, uneven chest), how is the cutter to know how to compensate? Of course, when issues become identified during the basted fitting, the fitter can always request for adjustments to be made, but, in many cases, it would be ‘forcing it’ and the end result would not be ideal. The point is that it is imperative for the cutter to be present during the fitting. However, there are some effective workarounds: (i) pictures can often go a long way in helping the cutter determine one’s attributes and (ii) you can always inquire as to when the cutter might happen to be in during the day and book an appointment for then (I am fortunate to have always been obliged by the front of house over the years).
The initial basted fitting: the front side of vest, Ng Sifu marking adjustments to the vest, and the back of the jacket.
As you can see Ng Sifu wasn’t too off the mark in his initial cut. However, there were still some necessary adjustments which included: from what I can recall, shortening the tips of the waistcoat (a tad bit too long at the tips), creating more room in the thighs and seat of the trousers (a very common problem for me!), creating more room in the chest of the jacket. In addition, Michael was always present during the fittings and was particularly attentive to details. As a walking database of knowledge, he occasionally offered his advice and explained various things to a newbie like myself. But his role was not merely watcher, advisor, explainer, or translator. Importantly, he was able to encourage and impel Ng Sifu to be assiduous and also mindful of the client’s preferences.
After about a week or so, the suit was ready for another fitting:
Ng Sifu Analysing the Fit
The suit was much improved over the previous instance. However, there were still some minor amendments to be made to the trousers and vest. For example, the trousers were still too tight in the thighs. With that in mind, we set our calendars to reconvene next week for a third and final fitting.
Alas, during the third fitting, we discovered that widening the thighs presented itself with a peculiar issue in the crotch area. That is – there was some fabric protruding outwards near the crotch (and I assure you that I this had nothing to do with my excitement). As a result, Ng Sifu suggested that we have another go at the trousers; he suggested that we excise some of the excess fabric and re-attach accordingly at the joints. Naturally, I was quite worried about this crotch peculiarity, but fortunately, Ng Sifu’s suggestion significantly mitigated the issue and the suit was finally ready.
On the whole, I was immensely pleased with my suit. The cut of the jacket and vest were truly beautiful: the jacket allowed for just the right amount of vest to show, and, in turn, the vest allowed for just the right amount of tie to show. Then, there were the pockets which were tastefully slanted in such a way as complement the lower half of the jacket – too flat and it would have worked against the taper, too slanted and it would over-exaggerate the taper. Now, of course, as my first suit with Ng Sifu, the fit wasn’t perfect: there was still a slight issue in the crotch if one were to be particularly observant of the area (to my dismay, this doesn’t happen nearly as often), the thighs could be a bit roomier, and, perhaps, of greatest concern to me, the shoulders had minor divots which I suspect rendered the sleeves prone to wrinkling (or, at the very least, the two are related). Nonetheless, it was an admirable achievement for an introductory commission. And I expect only better results as Ng Sifu becomes more acquainted with my bodily dimensions.
The Finished Product
As you can see, the overall silloutete of the jacket appears to be quite italian. In fact, Michael has tried to get Ng Sifu to emulate Lai Sifu’s softer cut. Yet, in a way, the shoulders of the jacket are still reminiscient of the British. This is not suprising as Ng Sifu originated from old school Shanghai work which, historically-speaking, was heavily influenced by British styles and techniques.
Recall that I mentioned that the fabric was very light in weight. As such, I oped for turn ups on both trousers which, to some extent, act as a deadweight and brings about better drape. Also, because the fineness of the fabric, you could just about make out the outline of my vest through the jacket at the back and you could even spot a slight protrusion at top of the shoulders (at the middle of the trapezius).
The sleeve pitch seems to be right, but I wonder if the sleeves are a bit too tight? Wrinkles become annoyingy apparent when my arms are in any position other than at my sides.
As for the canvas vest, it is quite well-proportioned for my liking: a slightly higher cut for a more classic look. The trousers look decent from the front and at the back it is a fair effort. This is one area where I think can be massively improved the next time around.
Moving on to details about construction: the handwork of the jacket is not bad (at an acceptable level for Hong Kong), but this is one other area that I think can be improved. WW Chan, in my opinion, is the leader in Hong Kong for quality handwork. Pay particular attention to the pockets of my jacket and you can see that are not tightly finished. However, the prick stitching on the lapel is neatly done and the lapel, itself, rolls beautifully even when laid flat. Moreover, I must say that my name was beautifully embroidered on the inside of the jacket (I apologise for the pixelation as I had to protect my privacy). A lot of HK tailors opt to merely stick a tag with your name felt tipped on it; how crude!
In conclusion, Ng Sifu’s CMT operation was a tremendous value. Hong Kong is already the pinnacle of value in the world of suiting, but Ng Sifu is the superlative of value in Hong Kong – he is the pinnacle of a pinnacle. That is not to say that his suits are the most affordable (in other words, cheapest), for quality always comes at cost. All in all, his strong suits (no pun intended) are the stylish house cut and his ability to achieve balance in all three pieces by discerning the right proportions for each of his clients.
Edited by klp2332 - 5/15/16 at 4:31am