ALTHOUGH horror stories abound about tailor shops ripping off tourists in Thailand, the kingdom also boasts a number of ethical tailors whose workmanship is world renowned. And unquestionably one of the best is Perry’s Tailor Shop, which has been operating out of the same modest premises on Silom Road since July 1974.
In fact, Perry’s Tailor Shop is rated number three on the CNN travel website’s list of the “5 best Bangkok tailors,” though many of its customers will probably tell you this ranking is too low not just in Thailand but anywhere in Asia.
What sets Perry’s apart is the unerring vision, quite literally, of the 70-year-old twin brothers, Narong and Phonchai, who founded the business and continue to run it to this day.
How many tailors can cut clothes that fit perfectly “by eye” − without taking measurements? This is exactly what I witnessed shortly after meeting the brothers. Mr Narong took one look at me, placed a piece of material on the table and used white chalk to draw an outline of a shirt for me. He then took my measurements, and to my surprise, they matched his outline exactly. It takes years of practice to do that.
The twins look much younger than their years and have plenty of energy and wit. Both speak perfect English, though it was Mr Narong who answered most of my questions.
“My father came from mainland China to Thailand in 1928 and lived in the Ruso district of Narathiwat province in the South. He was a tailor and we learned the trade from him. He started his own tailoring business in 1935 and we began working with him in 1958.
“When we opened Perry’s Tailor Shop in 1974, it was the only tailor shop on Silom Road.
“Before we opened the shop, we sold directly to customers who were mainly diplomats, bankers, businessmen or people attached to international organizations posted in Thailand, like the
[now defunct] Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. We went to their offices or homes, showed them fabrics, took measurements and delivered clothes, usually suits, to them. At that time we had only an office, not a tailor shop. Our customers recommended us to their friends, so we established a circle of clients who then also came to us to make clothes for them.
Why the name ‘Perry’s’? “One day in 1971 my brother and I went to see a Filipino attaché at the Philippines embassy in Bangkok. He said to my brother: ‘Your name is Phongchai? Why don’t you change it to Perry because it is easier to remember?’
Well, we agreed, and from then on we called our business Perry’s.
“After opening the shop, more customers came, mainly through recommendations, including Britain’s Duke of Edinburgh, former UN Secretary Generals Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and his successor Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as well as all kinds of media moguls, military leaders, entertainers, US senators and congressmen and so on.
“We also cut clothes for local politicians, diplomats, businessmen and others. In fact, a deputy governor of a province near Bangkok has just dropped by to pick up his clothes.”
Located beside the Sala Daeng BTS station, the shop is not large or lavishly decorated, but it is filled with rolls of the finest imported fabrics. Photos of famous customers are displayed on the walls.
“We cut clothes in our workshop in the rear,” explained Mr Phonchai. “On the table on the left we cut only shirts, and on the table opposite we make trousers. Upstairs we cut jackets and other clothes. Sometimes we will cut clothes on the table in the shop front as well.”
Perry’s after-sales service is legendary. “If you have had us cut a pair of trousers and you lose some weight and they need to be adjusted, or you get fat and the trousers are too tight, you can bring them back. Even if it is ten years later we will make adjustments for you − free of charge. And if you bring to us a sample of shirt or any other clothes we will make the same design for you.
“When we opened in 1974 there were already many tailor shops in Bangkok but few had workshops inside the shop. This is essential to make good clothes and also for the convenience of the customer. But most tailors, then and now, send everything for cutting outside their shops.
“If you need a lousy suit then you can go somewhere else. Ready-made suits usually don’t fit properly but many people want them because of the name brand. Our suits last for 20 to 30 years − some customers even complain that our suits last too long,” said Mr Phonchai laughing.
Added Mr Narong: “We offer fabrics of famous brands, imported mostly from Italy, Switzerland and England. These include Ermenegildo Zegna, Loro Piana, Dormeuil and Lanificio. If you buy from the store suits made from these fabrics it will cost you more than 100,000 baht. We charge half of that or even less.
“The price depends on the material, with the starting price of 20,000 baht. We don’t use local fabrics for suits.”
What’s the best material for a tropical climate? “Cotton, like royal cotton twill, deluxe Jacquard cotton, satin twill cotton, and sea island cotton. These are all imported. We don’t use synthetic materials,” said Mr Phonchai.
Is it really possible to make a suit in 24 hours? “It’s like choosing a restaurant. If you like to have good food in nice surroundings, then you can go to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. If you want cheap and fast food, go to McDonald’s. It takes at least three to four days to make a good suit. If you ask me to make one within 24 hours then I have to say I am sorry, because this is impossible.”
Mr Phonchai then gave a few key tips to tourists looking for a good Bangkok tailor. “People should go to a proper tailor shop with the workshop inside, and not one that sends orders out for cutting. They shouldn’t use tailors who promise a suit within 24 hours. And they shouldn’t fall for advertisements that offer a suit and shirts for US$100 or something like that. They will get lousy materials and colours.
“Many taxis take tourists to a specific shop where they can get a commission. We don’t give commissions to taxis or to anyone else. People come to us directly after being recommended by our regular customers or hotel staff.
“We have even heard that some taxi drivers tell people who ask for our shop that Perry’s has closed down, and then they take them somewhere else that gives them a commission.”
The brothers would like to start a school for tailors in Bangkok but they feel they are too old now. “We could teach them very well, the same way we do all our tailors. Some of the shop’s 30 tailors have been with the business for decades.” It’s good to know that the twins’ knowledge is being passed on to the next generation of master tailors in Bangkok.