Italian tailoring, made in... China?

A personal story on getting a custom jacket made from a tailor in Hong Kong.

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Huge shoutout to my friend, Mark Chou, for agreeing to take over Sprezza for the day. Let it be known: Mark is a man of taste. 

He’s the founder of Bradhurst Ventures, where he advises, consults with, and invests in early-stage consumer brands. Before this, he was an early employee at travel brand Away and also spent time at Ralph Lauren and on Wall Street. He’s been living in Hong Kong lately, and I saw him documenting getting a custom-made jacket from a tailor over there and was immediately intrigued! You don’t really think to blend “fine tailoring” and China together. 

So, I asked if he’d share his experience with y’all. I love the way Mark added history and context to the history of tailoring as well as narratives around “made in China.”

I think you’ll enjoy this one. Buckle up.

P.S. Mark also offered to do a Q&A on his experience, so feel free to hit up the comments section!


Globalization has changed the world

Especially for clothing brands. The rise of globalization paved a path of success and wealth for many, especially as clothing production migrated from West to East. In 2008, author Dana Thomas explored this topic in her book, “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster,” where she dove into how luxury supply chains have expanded across the world. 

Even as we’ve seen many brands (e.g., European luxury houses) shift their production to Asia, the continent’s reputation (Japan aside) is still viewed as a destination for low-wage, low-skilled labor, with little acknowledgment of quality and heritage.

Hong Kong is another exception in certain circles, with bespoke tailors such as W.W. Chan and H. Baromon – members of the so-called “Red Gang,” a collective of Shanghainese tailors – establishing a global reputation from their ateliers on Hong Kong Island. Some have also expanded their presence beyond Hong Kong, like shirtmaker Ascot Chang (also a “Red Gang” tailor), which set up an outpost in New York City, where I got my first bespoke shirts made when I began my career on Wall Street over a decade ago. 

And then there’s The Armoury, the men’s clothier, which has nearly single-handedly put Hong Kong on the #menswear map for a new generation of consumers in the West (and across the globe). They now have two NYC locations, one in Tribeca and another on the Upper East Side.

Having said that, Hong Kong also has a plethora of “48-hour tailors” promising you custom suiting or shirting to you on a dubious timeline, and generally, mainland Chinese manufacturing has still (generally) been held in relatively low regard when it comes to high quality, handmade goods.

Changing the “Made in China” narrative

Enter Prologue, part of a new cohort of Hong Kong tailors offering a softer, more Italian-inspired silhouette versus the more structured British influence of the “Red Gang” tailors. Their house cut is a mix of the founders’ favorite tailoring styles, with the soft shoulders, 3-roll-2 button stance, and barchetta pocket found in Neapolitan tailoring, and the open quarters that a certain maestro in Florence has become known for.

Neapolitan tailoring has been on the rise over the past decade, and men’s clothiers like P. Johnson, J. Mueser, and Anglo-Italian (among others) have all been heavily influenced by this style. Neapolitan tailoring is about having less structure, often featuring lighter and softer fabrics for more comfort in Naples’ warm humid weather. Funny enough, this style also works perfectly for Hong Kong’s climate, which features extreme heat and humidity.

Getting a jacket made in China... 

While I’m usually based in New York City, my wife and I made plans last year to spend some time in Hong Kong with family when we found out we’d be expecting our second child this spring. (He arrived in May – thanks for asking!)

Somehow, I came across Prologue and immediately went down a rabbit hole about their business, which turned out to be good timing, since I was hoping to find a new tailor during my time in Hong Kong.

According to Permanent Style’s Simon Crompton, while Prologue co-founders Jerry Tong (formerly of Ascot Chang) and Chris Tang were “customers of Orazio Luciano, Liverano and others, they lacked the funds to buy Western bespoke regularly, and in particular to recommend to their friends.”

Jerry and Chris wanted Italian-style tailoring options in Hong Kong, but most shops were either unwilling to work with them on an unfamiliar style, or they simply couldn’t execute at a high enough level for them.

That’s when the two decided to launch their own brand – one that catered to their own tastes. As they began the process of making tailored clothing themselves, they ultimately landed (after much trial and error) on a mainland Chinese tailor with Red Gang experience who could deliver work at their level.

When I met with Jerry, he told me:

“We realized that in China, that there was a real hunger for recognition on the world stage and that if you're willing to pay for it, you can find top quality work.”

In other words: don’t dismiss “made in China” just because it’s made in China.

The end result, in Crompton’s words, is that Prologue is “creating a tailoring offering that has much of the appeal of Italian masters visiting Hong Kong at a fraction of the price.”

That sounded like exactly what I was looking for – something a step above made-to-measure, but not something so precious. (I do look after a toddler and newborn, after all!)

So I inquired, and Prologue offered me a cut-make-trim (CMT) option for their flagship “semi-bespoke” offering since there was a particular fabric from Standeven (in England) that I wanted to have made into a jacket. 

If you want something tailored at Prologue, there are three different tiers you can choose from:

  1. Made-to-order: No adjustments to the pattern beyond finished sleeve length and trouser lengths.

  2. Made-to-measure: Half-canvassed, cut-and-sewn using the house pattern with initial measurement, but no subsequent fittings.
    Available in basic sportcoats and suiting models.

  3. Semi-bespoke: Fully canvassed, one-piece front and side body, more hand-work vs. MTM (such as hand-padded lapels, collars, and chest, with hand-sewn pick-stitching, bar-tacks, and buttonholes), cut-and-sewn using the house pattern with initial measurement and 2 fittings.
    Available in basic sportcoats and suiting models as well as less conventional designs (e.g., Norfolk jackets, different double-breasted buttoning configurations.)

At my first visit to the Prologue shop, I got to meet Jerry, the co-founder, and chat with him about our shared experiences in Hong Kong and the US (he went to college at Pepperdine), and even reviewed the fabric that I shipped to Prologue’s shop. Something to note about Jerry: he’s a connoisseur of whatever interests him, whether it’s suiting, shirting, shoes, or watches. That broad, deep knowledge is confidence-inspiring, particularly for those who may be new to tailoring and looking for guidance from someone with good taste.

Okay, back to the jacket. Here’s what the semi-bespoke process looks like with Prologue:

At the initial visit...

Jerry took my measurements and we finalized my selection for the jacket lining, buttons, and other details (quarter lined, a spalla camicia shoulder, patch pockets at the hip).

The first fitting

I was quite excited to finally see the fabric as something more than just a swatch!

The main adjustments noted during the basted fitting were to reduce the draping in the chest (you can see in the photo where the fabric sits a bit off the body) and to shorten the jacket length just slightly.

The second fitting

We addressed the draping at the chest and the jacket length was also adjusted. At this point, we were 90% of the way there; the only remaining steps were to fix the shoulder and finalize the sleeve length.

Delivery

I tried on the jacket again and the adjustments from the last fitting were spot on. The jacket was delivered on a custom wooden hanger in a Prologue-branded garment bag.

The tl;dr

My overall take on the experience? 

Let’s just say that I’m very excited that my pattern is on file for future purchases, which is great because I’m able to commission more jackets even after I move back to New York City at the end of the summer. (Prologue does plan to resume trunk shows at some point in the future, whenever that becomes possible again.)

I’m really pleased with how everything came together, specifically the soft shoulders and open quarters that give the jacket a casual feel mixed with a slightly dramatic flair. I was also very impressed by how much time Jerry spent with me during each of our appointments – I never felt rushed during fittings and always felt like I was the sole focus – an important part of the experience if one is offering a service level above MTM.  

Finally, I appreciate that Prologue is more than just suiting. If you’re ever able to visit their shop on at On Wo Lane, you’ll see items like their take on the classic Harrington jacket, some linen Gurkha shorts, or a pair of shoes (whether it’s Prologue’s house brand, Tokyo’s Clematis Ginza, or Nagoya’s Bolero Bespoke.)

Are there reasons Prologue might not be a fit? 

If you are looking for something truly bespoke with a pattern made from scratch, you’ll need to go elsewhere (though beware of those who market themselves as “bespoke” but aren’t really!)

Do you prefer a more structured silhouette? Prologue’s house cut is definitely soft and not prototypically Savile Row – no-padded or roped shoulders here. Do you have concerns about “made in China”? Well, I hope that sharing my experience with Prologue – a brand proudly claiming its Chinese heritage and Red Gang lineage – assuages those concerns and shifts your perception of what it means to be made in China.

One thing’s for sure: I can’t wait to be back in New York City at summer’s end. Sure, I miss the city that’s been home for over a dozen years, but I’m also really looking forward to cooler weather and wearing my new Prologue jacket for cocktails and jazz at Bemelmans (assuming I can line up a babysitter, that is!)

Housekeeping

Have any questions for me?

Feel free to ask in the comments section and I’ll answer this week. Alternatively, DM me on Instagram, Or you can reach out to Prologue directly on theirs.

Also, if you’re curious about commissioning something, here’s Prologue’s pricing (converted from HKD to USD as of July 2021).

Made-to-order: Starting at $720 for suits, $515 for the jacket only, in in-house cotton and linen.

Made-to-measure: Starting at $910 for suits, $645 for the jacket only, in in-house cotton and linen.

Semi-bespoke: Starting at $1,290 for suits, $1,000 for the jacket only.

(Note: Prologue does also offer tailoring from two others — Sartoria Yuki Inoue in Milan and Sartoria Selimi in Lucca, an hour west of Florence.)

You can find Prologue online here:

Or if you’re in Hong Kong, swing by their flagship at:

1/F, 10-12 On Wo Lane
Central, Hong Kong


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