Frequently, shoppers in Hong Kong suspect that the discount prices they're paying for clothes with designer labels are too good to be real.
Often their fears are groundless. The clothes are genuine designer overruns being sold for little more than cost. Other times, their suspicions are right. The clothes turn out to be counterfeit and subject to confiscation by U.S. customs officials.
How do you tell the difference? Sometimes it's very difficult. When garments are obviously of inferior quality, you know immediately that their Dior or Anne Klein label is a lie. But not all copies are badly put together. A shirt made of a slightly lower grade of cotton may be fancied up with a famous logo and look very much like a real Saint Laurent or Ralph Lauren.
There is, however, a way to assure yourself that you know exactly what you're getting--have it made to order. Hong Kong is the perfect place to suit yourself with custom-made clothes.
No, having clothes made doesn't get you an original Pierre Cardin, prestigious label and all, for less than half price. But it will get you a very good approximation of men's and women's designer styles shown in fashion magazines.
Or you may choose a close-to-perfect reproduction of your favorite Cardin suit or Ricci ensemble, bought at full price half a dozen years ago and worn until it's still respectably fashionable jacket is thining at the elbows.
The clothes you order are copies, not counterfeits. They have no fake and misleading labels, and they're made to fit the way you want them to, with pockets exactly where you want them, in your selected fabrics in your chosen colors.
Best of all, made-to-order clothes are very affordable in Hong Kong. Prices vary according to the fabrics you select and the complexity of the garment's design. Men's or women's two-piece suits of medium weight wool generally cost $350 or less, including fabric. Vests range between $50 and $85, and 100% cotton shirts are generally about $50 or less. Slacks are $90 or less.
Women's dresses usually cost between $150 and $275, depending upon style and fabric. Most tailors have a good variety of fabrics in their shops, with wools, silks and cottons in abundance. Cashmere is also available at higher cost. Pin stripes are popular, and there is a lot of navy blue for suits, but grays, browns and tans are also stocked. You may select from bolts of fabric at the tailor's or you may buy your fabric elsewhere (even bring it from home) and simply have the tailoring done.
It's important to select a good and reliable tailor. The choice may not always be easy. Hong Kong has more than 1,000 tailor shops. About 75 of them have won the commendation of the Hong Kong Tourist Assn. (HKTA), an organization that is exceptionally well-organized and effective in providing visitors with information and assistance.
Recognizing the need to assure tourists of good shopping experiences, HKTA sends inspectors to see that its member shops maintain high standards of reliability and quality. HKTA recommendation, indicated by display of a red junk or sampam in the shop window, is a good indication that the shop will live up to your expectations. And if you are not satisfied with your purchase and your claim is legitimate, HKTA will intercede to rectify the situation.
HKTA lists recommended tailors (and other shops) in its "Official Guide to Shopping, Eating Out, and Services in Hong Kong," which may be obtained free by writing to HKTA, Suite 200, 421 Powell St., San Francisco 94102-1568; phone (415) 781-4582. Or you may get a copy of the guide at HKTA offices in Hong Kong.
It's also helpful to ask friends for recommendations. Another good source of usually reliable tips for tailors is airline flight personnel who fly the Hong Kong route frequently. They usually have the name of a tailor or two up (or on) their sleeves.
Even with the HKTA listing and/or a few specific leads, it is necessary to shop around. Stop in at various shops. Ask about prices, feel the fabrics and take a good look at the clothes on display. Take with you the article of clothing you want copied, or photos of the suit or dress you want made. (If you don't have something specific in mind, don't worry. Tailors usually have stacks of current fashion magazines for you to thumb through.)
Test your rapport with the tailor. You don't want to feel pressured or intimidated. After all, if your suit or dress is a success, this may turn out to be a lifelong relationship, doing repeat business in person or by mail.
Try to find a tailor near your hotel or in another convenient place. You'll have to stop by for a minimum of three fittings. Give the shop the maximum amount of time to make the garment. There are fables about tailors who have made and delivered suits in two hours, but that timetable leaves no room for adjustments.