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Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Three Amigos Of Leng Bespoke - Part 1 - Indulging In Full Bespoke

Lengo Ngo is the kind of man that you would expect to find on the ABC’s Australian Story one Monday night when you come home from work but for one reason or another you have not heard about him. His story starts in Cambodia where he lived under the Pol Pot regime before fleeing to Vietnam in 1975 just as the Americans were pulling out of Saigon. In 1984 he managed to leave Vietnam and make his way to Australia where he began a new life as a tailor.

Leng has done a lot of great work, mostly under the names of leading tailoring houses in Sydney, but today he stands alone in a studio on York Street in Sydney’s CBD where he operates a very Spartan operation which tells nothing of his skill and nothing of his notoriety.

It is at this point that I wish to divulge how I met Leng. Recently some of you might have seen the beautiful suits I made for the window of Le Noeud Papillon’s Studio window. After completing the suits I was unhappy because I felt that the suits did not fit exactly as I’d have liked them. In some respects they were sacks of potatoes. It’s nobody’s fault but I must admit that when you become too familiar with a business they sometimes over time begin to fall short of your expectations. So I had enquired with a knowledgeable source in Sydney on tailoring and he passed on Leng’s details. Then, almost serendipitously, I should pass a dry cleaning business that had a sign in the window advertising Leng’s services. I am a superstitious type so I decided that this was a talisman that I ought to follow.

My first experience of Leng is that he is short. Short like an Asian martial arts specialist. Short like a man who uses speed, dexterity and agility to thwart his foes. And it was true. Leng darted around me showing me all that was wrong with my suits and then convincing me, without too much convincing, that I needed to move away from made to measure off a block and onto full bespoke. Now, that’s something I rarely admit to but it’s true. I have always worked off tailors blocks because I have never had the money for a full bespoke suit but Leng showed me the differences blow by blow and I was left with little or no alternative other than to delve into complete bespoke for the first time.

Leng’s service so far has gone through one measure and one fitting. In fairness, I had thought that I had known about suits until I met Leng. Not that he was telling me anything I hadn’t already read about on the internet, but it was the first time I was experiencing things in the hand. For example, they don’t use a waist band in their trousers, the entire trouser is cut by hand by Leng in the same space occupied by old Gennaro, the jacket maker, one of those stalwart Italian’s that has a tailoring background that pre-dates the Second World War. And then there is the congregating of three pairs of eyes as the three amigos go over your suit with a fine tooth comb and identify every single aspect of what might be wrong with the suit. I am used to having many Italian’s look on whilst one Italian argues with me. By contrast Leng Ngo is one of those cool Asian guys that never raises his voice and actually cares to admit where the errors are from the outset rather than wait for you to ask a question.

Three sets of eyes on your work. The team of Leng Bespoke study the suit together to agree on what changes are to be made. From left to right: Sandro, Leng and Gennaro

Completely hand-made trousers from start to finish - something I personally have never experienced yet. Even the waistband is made by the team of Leng Bespoke.

For this particular suit I have chosen a honeycomb weave navy wool from Bateman & Ogden, a company which Leng says produces great quality wool with less emphasis on branding. He has shown me the wadding, the canvas and the horsehair that will be used. I have seen Gennaro’s hand work throughout the process and there is little that you can ask for with Leng that you can’t see the process of by stepping another six feet away into the workroom.

If you are interested in going down the path of full-bespoke-made-in-sydney then you need to visit Leng. He's so approachable and that is one of the things I most liked about him. I have always found that the one thing that prohibits me from meeting tailors is when they look down on you or they don't take you seriously until they see the money. This was not the case with Leng, in fact, just this evening they were finishing up and I had a couple of beers with them in the workroom over a handful of cashews and we had a good yarn. 

The truth is I worry about the future of our tailoring workrooms because not enough Australians seek them out - with Asia on our doorstep it's too easy for companies to run MTM services out of China or neighbouring countries. You never see your suit being made, you are not a part of it's process, you don't have any hands-on time with it before it becomes yours. I do not blame customers for choosing the MTM option, in many respects it's more economical to do so with not enough value in the customer's opinion to warrant the additional cost. But if you saw what I saw today, if you saw the handwork, the dedication, the spirit of the workroom and it's stakhanovite approach to the workload, then perhaps the seed would be planted to seek out the difference and experience a very unique experience. There is no branded image, no fanciful website, no philosophy page, no heritage aspirations, no videos of pretend tailoring - it's just the real thing. 

Leng Bespoke: Tel: 0430 388 528 Email:  Address: Ground Floor 20 York St Sydney 2000

Up to 60 hours of hand workmanship goes into every suit made bespoke by Leng's workroom. Here Gennaro is preparing for the second fitting.

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