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Hong Kong Tailor’s VIP Clients Include Kournikova

Hong Kong (dpa) – Only one man has been lucky enough to get his arms round tennis pin-up Anna Kournikova while she is in Hong Kong this week – an unremarkable-looking middle aged man called Manu Melwani who owns a dingy shop in Kowloon.

The 54-year-old tailor, known by his nickname Sam, had the enviable task of measuring up the Russian tennis beauty for a traditional Chinese dress while she visits the territory for the Watson’s Water Challenge tournament.

Manu carefully recorded her statistics in his own black book, where they now remain – for his eyes only.

Anna is not the first celebrity to entrust Manu with her particulars. Princes, pop stars and premiers – in fact almost anyone who is anyone who passes through Hong Kong – have let Manu close enough with a tape measure to take down measurements most would prefer to remain private.

As a result, hidden away in this pokey tailor’s shop in Hong Kong’s shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui lies a mountain of ledgers containing some very vital statistics: The inside leg measurement of American president Bill Clinton, the waist size of former British boxer Frank Bruno and the bust measurements of singers Kylie Minogue and Celine Dion.

Latin crooner Ricky Martin was also a recent visitor. “I made him a couple of silk shirts, latin style of course,” says Manu. “Bishop Tutu ordered a black suit, Ronan Keating ordered some shirts – now he’s a very Irish boy, very down to earth.”

And then there was Janet and Michael Jackson, David Bowie, actors Roger Moore, Cary Grant and Richard Gere, not forgetting American presidents past, present and future, Richard Nixon, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Manu could go on all day listing the stars who boast a “Sam’s tailor” label hanging in their wardrobes. You only need to take a look at his walls and the glass counter of his tiny shop to realise he is telling the truth. It contains a montage of photos, business cards and letters bearing testimony to Sam’s famous clientele.

On one he’s pictured smiling with the Bee Gees, in others he’s in a manly hug with James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan. In still another he’s standing stifly next to the Iron Lady herself, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Glued under the counter of his 300-square-foot shop is a letter of thanks from Camilla Parker Bowles (HRH Prince Charles recommended Sam to her), a business card from Donald Trump and a cheque from Sarah Ferguson signed in the days when her cheques didn’t bounce and she could still use the HRH Duchess of York title.

From under the counter, he’ll gladly produce album after album of the stars he’s dressed. But ask him for anecdotes about his customers and he is less forthcoming. “Well, I can’t say,” he says with a wry smile, “Not while you’re holding that notebook.”

It all started back in 1952 when Manu’s father, the original Sam the tailor, came to Hong Kong with his wife and baby and set up shop in 1957 in the same drab arcade it stands in today, naming the business “Sam’s tailor” after his second son Sam.

“We became Sam because it was an easy name for people to remember,” said Manu. “My father was known as Sam Senior and I was Sam Junior.”

In those early days when Hong Kong was still very much a part of the British Empire, the Sams worked largely for the military, kitting out officers of Her Majesty’s forces. Then came the odd celebrity – people like Cary Grant, President Nixon and Roger Moore. Word spread and the rest is history.

Today, the shop is lined with roll upon roll of fabric and looks very much the same as it did then. The difference is that Manu is now Sam number one, his father having passed away in 1992, and he has a workforce of 55 cutting and stitching away in a workshop around the corner. And of course his customer list is by far longer and much more interesting.

“It’s all word of mouth recommendation,” he said. “Dad never spent money on advertising. Basically we don’t need to. I try to give the best possible service to my customers and that applies whether they spend one dollar or a thousand. I treat everyone the same.”

More than likely it’s the man himself who is responsible for his own fame. He’s a master of hype, keeps his name in the papers and was even described as a “pest” by raconteur and actor Sir Peter Ustinov who Sam reportedly rubbed up the wrong way by persistently calling him at his hotel. A recent article quoted a top public relations expert as estimating that the publicity Sam manages to attract to be worth tens of thousands of dollars a year.

But ask him for more detail on what it’s like to get so close to one of the world’s most desirable women, Russian tennis star Anna Kournikova, and he’s discretion itself.

“It’s actually the second time she’s been here,” he answers calmly. “Two years ago I made her a long red silk traditional Chinese dress. This time she wanted the same style but a very mini version in gold. She’s a very nice girl, very polite and humble and just as beautiful in real life.”

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