There are very few who manage to reach the heights — matter-of-factly — like Tony Daryanani does.
On a warm spring afternoon, Tony — he actually introduces himself as Tony The Tailor — drove to a posh apartment complex in the Bund, unaware of the identity of the “celebrity” customer he was supposed to take the measurements for a suit.
He was led to the guest room, where, for the first time, he came face-to-face with Chinese legend and NBA star Yao Ming.
“For a second I simply froze ... and asked for water,” he says now with a smile. It was not that he was feeling the stress of dealing with a star name for the first time. It was the oversized task ahead of him that made him ponder for a while.
At 2.29 meters, the Shanghai native and eight-time NBA All-Star “was the tallest person that I ever had to dress up,” says Tony, who hails from India and prefers to be known by his first name.
“(But) he made me feel comfortable ... no star tantrums,” Tony says. “I asked for a stool and went about my work.”
Pressed further, he says, “He is a very simple person. He does not like bright shades and usually prefers blue, grey, light brown and beige colors. He said ‘I am tall and stand out in a crowd,’ but I managed to convince him to try out white trousers. After some coaxing — his wife joined in too — he agreed to give it a try. I did it for him. He told me later that he wore it when he went out to play golf.
“I also made casual jackets for him, and a women’s suit for his wife Ye Li, who, like him, is also a former basketball player.”
Among the other big-name stars he enjoyed dressing up are India’s tennis ace and grand slam winner Leander Paes, his Canadian rival Milos Raonic, Hollywood actors Nick Nolte and Danny Glover to name a few.
“Leander has been my best client and has complimented me on my work. Whenever he is in Shanghai for the annual Tennis Masters Cup, we make it a point to meet.”
Art of tailoring
But all the accolades came after years of apprenticeship in Hong Kong. The art of tailoring was a gift he picked up from his father — “the best education I had.”
“We had a bespoke tailor shop in Hong Kong. I watched him use his gentle fingers effortlessly like it was an artist’s canvas. The more I watched him, the more I learnt.
“I worked in Hong Kong for 27 years, during which time I also traveled to the United States, Canada, Japan, selling ‘mail order’ suits. It set me on the path where I am today.”
Then in 2004, China beckoned.
Three decades after Tony first started “threading needles and learning to cut,” he remains in the business as the owner of Tony The Tailor on busy Changle Road in Shanghai.
The shop itself is outfitted for a king, complete with sparkling chandeliers, imported silver-laced furniture, carpeted floor, a hand-made wall hanger from Rajasthan, a giant clock, and even a personalized bar with jazzy music playing in the background.
While the decor is out-of-the-ordinary and exudes an old-world charm, this no-frills tailor who deals in high-quality fabric including a wide range of wools, silks, and tweeds, boasts regular customers from as far away as US, UK and Germany. Most of them return for his bespoke suits and top-notch tailoring while he himself is dressed to the nines.
Tony insists that he stands out from his many competitors because of efficiency and attentive service.
“I handle everything myself, from checking the fabrics to importing them. All my fabrics are imported. I sell quality. My customers are diverse — from diplomats to businessmen to artists and performers. I check every detail depending on the occasion. People like my personal touch and as long as they are happy, it works for me,” Tony says.
“It was hard initially with all the competition around but I also had confidence in my skill. That helped eventually to settle down in a city that is now as good as my home.
“Besides, Shanghainese love to get dressed. They are a cultured lot and aware of the latest fashion trends. I have done wedding suits for them, tuxedos, sports jackets, top courts... almost everything.
“I have tried complicated dresses like sequin jackets for stage performers,” he says with an air of satisfaction that one feels after a job well done.
Yet, there have been occasions when it was not “business as usual.” During the deadly Sichuan earthquake in 2008 that killed nearly 65,000 people, Tony thought up a unique scheme that helped in raising desperately needed clothes for the affected victims.
“I put in a paid ad with a local magazine. I offered a massive rebate for new shirts and suits in exchange for their old ones.
“What followed was something I had not bargained for. The very next day a crowd had showed up outside my shop.
“From 11 o’clock in the morning I just stood in my shop till late in the evening, jotting down measurements for new suits while they left behind their old ones. I made sure they were usable. That was the busiest weekend I had in Shanghai. As the crowd grew bigger, it came to a point where I had to tell them I would accept only one suit per person.
“In a matter of hours I had handed out receipts for 120 suits and managed to raise over 300 suits in exchange, all of which went for charity!”
It was the start of a long-time association with Shanghai.