Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – “a cut above the rest” by Ken Dunn

In 1984, in Lefkoşa, I was introduced to a tailor by my father in law, Geoff Brierley. Now, I know that doesn’t sound all that exciting but it was to change things for me, as you’ll find out later. You see, ever since I reached the age of seventeen years, and that’s a hell of a long time ago, I found that being able to buy clothes which would fit became almost impossible. Having grown to a mere, and as far as I’m concerned, a ‘normal’ 193 cenitmetres tall, or six feet four inches in that earlier time, the purchase of a shirt was a joke. Sleeves would end several inches above my wrists, trousers looked like clowns pants, the bottom of each leg ending just below my calf, and I had little success in finding sweaters, ‘t’ shirts, jackets or coats. It was more than extremely frustrating.

The only things I could find to fit were socks, knickers, hats, ties and, thankfully, shoes. But just walking around like that would not have been a very good idea, different certainly, but it might have been a trifle draughty.

Consequently, the contents of my wardrobe was rather ‘sparse’ to say the least. Entering the world of work, and with a regular salary, gave me the opportunity to do something about this but it was an expensive process. Having to have shirts, trousers, suits, et al made via the tailors found in the High Street wasn’t cheap. It was not until the late 70’s before I could even find a pair of jeans to fit but they were anything but ‘de rigueur’ if going out to a posh ‘do’. Fortunately, I didn’t go to many of those.

So, with all the chain shops, M&S, Littlewoods, C&A, (remember them?) and British Home Stores, which then became a mere BHS, and all of the others, there was little choice for me. They seemed to be only catering for the midgets of the world and normal folk such as myself were forgotten about, more or less. But then I found a shop in town, part of another chain, which sometimes had a few garments in my size, but only just. They carried a very limited range for folk my height. By sheer coincidence the shop was called, ‘Dunn & CO’!

All of the clothes were styled and designed for the ‘older gentleman’, all a bit ‘tweedy’ and ‘brogue-like’. So, during the sixties (!) I was wandering around looking a tad older than my true age. But they saved me, for a while, and the wardrobe began to fill up, albeit rather slowly. Within a few years D&C had gone, either having been taken over or simply disappeared in the same way ‘Burtons the Tailor’ did.

This was not good. By this time we were living in London, but the same problems existed. There were even more midgets in London than there were anywhere else in the UK so manufacturers did not bother with folk of my altitude – except one. That was an outfit called ‘High & Mighty’, a fitting description for a shop devoted to all us chaps of a sensible height, or girth.

It’s the only gent’s outfitters I’ve ever been in where the clientele are substantially taller, and larger in all directions, than me! They’re still around and they’re not cheap by any means but in those days, for the first time, I could find anything I needed. The wardrobe began to fill up!

But let me now take you back to the tailor in Lefkoşa. My father in law had been using this chap for several years. So did many others, including their wives as well as most of the UN officers stationed over here.

It wasn’t a very big shop but along two whole walls stood rack after rack of completed garments, many of them being full dress uniforms of all ranks. It was a fascinating place!

Mr Osman, the proprietor, had worked in London in Saville Row but, eager to get away from the gloom of the British weather he returned to Cyprus. It didn’t take long for his business to grow. Word of mouth gave him all the recommendations he needed and the customers flocked to him.

As I said, the shop wasn’t very big but, apart from the racks of finished garments, there were three tables, one with a elderly man operating a sewing machine, another table where another individual used it as a surface for rolling and cutting cloth and the third with a solitary chap who was always sewing something by hand. Two filing cabinets stood next to the door and a couple of comfortable armchairs were placed with their backs against the cutting table. Through a door at the rear were two changing rooms and a pile of bolts of cloth.

There wasn’t a till to be seen and his records of all names, addresses, measurements, transactions, and many other important details of his business were committed to a simple card system. ‘Computer land’ had not arrived for Mr Osman and I doubt it ever will. There wasn’t a lot of room to move around but that didn’t seem to bother anyone.

Mr Osman is a gentle, gentleman who has the skill of a master tailor. It would take him less than a minute to take the necessary measurements, many of them observed and noted down without the aid of a tape measure, and the final garment, be it, trousers, jacket or suit, the latter after three fittings – he always insisted on that – to quote a well known saying, ‘fitted like a glove’, a very comfortable glove.

Over the years I’ve had many bespoke clothes made by him and, I have to say, at less than half the price I could buy anything ‘off the peg’ in the UK. My wardrobe filled up! But on my second visit to him things did not go well.

On this occasion I asked him to make a jacket and trousers, each one from a different cloth. Measurements were taken, cloth chosen and he asked me to return for the first fitting a few days later. For some reason I couldn’t do that and wasn’t able to return until a week or so before we were due to fly back to the UK. This had upset his routine of the need for three fittings for the jacket but, unflustered, he looked for the cloth.

To his dismay it had somehow been forgotten about by the cutter and lay untouched at the back of the shop. He was beside himself, apologising profusely. I assured him it wasn’t a problem and I was quite prepared to pay for the cloth and see him next year but he wouldn’t hear of it. ‘Please come back in one hour,’ he asked me.

So, we ambled off into Lefkoşa, sank a couple beers somewhere and ambled back exactly one hour later. Both the jacket and trousers were completely finished and the fit was perfect. That’s what I call skill. I’ve continued to use Mr Osman over the years, each suit, jacket or trousers beautifully made.

I take a pride in showing anyone the purpose made label on the inside lining of each jacket. It simply states, ‘Mr Osman, Tailor, Lefkoşa’. For me, that’s comparable to having a Hall Mark, as you can find on gold or silver or even, maybe, an ‘Oscar’!

But there’s only one problem now, and that’s quite straightforward. I need a bigger wardrobe!

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