When David Torres knocked on the door of Room 113 last Friday morning, he looked around as if to check for enemy fire. Good — coast clear. At 8 a.m., local defense attorney had already accomplished his primary goal, regardless of whatever ambush faced him later in court: Beat H.A. Sala to a fitting with Jack Aswani; pull the trigger on four suits, a grayish, orange-plaid blazer with brown piping and a pair of tan khakis.
Describing himself as a “custom clothier,” Aswani co-owns Hong Kong-based Modell Fashions with his father. He comes to Bakersfield twice a year and sets up at the Four Points Sheraton, as he did a week ago, for fittings with his clients.
Defense attorneys Sala and Torres are clients as well as friends who compete for the same fashion high ground. Sala prefers the James Bond look and leans toward lightweight cashmere and wool suits in midnight blues and hues of black. Torres prefers conservative suits but is not afraid to go rogue in terms of color, stitching, texture and surprising cuff angles.
“Sala and I have a rule with Jack — we cannot buy a suit with the same material,” Torres said.
God forbid they end up at the courthouse wearing the same suit.
Aswani is like the candy man, and the candy man comes to town twice a year. When he does, his 40 or so clients vie for their 30-minute slots and often bring friends. Room 113 has a party atmosphere and reeks of exhilarating, shopping pleasure.
Aswani’s Bakersfield beachhead goes back to the summer of 2003. Bakersfield attorneys Seth O’Dell and Jeremy Swanson were visiting Hong Kong and passed by Modell Fashions.
“It was raining, business was slow and I was standing outside looking for potential clients," Aswani said. “These gentlemen walked by and I invited them in.”
O’Dell and Swanson kept walking, reconsidered and then, came back to the store filled with huge bolts of fabrics from England and Italy. Aswani measured and fitted them and the evening finished with a round of cold beers and a slew of toasts. The attorneys picked up their suits a couple of days later.
In 2007, O’Dell and Swanson invited Aswani to Bakersfield on one of his sales trips to the U.S. (He also has clients in Seattle, Detroit, Philly, L.A., New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts). They talked to Torres, Sala and other fellow attorneys, who burn through suits faster than a smoker does matches. Now Aswani spends two full days in town with his swatch books laid out on the queen-sized beds filled with colors, patterns, cottons and wools that have his clients salivating like a coyote chasing a bunny rabbit.
Along with the swatch books, Aswani has a picture of his guru, Satnam Sakhi Satguru Swami Teoonram Ji Maharaj, propped up on the pillowcase as if to bless the buying frenzy. Given his sales skills — soft-spoken, deferential, complimentary even when he disagrees with a client’s choice — the guru might be ripe for a suit.
Aswani carries the swatch books in a 25-inch Samsonite suitcase. Tools of the trade include a box of pins, chalk, several soft measuring tapes, notebook, iPhone, ballpoint pens in various colors and a camera.
In Room 113, one size does not fit all. Aswani measures the chest, midsection, buttocks, shoulders, sleeves, neck, biceps, forearms, preferred jacket length, outseam and rise of pants, waistline, thighs, calf muscles and the preferred width of the bottom of trousers.
He also takes photos of his clients standing in front of a mirror to record their postures. If they slouch and their stomach pooches forward, he insists his tailors incorporate the pooch into the finished product.
The finished product comes eight weeks later in a brown cardboard box with Hong Kong postmarks. The suits are neatly folded and wrapped in thick black plastic. Some clients have the clothes sent to their offices (shipping is free) so their wives don’t see how much they bought and spent. (Suits start at around $600.)
Tony Lidgett, a fit, crew-cutted, 50-something defense attorney, was Aswani’s first customer that Friday, getting the jump even on the eager Torres. He bought two plaid sport coats — a dark blue one and a mix of tan and light olive — and three shirts including a red shirt with black buttons.
“I trust his fashion sense so much I just go with his recommendations,” Lidgett said. “The problem is once you’ve worn clothes that fit, you start giving your other clothes away.”
Spend an hour with Aswani and you can understand why customers with hard and fast budgets cast them aside like a Smarties candy wrapper.
“Once, Sala came in for four suits and left with seven,” Torres said. “I’ve done the same.”
Torres followed Lidgett like Gehrig followed Ruth. Although I was in no position to bat cleanup, I couldn’t resist being fitted and buying one white dress shirt made from Egyptian cotton (about $70).
Aswani measured me twice and then snapped my photo in front of the mirror. My willpower melted like a pat of butter on a piece of French toast. One shirt became two shirts and two, three — lavender and blue checks — and suddenly I knew I could not go another day without owning a blue blazer.
Eight weeks from now might as well be Christmas. Just in time for Lidgett to wear his red shirt. No competition from Sala and Torres on that one.