Three Cheers for Fashion Tourism: Come to Hong Kong for the Dim Sum, Stay for the Tailored Suits

In Anthony Bourdain’s new travel series, a quick visit to Hong Kong’s Simpson Sin suggests the rise of a whole new form of travel show

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We love to watch Anthony Bourdain eat. For years now, on his Travel Channel series No Reservations, he’s traversed the globe in search of authentic local cuisine, giving viewers recommendations on where to find the tastiest dishes.

But the big assumption behind his new, more practical travel show The Layover is that we’ll also tune in to watch Bourdain navigate mass transit, luxuriate in posh hotels — and shop. And it’s that last element that captured my attention most during a recent episode based in Hong Kong, as we watched our gruff and vulgar hero seek out a tailor to craft a high-end suit.

It’s a shopping visit both stylish and sarcastic – with Bourdain desperate to find the kind of bad boy attire that would embarrass his mother. But when I realized he was using Simpson Sin, the same tailor I’ve used on various trips to the city and recommended to friends around the world, the practicality of the sequence came into focus. Here was a food guy offering invaluable fashion tips. And surprisingly, it left me, as Bourdain would say, hungry for more.

Why isn’t fashion tourism a bigger part of the travel series genre? There are shows about adventurers traveling in search of foreign flavors, horizons and historical relics. But very few shows about gems like Simpson Sin – which produces some of the finest suits on the planet.

I can’t be alone in craving more shows about the quest for luxury attire. My recent trip to New Zealand was both about Fiordland, and a hunt for both wool sweaters and shearling slippers. A visit to Fiji was both about snorkeling and pearls. In Thailand, visits to temples were often followed by emeralds and silk. I still have yet to find a more comfortable beach hat as what I discovered on the North Shore of Kauai.

It’s a magical thing, to return from travels with not just photos but also finely crafted clothing. And the most intriguing aspect of Bourdain’s new show is getting the inside track on not just the local dish of choice, but also the smartest lodging, day trips and shopping hotspots. The Layover isn’t just another escapist travel fantasy; it’s a practical to-do list.

For someone visiting Hong Kong for the very first time, the Simpson Sin recommendation is essential. I still remember my first rushed trip to Hong Kong, with roughly 36 hours on the ground. Simpson Sin has been founded with efficiency in mind. For starters, it’s only a five-minute subway trip from the city center, to Tsim Sha Tsui (exit N2). Once inside, there are a half-dozen binders of fabric to choose from, for the making of shirts and coats and complete suits. Prices and delivery are negotiable. The best tips I’ve gathered for Simpson Sin deals involve bundling numerous shirts and suits, negotiating the lot for a total sum, as well as paying in cash. After one return trip the following morning for final suit measurements and adjustments, I ultimately had two sport coats, five dress shirts and a full suit delivered to my hotel an hour before my departure.

Years later, I am still wearing the suits — and they are the items in my wardrobe that elicit the most compliments. I have already decided to commission more clothing from Simpson Sin – and for Americans, the best part of visiting the Hong Kong store is that once they have your measurements in their files, you can easily rendezvous with the Simpson Sin crew during their twice-a-year tour of the Untied States, and order more clothing that will then be shipped overseas from their Hong Kong factory.

So it’s about more than just one day of shopping in downtown Hong Kong; it’s about forging a lifetime relationship with one of the world’s elite tailors. They have already announced a winter 2012 tour (find more information on their website)

Will Simpson Sin see a sales spike, thanks to Bourdain’s recommendation, just as so many of his favorite restaurants have seen a surge in visitors? Only time will tell. But I, for one, hope that Bourdain continues to expand his travel reportage beyond food. His clothing, lodging and navigational tips are every bit as valuable as his culinary standards. The Layover is quickly becoming one of my favorite (and most informative) TV shows.