Thursday, December 02, 2010

Kheuwel Couture

Calculating the tissue.

Ever since I attended the EAFCA Conference in Addis Ababa back in 2007, I've been wanting to get myself a traditional African outfit. For the past two weeks, I've been thinking about it but only got around to telling Eric that I wanted to go and get one yesterday. He immediately calls a friend and after the barista training is completed, we're on our way.

Surprisingly, the tailor is just down the street from my hotel. It's about five in the afternoon and I need one now. My flight leaves the next morning. Obviously, I need a custom job and what place can measure and custom tailor an entire outfit (with embroidery) in just a few hours? Well, these guys at Kheuwel Couture say that they will have my outfit ready by 7:30am. Wow.

Samples of their work.

They toss out magazines of samples of various styles of Kitengi for me to choose. Being not African, I really don't know what is "kheuwel" (cool) and what is not. I ask Eric and his friend to be my guides. They help me select a style of cut and embroidery that's fashionable and sensible. With the approval of our tailor, we're on to selection of "tissue".

Now, I don't understand why they call it "tissue" but the texture is very different than the fabric I'm used to. Maybe it's made from banana leaves? It has a texture that reminds me of modern-day sailcloth material. They show me several styles of tissue to select and I choose one that suits my tastes.

Eric calls the tailor. It's 7:45am - he's late!

Somehow, even in the face of ignorance of another culture, my "tastes" have led me to select a tissue that prices out to be US$250 for the outfit. Well, I wasn't expecting to pay that much for a Kitengi! Turns out the one I selected is "first quality" tissue. They show me "second quality" tissue and it's a bit stiffer and the difference is noticeable to me. They price the second quality and it comes out at US$203. That's not enough to make a difference but $250 is still more than I have.

After a moment or two, the lady says she can do the second quality tissue for US$167. I can't help but ask if she'll do me the First Quality tissue for $200 instead. No, that's not possible.

We debate a little more before settling on the deal. Suddenly, the tailor takes his stride. The master is at work. He grabs his measuring tape and starts barking out metric measurements in French. It's Cat this, catorze that and I think I'm hearing too many numbers above 100 in there somewhere. I certainly hope he's not talking decimeters!

Dressed like the next King of Kigali.

Finally, with measurements taken, tissue selected and deposit given, I thank the tailor and his team and bid them adieu. $167 for a custom tailored suit. Made overnight. That's gotta be a steal - even though I imagine it would be cheaper if I weren't a mzungu.

We're there bright and early this morning and no one is there except the keepers. The tailor is nowhere to be seen but my suit is neatly folded on the table awaiting my arrival. Whatever the case, he finished my suit before going to bed.

I try it on and it fits, well, perfectly - I guess. To be honest, I don't know how a Kitengi is supposed to fit. It's a bit loose and comfortable like a proper Barong Tagalog or Guyabera and the matching pants are slightly baggy and Eric tells me it looks good and proper.

I'll be ready for Kwanzaa or any African themed celebration with a proper Kitengi custom made for me in Kigali, Rwanda.

No comments: