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The Real Tailor of Panama

Tailor's mannequin with measuring tapeFans of British novelist John le Carré’s spy thrillers have just one question when they land in Panama City: the Panama Canal can wait as what they really want to know is when they can visit the Tailor of Panama. 

Le Carré’s Tailor of Panama centers around the fictional Harry Pendel, a lower-class Londoner who learned the trade of tailoring in jail but is able to successfully pass himself off in Panamanian elite government and expatriate circles as a Savile Row veteran.  Pendel sews bespoke suits for Panama’s president, sybaritic expats, and the newly-rich of the tiny nation and generally minds his own business until he is drawn into the murky world of British intelligence by newly arrived spy, Oznard, who has blotted his copy book in first world posts.   

A 2001 film version of The Tailor of Panama starred Geoffrey Rush as Pendel, Harold Pinter as the ghost of Pendel’s Uncle Sammy, a very young Daniel Radcliffe in a pre-Harry Potter role as Pendel’s son, and Pierce Bronson as Oznard, the spy who draws Pendel into his web of intrigue.

Enthusiastic readers don’t have to search for long for the real tailor.  All inquiries lead directly to La Fortuna Bespoke Tailoring on Av. Central España.  Founded in 1925, this family-run institution has been stitching, as the fictional Pendel did, for the great and the good ever since.

You can still get a bespoke suit at La Fortuna for about a fourth of the cost of a similar quality suit in London or New York.  But many tourists flock to La Fortuna not for the fine wools and careful hemming but in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Valentin Calderon, the acknowledged “Real Tailor of Panama” of whom Omar Torrijos legendarily quipped, “he’s the only man I’d ever drop my trousers for.” 

Calderon is a La Fortuna legend, but unlike Pendel, he’s notoriously closed-lipped about his most famous clients including General Manuel Noriega, who famously commissioned Calderon to tailor his beige prisoner-of-war uniform while he was an inmate at Miami’s Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Alexander+Roberts visit Panama City on numerous Latin American itineraries, including The Complete Panama Canal, which includes a cruise through the country’s famous waterway.

Posted: 9/24/2015 10:33:56 AM by Alexander + Roberts