Sunkurama Chetty Street in Broadway was battling a power cut, and other than the muted buzz of hand fans and generators, nothing seemed to disturb the still, languid air. While the centuries-old High Court Complex opposite basked in the summer heat, those who have been stitching robes and coats for its judges and advocates for decades, sat marooned in darkness inside their shops — the jet black coats only making it harder for any light to permeate.

One such shop is Alisons Lawman Shop, which makes coats, robes and civil clothes for advocates and judges. It traces its origin to Wazir Ali, who set up a small tailoring unit in the early 1900s in Parry's Corner says Sajid Ali, Wazir Ali's great-grandson, who now runs the shop.

Back in the old days, there were a handful of advocates and stitching a robe would take at least a week, the heavy materials held together with a traditional sewing machine. “My great-grandfather and grandfather got two or three orders in a month, but we do close to 25 orders every month,” says Sajid.

In a shop lined with black cloaks, black waistcoats and bales of black material, the odd sighting of a pile of grey material seems like a welcome relief. Describing the laborious process of stitching the robes, Mr. Ali says, “In my grandfather's time, the heavy robes had to be ironed manually and with the old sewing machine, it took at least a week to complete a robe, with the frills and other details. And the shoulder pads had to be hand-made separately and left out to dry before it was attached to the coat. Today, it is all much simpler and you get readymade shoulder pads. We have German machines to ease out the creases. Besides, the materials we use today do not need much ironing,” he says, adding that not anyone can stitch these robes. “A lot of rules need to be followed and nuances need to be understood.”

His forefathers, he says, have helped clad generations of lawyers and their clients included the likes of C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyer. “We have stitched robes for several judges and senior advocates,” he says.

“My great-grandfather first established a shop in 1931 on Stringer Street. In 1955, my father and paternal uncle started Ahmed Ali and Sons, and in 1970 Alisons Lawman was opened,” he says. Ahmed Ali and Sons is situated two blocks away. The street is also dotted with newer shops that are engaged in the same trade.

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Asha SridharJune 28, 2012

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