La Fortuna (Vía España at Calle 55 Este near Vía Argentina, tel. 302-7890 or 263-6434, 9 A.M.–6 P.M. Mon.–Sat.) is Panama’s best-known destination for tailored men’s suits. It’s been around since 1925 and has dressed ambassadors and presidents. A custom-made suit or tuxedo made from high-quality imported fabric is sold for around US$500; knock US$100–200 off that estimate for less-expensive material.
One of the nifty things about having a suit made here is that the tailors sew a panel inside the suit with the buyer’s name and the statement that it was made exclusivo for him. Another cool thing is that if you don’t care for any of their styles, you can bring in a photo of what you like and they’ll create it for you.
I’ve had jackets and suits made here based on ads from fashion magazines and photos downloaded from the Internet, and I’ve been pleased with the results. (And no, I didn’t get a price break for writing that.) They carry a range of fabric from famous European and North American designers.
The late dictator Omar Torrijos reportedly once declared that the owner, José Abadí, was the only man who could make him drop his trousers. There are autographs on display from Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Pierce Brosnan, who were in Panama to make the dreadful movie adaptation of John Le Carré’s The Tailor of Panama—inevitably, Brosnan’s note dubbed Abadí the “real tailor of Panama.”
Since this is the tailor of choice for many high-ranking Panamanian politicians, it’s said he was one of the inspirations for Le Carré’s book, about a tailor to powerful Panamanian officials who is forced by a British agent to spy on his customers. Fittingly enough, the first time I was there the head of the Asamblea Legislativa (the national legislature) was in the store buying suits for his five bodyguards. Every time I come a power player seems to be shopping.
Visitors should place an order at the start of their travels, as the process requires two fittings, and the shop normally needs at least 10 days to make a suit, more during peak seasons, such as before the independence holidays in November, when they’re busy making uniforms for bands and such. Those pressed for time can sometimes have a suit made in 24 hours, but don’t expect a perfect fit. Try to give it at least a week.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition