March 22, 2011


Gina Chowdry holds a portrait of her late husband, Ken Chowdry, who died Feb. 27 after suffering a
heart attack as he was clearing the driveway of snow.
Union Leader Correspondent
Karen Johnson of Groton, Mass., right, was the
last customer to come in and claim items left at the
Derry Tailor Shop after the passing of
owner Ken Chowdry three weeks ago.
Jack Goterch, left, a longtime friend of the
Chowdrys, helped match owners to garments.
DERRY -- There's a sort of timelessness that takes over after you lose the love of your life. Gina Chowdry feels it, now that her husband of nearly 53 years, Ken Chowdry, is gone.
These past several days have blurred into weeks. The years they spent together suddenly feel like hardly enough.
Ken Chowdry, 81, owner of the Derry Tailor Shop, died Feb. 27. It was a Sunday morning and he was feeling good after spending a productive day in his tiny workshop on Ryan’s Hill. He suffered a heart attack after going outside to remove snow from his driveway.
He leaves behind a legacy as exquisite as the tailored suits
 he was famous for fashioning. 

Spools of thread are all that's left
hanging in the tiny tailor shop.
He learned his trade as a custom tailor on London’s legendary Savile Row, “the golden mile of tailoring,” and produced garments for some of history’s most illustrious icons — Elizabeth Taylor, Victor Mature, Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable. 
He sewed riding habits for Jackie Kennedy and is credited with tailoring the suit worn by a 3-year-old John-John Kennedy during his father’s funeral. 
“Yes, the ‘Salute Suit,’” says Gina Chowdry softly, looking at a spread of newspaper clippings written about her husband that is laid out across her dining room table. 
Chowdry retired to Derry 24 years ago to open a tailor shop, where the work he did was mostly to keep himself busy. 
His life here was happy, yet unremarkable compared to the life he’d lived leading up to his retirement. 
Chowdry was cut from the cloth of Indian wealth, a life he rejected as a teenager. Instead of heading off to London to become a barrister, Chowdry became a tailor’s apprentice, eventually working for H. 
Huntsman & Sons. Although he never fully reconciled with his parents, Chowdry never looked back, said his wife. 
“We met on the train. Love at first sight. We both rode it to the West End. I was 21 and didn’t speak English, but Kenny taught me later. There I am in this big city, and he was staring at me on the train. I didn’t know what to think. So I told my sisters about him when I got home, and they told me to give him my phone number. 
I did. And he called me right away. This is how we started going out,” said Gina Chowdry, whose given name, Gioconda, is more famously known by art aficionados as what Leonardo da Vinci called his “Mona Lisa.” She holds up a portrait of her husband, dark and handsome and dapper in a military uniform, taken in 1953. 
“This is when he rode in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II,” said Gina Chowdry. She brushes her fingers gently across the glass, her grief as fresh as her tears. 
“I just can’t believe my Kenny’s gone,” she said. 
Although she hated leaving her family behind in London, once married in 1959 she knew that she would follow her husband to wherever his ambition led them. 
“He always loved being a tailor, but he wanted success. He came here with big dreams,” she said. 
Her husband’s first job in America was for Woodward & Lothrop in Washington, D.C., followed by management jobs at other major clothiers in Philadelphia and Connecticut, all the while continuing to make custom suits as a side business. 
“By the time we retired to New Hampshire, he had thousands of customers. He didn’t advertise — it was all word of mouth,” she said. She was a gifted seamstress as well and worked alongside her husband over the years. 
“He was an artist, my husband,” she said, touching the lining of her husband’s navy pinstripe suit. 
“This was one of his favorites. Look at this,” she said, proudly curling back the fabric at the sleeve, to reveal impeccable workmanship. “He had such beautiful hands.” 
Longtime customer and friend Jack Goterch of Derry said he enjoyed getting to know Chowdry over the years. He and his wife, Lynne, befriended the Chowdrys, and Jack Goterch was there to help clear out the shop, which was left cluttered with antique machinery, dozens of spools of thread and a backlog of inventory that was never claimed. 
“There were a lot of items we had to give to the Goodwill, because we couldn’t find the owners or they just didn’t want to come in — even a wedding dress. Ken did a lot of work for people, no charge. I think, by the time he got to Derry, he was doing it because he loved it, not because he needed to,” said Goterch. 
On Saturday, Goterch finally reunited the last of the clothing with owner Karen Johnson of Groton, Mass. She explained that the dated-looking pieces had belonged to her mother, who died 15 years ago. 
“I hung on to them for a long time thinking I’d like to find a good tailor to modernize them so they could have a second life,” said Johnson. She took the pieces from Goterch and looked them over, deciding that Chowdry must have never gotten around to the alterations. 
“I honestly kind of forgot about them,” said Johnson, who admits she’s a little disappointed that she’ll never see how Chowdry might have updated them. 
“I came up here from Groton because I’d heard so much about him, as a tailor. I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” said Johnson. “I’m sorry he’s gone.” 

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