In the era of fast-fashion and e-commerce, many people thrive on instant gratification. Whether it is buying clothing fresh off the runways or expecting an online-shopping order to be delivered overnight, it certainly appears that the excitement of anticipation isn't that appealing anymore.
But at least in one aspect of fashion, there is a growing group of consumers who do believe that the best things are worth waiting for. Bespoke menswear, which was regarded as a dying trade not very long ago, is making a strong comeback these days, thanks to the rise of the modern dapper gentleman who appreciates the value of an artisanal, one-of-a-kind outfit.
Singapore may be far removed from London's Savile Row, where the world's most respected bespoke tailors spend their lives honing their craft into an art, but the little red dot has seen a resurgence in this rarefied form of tailoring in recent years.
From international labels, such as Brioni and Canali offering bespoke or su misura services, to local master tailors such as Leslie Chia of Pimabs and Kevin Seah of his eponymously named label, these brands have all found a seemingly untapped demand for custom-made menswear. Thanks to this resurgence, Singapore-based Seah and Dylan Chong of Dylan & Son estimate that sales have increased by about 30 percent over the last two years.
Chia, who founded bespoke menswear label Pimabs in 2004, has certainly seen an increased interest in this age-old craft. “Over the past three to four years, bespoke shops have sprouted like mushrooms. Street style has inspired people into putting more effort in looking good and that is always a good sign,” says Chia, whose glitterati customers include song maestro Dick Lee and businessman Sean Lee, who married Taiwanese celebrity Vivian Hsu earlier this year.
“Men are beginning to understand the importance of quality clothing and great fit, which only bespoke can achieve.”
The Art of Craftsmanship
Indeed, it is the attention to detail — down to the minutiae, such as the precise location of the pockets to the colour of the thread used for the buttonholes — that makes a bespoke outfit so special. David Mason, creative director of British bespoke tailoring firm Anthony Sinclair Mayfair, says it can take anywhere between six weeks to a year to create a custom-order suit. Anthony Sinclair was the Savile Row tailor who made the original suits for Sean Connery in the James Bond movies. The brand, which went into hiatus after Sinclair's death in 1992, was revived by Mason in 2012.
“With bespoke, the outfit is built around the customer. Besides taking about 20 measures to make the suit, one has to assess the balance of the customer. For example, one shoulder could be higher than the other, which means the suit cannot be cut symmetrically,” he says. “Plus, this has to be done when the customer is relaxed, which is not easy when there is a tailor wielding a measuring tape!”
There are also specific requests to accommodate, such as pockets to fit iPhones or Blackberries, and details to look into, such as the positioning of buttons and the type of belt hoops, side straps or even loops for braces that have to be decided upon during the consultations. The globetrotting Mason is well aware that not all his international customers are able to return to his atelier in London for about four to five fittings before an outfit is completed. Instead, he has adapted his practice to accommodate them and often travels to the US and Asia with his customers' paper patterns and fabric swatches — certainly a standard of service that can only come with a bespoke tailor of the highest calibre.
Many who have experienced the bespoke process become lifelong advocates of the craft. Lawyer Jamie Thomas — who had a dinner jacket and suit made by Kevin Seah for his wedding — vividly recalls his first-ever bespoke suit commissioned by his grandfather when he was 20. “My father bought me a suit when I was going for some work experience in London. It was a very cheap suit, which looked absolutely terrible. My grandfather, who has always had his suits tailored, winced and took me to his tailor in Savile Row,” says Thomas.
“Out I came in a dashing pinstripe suit with a fishtail back for braces and racing silk green inner lining. It was incredibly elegant, although it was rather embarrassing when I had a better suit than almost all the directors,” he quips.
But while bespoke tailoring is a highly regarded craft by those in-the-know, there are still misconceptions that abound. Seah says one of his biggest pet peeves is being
misconstrued as an express tailor that can put together a suit within 24 to 48 hours. With a repertoire that includes bespoke jeans and ties, Seah certainly does not believe in churning out suits that are based on one fixed pattern.
Chong adds: “People think we are a one-man operation, that one single tailor will run the business, provide the customer with consultations, do the measurements, cut the patterns, do the fittings and sew up the clothes for each and every customer.”
Instead, his atelier, like all other reputable bespoke establishments, comprise of a team of consultants, cutters and makers who work together to keep the business going. Neither will these bespoke menswear makers agree to create “designer-inspired” outfits. “Guys who want us to make jackets or suits that look like a Thom Browne, Dior Homme or Comme des Garçons will almost always be turned down,” says Chong.
After all, bespoke suits are built to last and are meant to transcend the whims and fancies of fashion trends, not imitate them. It is a sentiment that is echoed by every bespoke specialist worth his salt — and an ethos worth remembering when signing up for a fitting. Says Mason, who sums it up best: “At the end of the day, bespoke is the antithesis of fashion, which is about producing one look and selling it. With bespoke, it is all about the customer and tailoring something just for the individual.”
Get started on your search for the perfect suit and shoes at these establishments. PS, don't forget to make an appointment before you drop by
B1-76 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands; Tel: 6688 7528
The Brioni boutique offers suit-making services all year. To ensure quality service, staff members are sent to attend Brioni's tailoring school in Italy, says Brent Craggs, general manager of Uomo Group Singapore. They are also given training sessions whenever a Brioni master tailor is in town. Look out for VIP su misura trunk shows in Singapore every March and September.
01-43 Paragon; Tel: 6235 6588
Canali's Made To Measure or su misura service is available by appointment only in Singapore twice a year with the label's master tailor from Italy or a tailoring specialist (we hear he'll next be in town April 10-12), who himself has spent time training with the master tailor. The customer can select the suit, shirt and pant style best preferred with over 300 fabrics to choose from.
32B Boat Quay; Tel: 6538 6466
For suits with a fashionable twist, such as patterned fabrics or contrasting cuffs, Leslie Chia is the man to go to. Some of his more flamboyant creations have been spotted on fashion maven Dick Lee, but he is equally well-versed in creating sharp suits and crisp shirts for those with more conservative tastes.
5 Jalan Kilang; firstname.lastname@example.org
Seah specialises in the English and Italian style of menswear tailoring and has a seemingly endless selection of over 30,000 cloth samples to pick from. He is also able to accommodate special requests, such as lining jackets with silk scarves — he has a customer who only lines his with Hermès scarves.
Dylan & Son
147A Telok Ayer Street; email@example.com
Dylan Chong does a youthful take on bespoke menswear that translates well to the boardroom. He inherited the tailoring business from his father, who continues to work as a cutter, and is ever ready to provide fashion advice and styling tips for his customers.
Cut and Sewn
Savile Row tailor Anthony Sinclair was once famed for dressing Sean Connery for all his James Bond movies, from Dr No in 1962 to Diamonds are Forever in 1971. Today, the dapper David Mason, who revived the Anthony Sinclair Mayfair label in 2012, hopes to restore the lustre to this storied suit-maker. He talks about his road to tailoring supremacy
How did you get started in the business of tailoring?
I have always been keen on fashion and clothing, and a great Bond fan. When I was in school in Manchester, I had a part-time job at the local tailor shop, where I would take care of the clients and sometimes do their alterations. I had a problem with trousers as they were never long enough. Finally, a tailor friend said he would make me a pair.
Once I started wearing them, clients at my workplace began asking me for the trousers. When my friend couldn't keep up with the orders, he taught me how to draft.
After I graduated, I thought I could turn this hobby into a business, which I did in Manchester. Some of my first customers were friends who were getting jobs in London and needed something nice to wear to work.
How did you make the move from being a tailor in Manchester into Savile Row bespoke tailoring?
By chance, I met Savile Row tailor Edward Sexton in a New York restaurant many years ago. He opened the doors to the inner sanctum of Savile Row by offering me a job with him. Three to four years after I worked with Edward, I found myself working with another tailor, Richard Paine.
One day, when we were talking about James Bond, it emerged that Richard was the former apprentice of Anthony Sinclair and that he inherited the rights to the brand after Sinclair's death in 1992. That was around 2003 and I wanted to develop the brand, but Richard wanted to have an early retirement, so that was it at that time.
How did you finally convince Richard Paine to return to the business?
In 2011, I was contacted by the organisers of the Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style exhibition in London. They had plenty of Tom Ford and Brioni suits that were used in more recent movies but much less from the early films. For instance, they only had one overcoat for Dr No. A collector, who owned one of the original suits worn by Sean Connery, agreed to loan it to us and that was when I got back in touch with Richard to tell him it's now or never, which finally convinced him to pick up his shears. With the pattern from that old suit, we were able to make two suits for the exhibition — the evening suit from Dr No and the three-piece from Goldfinger. The exhibition, which launched during the London Olympics, has given the Anthony Sinclair brand a lot of exposure.
What was the most interesting thing about Sinclair's signature conduit cut that was worn by Connery?
When the suit we remade for the Bond exhibition came back from the workshop, the first thing I did was to try it on. Immediately, I thought that I could step out in it because it looked that great. With its timeless style, natural shoulders and an hour glass shape, I didn't look like I was wearing a suit from 50 years ago. Today, we do get customers who want that exact suit, but most of them want the style with modern interpretations, which remains our signature.
Is there any reason you are particularly interested in the Asian market?
I went to Shanghai when the James Bond exhibition was showing there and brought my tape measure along. Compared to the West, the economy is doing so well in Asia. It was extraordinary to see the number of men who wanted a Savile Row suit, considering that there are so many tailors who can make a suit very quickly in the region.
This made me realise there is a huge appetite for this sort of bespoke tailoring service and I will like to expand to Singapore or maybe Hong Kong, if the right opportunity comes along.