Monday, 25 June 2012

The Lion King Test

It's that period of the year again, when the heat is on and the mercury rises to almost uncomfortable levels. Admittedly, even for me, sometimes it gets so warm that just the thought of dressing up becomes a chore. However, there are little things you can do to try and make sure you survive summer in style. So no, don't bust out your T-shirt, shorts and Crocs yet. 

One important tip is to understand fabric choice. Although cottons and linens are the ultimate cloths for summers, they tend to be a bit too casual for a corporate environment. You'd probably be wise not to rock a royal-blue linen suit with beige horn buttons at work, especially when that promotion is within sight. You still need the drape of wool to look sharp and appropriate.

Rising temperatures call for lightweight wools of around 8 ~ 9 ounces (250gms). These wools are specially woven to be worn in warmer climates and are extremely breathable. Personally, I feel these wools are more comfortable than cottons because they feel so light and feathery.

Here, I go all Lion King on my half-lined jacket. You can see how light and porous the cloth is. This allows for good breathability and ventilation. 

One of the key points of successful summer dressing is to not cut the clothes too close to the body. Overly slim clothes cling to your body like a film of plastic wrap and it's not gonna feel very comfortable in the heat. As explained before, there is a huge difference between skinny and slim - trendy boys go for the former, and real men go for the latter.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Price of Hands - Part II


The construction of a suit jacket is the most difficult aspect in tailoring. My si-fu often recounts to me, with the air of an old war veteran reminiscing his battles,  the struggles and frustration he faced as an apprentice. He told me it was so hard to master the art of suit making that he used to cry in exasperation (very much like how I would when I couldn't solve that f*cking math problem in school).

All of us has got some unique asymmetry in our body structure that needs to be taken into account when making a jacket. No machine in the world can replace the experienced hands of a craftsman in this area.

How to properly cut the fabric to accommodate the body-type, predicting the shrinkage and expansion of the fabric when ironing, applying the canvas, handstitching the buttonholes, adjusting the level of the shoulders, compensating for the shoulder-twist, rotating the pitch of the sleeves, suppressing the waist, determining the drop of the front, deciding the position of the gorge. 

These are some of the things that no ready-to-wear suits can ever offer. Not Prada, not Dior Homme, not Armani, not Hugo Boss. I'm not saying we're better than any of the big designer brands, it would be foolish to say that, but it is what it is and our process is undeniably more tedious and time-consuming.

Some folks like to compare the price of a commissioned suit to one bought from a designer label. They will be absolutely shocked to learn that the price can either be similar or more expensive. This is like comparing apples and oranges - they are both fruits, but no one's gonna mistake one for the other.

As with all developed countries and cosmopolitan cities , it is becoming extremely hard to find craftsmen who are well-versed in doing things the traditional way. Finding quality manpower is, and has always been, the biggest challenge in our industry. Making a suit jacket is not difficult; I learnt to do that in fashion college. Making a proper suit jacket is a different thing altogether. The cutters/makers working with me have been doing that for almost half a century, and they tell me they are still learning and improving up to this day. They are a talented, but dying breed, and being so, they certainly deserve good wages for their effort.

The price of hands is expensive. Respect that.

Is is too much to say that inside this cover lies the blood, sweat and tears of the si-fu?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Price of Hands - Part I

Tailoring is expensive. And it will only get more expensive in the future. Not intending to sound arrogant - if you're looking to get cheap tailoring, it is often times better to buy off-the-rack and spend some money on alterations. With the range of ready-to-wear we have in the market today, you should be able to find something if you look hard enough (and if you've accumulated enough good karma).

The fact is that tailoring is a dying trade. It has been in decline since the early 90's. I should know, after seeing my father's business shrink year by year since then. Tailors can be found in abundance in 80's Singapore. It was the golden era of tailoring. Almost every working man gets their suits tailored.  However, most of these tailors work with mediocre fabrics, mostly polyester-blends, and don't necessarily place much emphasis on quality. Their target market were men who need to wear suits, not men who want to wear suits.

My father's shop in the mid-70's. You can find tailor shops like this at every corner you turn.

It was the time before T.M Lewin, Goldlion, G2000, Gap, Zara, Topman, Uniqlo and H&M infiltrated the landscape. When these brands came along, offering cheap, serviceable suits in a myriad of styles, the tailoring industry took the proverbial arrow to the knee. That was the start of the 'fast-fashion' movement which we are continuing to experience today. One by one, the small-scaled tailors started folding. Many of the veterans ended up making a career-switch in their fifties. My father was one of them, for a short while.

David vs Goliath - the juggernaut known as Uniqlo recently offered linen jackets at S$149. The cost of the suiting fabrics alone that we use can cost more than S$150/meter (before GST, excluding linings).

The ones who survived are mainly those who offer premium tailoring - excellent fabrics, fit and handmade workmanship. After all, these areas are our main advantages over the ready-to-wear products, our only weapons in the fight against Goliath. Actually, we should not even attempt to fight the mass-retailers; we'll just get our a$$ handed to us on a silver plate if we do. It's like getting into a knife-fight with plastic forks from yesterday's dinner at Lau Pa Sat.

To be continued...