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From casual wear to chic suits, six Singapore menswear brands to check out

Six home-grown menswear brands offer a range of styles for Singaporean men, from casual wear to bespoke suits

Kay-Jen

Started in: September 2014

For those who like: Tailored suits with a 1930s silhouette - a broad upper half with a nipped-in waist and long leg line

Golden Sultan Plaza is probably one of the last places one would think to go get suited up.

However, a steady stream of men in their mid-20s to 30s have been heading there for the services of Mr Matthew Lai. The 27-year-old fashion design diploma graduate from Lasalle College of the Arts works out of a 200 sq ft space offering tailor-made suits.


Two-button suit with peak lapel made from wool and mohair ($1,850).

His is a one-man show - he meets clients and suppliers and does marketing on social media. The tailoring of the shirts, jackets and trousers is outsourced to a few tailors in Singapore, but he personally cuts clients' pants as "most are quite particular about how their trousers fit".

Prices range from $160 for a cotton shirt to $1,400 for a full canvas-lined suit made with pure wool. Fabrics are sourced from countries such as China, Turkey and Italy.

While his speciality is slim-fit suits, he considers his customers' body shape and suggests a more flattering fit if a slim style does not work. For example, he will often suggest wider lapels instead of the more popular slim ones, so that they will be in proportion to the overall look.

He says: "I have an understanding of classic menswear tailoring and streetwear culture. I help my younger clients, who may be more familiar with streetwear style, understand classic menswear tailoring proportions."

Public servant Dennis Ong, 29, has one sports jacket, five pairs of trousers and seven shirts from Kay-Jen and is waiting for his first suit to be completed.


Two-button suit with peak lapel made from wool and mohair ($1,850). PHOTOS: KAY-JEN

Mr Ong, who has known Mr Lai for three years, says: "What I like about Mr Lai is that he is sincere when giving advice. Even though I feel that he has nailed my fit, he offers to re-cut the pattern if he spots even a slight imperfection."

Although Mr Lai, who is in a relationship, initially wanted to design streetwear, he changed his mind after getting his first job at a Singapore tailor shop in 2012.

He was put in charge of the shop's made-to-measure line and it was then that he realised "tailoring is technical and challenging because it is like engineering for the body".

He left the shop in early 2014 to learn more about tailoring from a home-grown tailor, whom he declines to name. That was when a family member encouraged him to start his own business.

He took the plunge and pumped in a "small five-figure sum" from his savings and a loan from his family to start Kay-Jen. Kay Jen is the Hakka pronunciation of his Chinese name, Di Ren, and was chosen because he thought it was "memorable".

He declines to reveal sales figures, but says he is doing "pretty all right" and that business broke even a year after he started his business.

He plans to hire another staff member or find a business partner so that he can expand the business. He intends to move to a bigger location in the Central Business District.

Mr Lai, who is among a younger generation of tailors in Singapore who want to revitalise the trade, says: "A lot of tailors here are ageing and I want to carry on the trade. If not, everything will be outsourced to tailors overseas."

• Kay-Jen, Golden Sultan Plaza, 100 Jalan Sultan Road, 03-34, tel: 9640-6669, open: 11am to 7pm (weekday), noon to 5pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday



Bold line shirt ($69); polyester band white pants ($59).

The Authority

Started in: September last year

For those who like: Clean, minimalist designs in a mainly monochromatic palette

Despite being located in a quiet corner of Orchardgateway, nine- month-old label The Authority has been enjoying a steady stream of customers, thanks to its social media accounts and e-mail newsletters.

Customers are updated on the latest arrivals once a week and know what they want to buy even before stepping into the shop.

Mr Jasper Goh, 27, the label's founder and business developer, says: "Some customers will message us on Facebook asking us to reserve certain items as soon as we release a new collection."

He works with a team of three other co-founders: Mr Eugene Siow, 21, who is the creative director and designer; Ms Vivian Lim, 26, who does merchandising; and Ms Elise Lim, 30, who handles marketing.


The label’s best-selling Costes tee ($39). PHOTOS: THE AUTHORITY

We want to be a one-stop solution for men - from clothing to skin and eventually bring in other fashion labels as well.

THE AUTHORITY'S FOUNDER JASPER GOH

Prior to starting The Authority, all four worked at online fashion retailer Inverted Edge.

On why they decided to set up a business together, Mr Goh explains: "I wanted to do something of my own and I wanted the best team, so I said why not now and why not with the same group of people?"

He says The Authority is popular with young, fashion-conscious types who do not wish to shop at mass- market brands, but cannot afford clothes with designer price tags.

With prices ranging from $19 for a plain baseball cap to $109 for a faux-suede trench coat, it is a hit with creatives such as graphic designers and writers in their 20s.

There are also customers as young as 15 years old, says Mr Goh.

To keep up with customers' demand of seeing new designs every week, the label puts out a new collection every month.

The latest collection, released last Friday, has a summery vibe, with T-shirts, pants and Cuban collar shirts in colours such as pink, sand-beige and sky blue. This is a departure from the brand's usual monochrome palette and was inspired by the Pantone Fashion Colour Report for Spring 2016.

Aside from fashion trends, Mr Siow's designs are also inspired by non-fashion-related subjects "such as the grain of a wood table".

The label's best-selling design is its roomy box Costes tee, which comes in different colours and materials for each collection. A neoprene or cotton one costs $39, while a linen, denim or bamboo cotton one costs $59.

More than half of what the label sells are short-sleeve tops. Pants, coats and accessories such as hats make up the rest of the sales.

The clothes are also sold online at www.theauthority.co as well as multi-label boutique Revolte x Sheshops at Wheelock Place and Raffles City. The Revolte x Sheshops outlet in Raffles City opens on June 23.

Mr Goh, who declines to reveal sales figures, says business has broken even.

His goal is to build The Authority into a destination fashion and lifestyle boutique, similar to multi- label fashion retailers Opening Ceremony in the United States and Aland in Seoul, South Korea.

In August, the brand will introduce a skincare range, which Mr Goh developed with a skincare manufacturer from South Korea. It will launch with a facial cleanser ($39) and essence ($59).

Mr Goh says: "We want to be a one-stop solution for men - from clothing to skin and eventually bring in other fashion labels as well."

• The Authority, Orchardgateway, 277 Orchard Road, 03-03, tel: 8126-6343, open: noon to 9pm (Monday to Thursday), noon to 10pm (Friday to Sunday).



The Nishijin-Ori cotton T-shirt ($155).

biro

Launched in: September 2013

For those who like: Casual wear such as cotton T-shirts, denim and coats that are made in Japan

A cotton T-shirt or a pair of denim jeans from biro may look uneven, but that is how its founders, brothers Chong Keng How and Kage Chong, intended them to look.

This is due to the fabric being made with vintage machinery dating back to World War II.

Bachelor Keng How, the label's 34-year-old director, says: "We use such fabric because it exudes this imperfect character."


Drawstring denim pants ($380, to be launched in August). PHOTOS: BIRO COMPANY

The fabric is made in a factory in Japan, while the designs are done in Singapore.

The brothers started biro in 2010 because they felt there was a lack of good-quality clothing in Singapore. Before that, they owned a company that imported streetwear labels.

Most of the clothes are designed by Mr Kage Chong, 31, who has a diploma in interactive media from Nanyang Polytechnic. He is a self-taught fashion designer and is in a relationship.

biro (pronounced Bee-ro) has released three collections since its launch in 2013. One of its bestsellers is the Nishijin-Ori cotton T-shirt, which costs $155.

The brand's Fall/Winter 2016 collection, titled Acromatic, will be released in August. Expect indigo patchwork drawstring denim pants and selvedge jackets with contrast stitching as well as cotton T-shirts.

Prices start at $150 for a cotton T-shirt and $650 for a gabardine coat. Last year, the brand launched a capsule collection with Japanese furniture-lifestyle store atomi.

Keng How contacted Mr Andrew Tan, co-founder and owner of atomi, after both their brands were featured in global affairs and lifestyle magazine Monocle in March last year.

The atomi x biro collection, which launched in October last year at atomi in Mandarin Gallery, consists of selvedge chambray shirts in pink and white that cost $280 each. About 90 per cent of the shirts have been sold.

Encouraged by the response, a second collaboration with atomi - a polo T-shirt with two colourways - will launch in September. It will be sold at atomi and online at www.birocompany.com.

From next month, the brand will be stocked at The Practical Man in Melbourne, Australia. In August, it will have a temporary showroom in New York City for at least three months, where multi-label clothing boutiques such as Gentry and Need Supply Co. have expressed interest in carrying the brand.

The brothers are also in talks with public relations agencies in Japan to hold exhibitions, pop-ups and a trunk show.

• Biro is available online at www.birocompany.com and at Manifesto at Capitol Piazza, Tangs Orchard, Colony Clothing at UE Square, atomi and Isetan Scotts.



Lace applique velvet jacket ($2,015).

Deboneire

Started in: February last year

For those who like: Ready-to- wear suits and tuxedo jackets in flamboyant prints and patterns and materials such as jacquard

Mr Matthew Gideon, the 25-year- old founder of menswear label Deboneire (pronounced deb-uh- nair), says: "My designs are for men who are confident and stylish. Life is too short to blend in."

So, do not expect plain wool suits in sombre shades from this 16- month-old brand.

His designs are print-heavy, with jackets and trousers in botanical prints and metallic silver jacquard.


Botanical-print trousers ($189). PHOTOS: DEBONEIRE

His Fall/Winter 2016 collection, launching in November, is a tad more subdued, featuring textured blazers in solid jewel tones such as teal and purple.

Most of his customers are from their mid-20s to late 40s. The prices range from $79.90 for a cotton T-shirt to $2,015 for a lace applique velvet jacket.

To keep things exclusive, he makes an average of 15 pieces for each design. The clothes are made in China, Indonesia, South Korea and Italy and are available online at www.deboneire.net and at Takashimaya department store.

Mr Gideon, whose designs are similar to luxury brands such as Dolce & Gabbana and Tom Ford, says his best-selling design is his tuxedo jacket, which comes in fabrics such as silk and velvet.

It makes up 80 per cent of sales and retails from $799 for one in a cotton-blend jacquard to $1,200 for one in wool and silk.

It is a hit with home-grown stylists and celebrities - actor-host Paul Foster and jazz singer Nathan Hartono have been spotted wearing Deboneire tuxedos.

Foster, 35, who met Mr Gideon at last year's Singapore Fashion Week, says: "I always support Singapore designers whenever possible. I love most of his designs and I'm lucky that his suits fit me well too."

Mr Gideon did not start out as a fashion student - he graduated with a software engineering diploma from Nanyang Polytechnic. But it was at polytechnic that he dabbled in fashion design.

"The lecture hall was so cold and everyone was wearing a hoodie, but I didn't want to look like everyone else," says the bachelor. So he started designing his own checked and plaid hoodie designs, which he got a tailor here to make.

After graduating in 2011, he enrolled in a three-month fashion merchandising course at the Textile and Fashion Federation before enlisting for national service, which he completed in 2013.

Using his savings, he travelled to Asia and Europe to source for clothing factories and fabric suppliers.

Deboneire was launched last year with the backing of three Singapore investors. He decided to go with formal menswear as he had trouble finding such clothes to fit his slim, 1.73m-tall frame.

He adds: "Men look best in suits, but their options are limited compared with women."

The name Deboneire is a nod to the old French term "de bon aire", which, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, was used in the 13th century to describe someone "of good lineage".

But Mr Gideon says he changed the spelling of the name to "differentiate my label from the actual word" and to make it easier to search online. It is also a play on the English word debonair, which is used to describe a confident and stylish man.

Although Deboneire has not broken even yet, there are plans to expand in the next five years to countries such as the United States and Vietnam.

• Deboneire, Takashimaya department store, 391 Orchard Road, Level 3, tel: 6506-0458, open: 10am to 9.30pm daily



Light grey cotton T-shirt in regular weight ($89).

Faculty

Started in: June last year

For those who like: Smart-casual wear such as shirts, denim jeans and chinos with attention to cutting and detail

Since its launch last year, much has been made of Faculty's simple- looking designs that boast attention to detail, such as shirts with shorter sleeves and larger cuffs to accommodate large men's watches.

What is not as well-known is how its white shirts were inspired by former deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam.

Faculty's creative director Larry Peh came across photographs of him in the early post-independent years while doing his research for the brand's debut collection.

"He looked well-dressed and put together in a white shirt. Plus, I have a soft spot for him because he is a supporter of the arts," says Mr Peh, a 2014 President's Design Award winner and owner of design agency &Larry. He is married with two children.


Denim 15 Damaged jeans ($719). PHOTOS: FACULTY

The brand's second collection, which Mr Peh hopes to launch before Christmas, will be dressier than the first.

Mr Peh, 38, adds that the collection will be in a "mainly mono- chrome colour palette" and will feel more luxurious than the first.

He started the brand with his friend Lenz Fan, former brand director of men's fashion brand WanderWonder; and Shanghai- based entrepreneur Lyn She.

Mr Fan, 36, had approached Mr Peh in 2014 for help to rebrand his now-defunct clothing store WanderWonder, but Mr Peh suggested starting a completely new menswear brand to fill a gap in the market for "seasonless basics" that have "highly considered attention to detail and are long-lasting".

Another friend, Ms She, 34, was roped in.

Mr Peh handles Faculty's creative direction; Mr Fan, the label's brand director, handles production; and Ms She is its sales and marketing director.

The T-shirts are made in a Japanese-owned factory in China, while the other clothes are made in Japan. The fabric of the jeans is woven by the famed Kuroki mill in Okayama, Japan, which is said to manufacture for top Japanese denim brands.

Prices for Faculty range from $79 for a cotton T-shirt to $249 for a white shirt and go up to $719 for a pair of denim jeans.

The brand is sold online at www.faculty.com.sg and at the Supermama flagship store in Beach Road. Later this month, Supermama will launch a printed cotton T-shirt created exclusively for it by Faculty.

The label is also sold overseas at men's multi-brand clothing boutiques McKilroy in Perth, Australia, and Project Aegis Showroom in Shanghai, China.

One item which Mr Peh considers a must-have is the brand's cotton T-shirt, as it is "versatile and practical". It comes in three levels of thickness - heavyweight, regular and lightweight - and is priced from $79 to $99.

"They are not too heavy for Singapore's weather, but they are sturdy enough so that most sweat patches won't show through," he says.

• Faculty is sold online at www.faculty.com.sg and at Supermama, 265 Beach Road, tel: 6291-1946, open: 11am to 8pm (Sunday to Thursday) and Friday and Saturday (11am to 10pm)



Red houndstooth short-sleeve shirt ($200).

Q Menswear and q. menswear

Started in: December 2011 (Q Menswear) and July last year (q. menswear)

For those who like: Tailored separates such as shirts, jackets and pants with details such as coloured buttons and hand-pleats

For seven years, Mr Chong Han San, a fashion design graduate from Temasek Polytechnic, cut his teeth designing for brands such as New Zealand sportswear label Orca, F.J. Benjamin's fashion label Raoul and home-grown menswear brand Clothesmith.

In 2011, he decided it was time to launch his own bespoke menswear brand, Q Menswear. In July last year, he launched q. menswear, a ready-to-wear-line.


Mini window pane trousers ($250). PHOTOS: Q MENSWEAR

Mr Chong, 34, says: "It is hard to grow a bespoke business, but you can do that with ready-to-wear."

q. menswear, which he describes as "edgy", with more details and prints than his bespoke designs, is targeted at "men who appreciate the finer things in life". (The "Q" in the brand's name is meant to resemble the face of a man smoking a cigar).

Men in their 20s to mid-40s from the banking and creative industries make up the bulk of his clients. His bestsellers are work shirts.

One fan is Dr Tan Zhi Xiang, 32, who has six bespoke suits from Q Menswear. However, he finds the designs of the shirts and pants from the ready-to-wear line just as stylish.

He says: "The designs are unique and easy to match."

Mr Chong, who is married to a housewife, sources his fabrics from countries such as Italy, Turkey, Austria and Portugal. He also uses Egyptian cotton, which is considered softer and stronger than regular cotton.

Two collections are launched every year under q. menswear. The upcoming Fall/Winter 2016 collection, which launches in August and is inspired by the 1950s, will feature bowling shirts. Prices start at $160 for an Egyptian cotton shirt to $800 for a pure-wool suit.

For bespoke pieces, they start at $170 for a basic cotton shirt and $250 for an Egyptian cotton one. A two-piece suit starts at $900.

The bespoke pieces are made in Singapore. While a portion of the ready-to-wear line is manufactured in Singapore and Hong Kong, most of it is manufactured in Thailand where Mr Chong says the tailors are willing to take on "challenging designs" such as hand-pleated details and complicated seaming designs.

He also sells a range of accessories such as ties, pocket squares and belts sourced from Italy.

He works out of a 1,300 sq ft office and showroom in Telok Ayer Street, but his dream is to open a proper flagship boutique that offers a complete lifestyle experience, with grooming services such as haircuts, as well as a well-stocked bar.

• The Q Menswear showroom, 116A Telok Ayer Street, tel: 6636-6939, open: 11am to 7.30pm (Monday to Friday), 11am to 3pm (Saturday).

• q. menswear is sold online at www.q-menswear.com, Zha Huo Dian, 14 Scotts Road, Far East Plaza, 03-16, tel: 6235-7614, open: 1.30 to 9pm (Monday to Saturday) and 12.30 to 8.30pm (Sunday) and at Takashimaya department store, 391 Orchard Road, Level 3, tel: 6506-0458, open: 10am to 9.30pm daily

Correction note: The clothes by Faculty are manufactured by a Japanese-owned factory in China. This is incorrect. Only the T-shirts are made in a Japanese-owned factory in China. The other clothes are made in Japan. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'For men, by men'. Print Edition | Subscribe