Peter Chan Interview

Among the varied friends I’ve been lucky enough to make over my years, some thankfully have an understanding of, and appreciation for, sartorial standards that match and exceed my own. One such friend, a resident of Hong Kong, has a yen for remaining classic whilst taking steps forward and has often raved of his switch from some of the brightest new(er) names on Savile Row to a bespoke operation a little closer to home. Having spent the past few years surrounded by City workers happier with the fact that they saved money by going with Far Eastern tailoring than the often inaccurate fit and cut of the results, I was a little sceptical, yet willing to be convinced. After a number of opportunities to see the increasingly interesting products of W.W. Chan swathing his frame, I’m sorry I ever doubted him – the canvassing was little short of intuitive; the lengths spot on; the fabrics well chosen and exquisite no matter which aspects of his life they were chosen for. The popularity of the house amongst the leading (and ever exacting) menswear fora added that extra touch of credibility.


Considered one of the very best tailoring houses in Hong Kong, Chan was opened by its namesake founder in 1949 and continues under Chan’s son Peter today, creating a range of suits, sportcoats, slacks, overcoats and shirts. This week marks the firm’s first ever visit to London – it tours the United States thrice-yearly – and I decided to cross time zones and the language barrier to interview Peter himself in order to learn a little more about this best kept secret:

Barima: W.W. Chan has a strong reputation for its classic cuts but is also developing one for less conservative tailoring. Do you find it more or less challenging to offer such versatility? Is it part of an ongoing learning process?

Peter Chan: It’s much easier to stick with our house style; the classic cuts that we offer to most of our clients. However, it’s our motto that our profession is an ongoing learning process and so we enjoy and accept the challenge of developing younger styles as well. In fashion, most jackets now are very short compared to the past and nipped in the waist. We recommend not going too extreme so as not to become “unfashionable.” I think that in future, things will swing back a little towards conservatism, somewhere in the middle, perhaps.

What does the average customer want from a W.W. Chan suit?

Very similar things! They want comfort and appearance from a perfect fit, a unique style, fabric choices, a competitive price and the ability to keep a pattern on file for future mail orders. They also appreciate the quality of our craftsmanship.

Some clients occasionally make extravagant demands of their tailor. As a bespoke house, how closely do you work with a client on realising his desires?

We welcome extravagant demands if they’re within our ability to accomplish. We don’t mind following them closely, but sometimes the client has to convince us that his requests can be realistically satisfied and also look good.

That seems fair. Given the oft-exacting demands on tailors and off-the-peg clothing for attention to detail and a lack of cutting corners, how much work goes into the average W.W. Chan creation?

Our typical suit will have a full floating canvas with handmade buttonholes. It takes around 40 hours of work to produce one. 90% of the jacket construction is done by hand. The machine stitching comes after the basting is completed.

You’re rather popular in certain online circles. How useful is the internet in developing your business?

Years ago, it was extremely difficult to know the quality of a tailor’s work without having things made by him first. In recent years, the internet has allowed people to chat and share their feelings on the clothing made by their tailors. People often write about their good experiences with us and so we have connected with a lot of new customers through our reputation on the internet. However, we have been in business for a very long time and we had a good reputation before as well.

Despite the general tendencies of men today to dress down and turn away from elegance, W.W. Chan appears to be thriving at home and growing internationally. Are you finding it at all challenging to clothe men appropriately?

Though it is sometimes difficult to be completely aware of all fashion trends, we try to keep up by reading articles on the internet, in magazines and talking to our customers. We use this knowledge to advise the customer in their choices. It seems to work well so far!

Yes, and in addition to this, W.W. Chan’s relative affordability is a unique selling point. Do you find this helpful in attracting customers who have a comparable budget for ready-to-wear?

Yes, it is. Customers like to compare our quality and price with the high quality handmade ready-to-wear suits as well as those very expensive bespoke tailors. It makes us feel honoured but we want to keep doing our best.

You offer a wide variety of fabric books, from classics such as Holland and Sherry and Loro Piana to newer productions such as Dashing Tweeds. How do your selections compare to other tailoring houses?

We have one of the largest fabric selections of any tailoring house because every customer has different preferences. Some customers prefer crisper fabrics while others prefer soft. Some prefer fancier jacketings while others prefer conservative worsteds. So we have to have as large a selection as possible to satisfy customers. Zegna Trofeo is one of my personal favourites for warmer weather. It keeps its shape well and has a nice finish. We also like Dashing Tweeds a lot. It tailors well and the colours and patterns are always interesting but beautiful.

Finally, what is the average turnover time for a commission, both at home and internationally?

W. W. Chan & Sons has our own workshop and doesn’t farm out. Turnover is usually around 2 to 3 months though if you call ahead and make an appointment, it can be much quicker than that depending on our workload.

We’re very excited about this visit to London – hopefully, the first of many to come!


Tour Details

The tour takes place on October 22nd & 23rd (Thursday & Friday) 2009. W.W. Chan’s cutter Patrick Chu will measure customers and offer fabric samples for perusal. Appointments can be made over e-mail to: and will be on-site at:

London Hilton on Park Lane
22 Park Lane, London

Pricing starts at USD 1,100+ for a two-piece using entry-level cloth. To inaugurate the tour, W.W. Chan will also be offering for the first time Dashing Tweeds. The cloths shown on the DT’s website are only a sample of the full range. Pricing is USD 1,500 for a two piece and 1,100 for a sportcoat.

Once a customer’s pattern is on file, Chan can and will take orders via e-mail and will dispatch fabric swatches for a customer’s consideration. Such off-tour orders are generally accomplished in around 3 months.

This is guest post by Barima Owusu-Nyantekyi, a freelance copywriter, marketer and researcher living in London. He is also an observer of popular culture, popular music and personal style who always dresses for dancing. His musings may be found at Style Time (

Big Knits


I have a confession to make; I wear v-neck jumpers that are actually made for women. I have never sought to hide the fact, but I am sometimes asked exactly where in Zara Man I manage to find such slim fitting jumpers and so, due to this pressure, must come clean. I have picked up countless shades of the same item of knitwear from the Zara stores dotted around London and am rather delighted to be able to do so, especially as each jumper costs less than a tenner.

I do own, and wear, jumpers designed for gentlemen but I rarely wear these with suits or odd jackets. They are too thick, too lumpy and too substantial to wear in a smart ensemble; the Zara knitwear, by comparison, is thin and perfectly fitted. It adds warmth and colour to the ensembles without adding pounds and folds. It’s unfortunate for menswear retailers that my substantial interest in v-neck jumpers cannot be sated by their wares but it is down to my rather awkward and tiny frame; some retailers have ceased to stock the ‘XS’ size I require for the garment to fit correctly. As such, they no longer enjoy my custom.

It’s a relief then that when it comes to ‘big knits’, I can return to the menswear department with glee; there’s no chance of me attempting to squeeze an item of this type in the sleeves of my hounds tooth jacket. For the ‘big knit’ is a standalone item. It has no association with suits or blazers. It is an item of comfort and familiarity. On the breeziest of breezy autumn days, you can wander out into the world with nothing else between your Jermyn Street shirt and the worsening winds than this lovely, woolly, heart-warmingly cosy creation of knitwear.

Despite the belief that big knits are simply uber-trendy, J Lindeberg-ish items for painfully skinny ‘twenty-sumfings’, they are actually items appropriate for men of all ages and can be accommodated in wardrobes of varying styles. Although often worn by less conservative chaps with t-shirts, fashion denim and pointed shoes, big knits also look fantastic with shirts, ties and bow ties; paired with smart trousers and loafers, such an ensemble gives a fine, off-duty matinee idol look. Very Doug Fairbanks.

The most important thing to remember about big knits is that they require a lower half of contrasting formality and finesse; big, tough old jeans and khakis make the whole look rather slovenly and unless you wish to look like a clueless teen, avoid training shoes. It has to appear that, although the knit is an item of comfort for the gentleman, underneath it all he is still a devastatingly dapper blade.

Shawl collared knits look the best with ties and bow ties and have a youthful, Twenties Ivy League charm that can be accentuated with tasselled loafers and Argyle socks.

The Great Debate: Umbrellas


Of all the great inventions, for the man of style the umbrella ranks as one of the most important. It protects him and his treasured clothes from all forms of beastly precipitation; from the dreary drizzle of the British Isles to the torrential downpours in the subtropical metropolis. The umbrella is the most crucial ally of the stylish boulevardier. I remember some absurd commentary in a free and rather poorly compiled newspaper criticising the ‘wimpy blokes’ who ‘hide’ under these ‘feminine contraptions’ for, as they confidently stated, ‘it’s only water – you’ll dry eventually.’ I don’t really know exactly what sort of reaction this commentator was hoping for but I would imagine they’d wished for a revolution of some sort and would have been rather excited to see perfectly usable umbrellas dumped and burned, their former owners standing in the rain, heads turned to the heavens grinning beatifically in their ‘release.’

Unfortunately, this plea fell on deaf ears. Umbrellas are still in use. From the minnow foldaways to the giant golf umbrellas which are nearly always carried by rather superior looking middle aged gentlemen and which, on the narrow pavements of the city, look rather ridiculous; like a whale attempting to navigate the Avon. However, the clear advantage of the larger brolly is that more of your person is protected from the rain; the larger the canopy, the greater the guard. Despite their rather bloated and inconvenient size, this makes such umbrellas appealing. The small, collapsible umbrella, while seemingly ingenious (‘Look, it fits right into my briefcase!’) is only a friend to the head and shoulders. Since most rain does not fall with perfect verticality, a small canopy will only protect your upper torso.

Many I meet whilst in possession of my whangee handled stick brolly look at it in paternalistic amusement; they mumble something about the risk of leaving it somewhere and mention, with a degree of self-satisfaction, that they just have a ‘bag brolly.’ I tell those who insist on continued examination that I have possessed the same umbrella for a number of years and that as I walk a great deal around the metropolis, I require a strong mechanism with a large canopy. From their responses, I often elicit a smugness that suggests that they feel rather sorry for me in carrying such an inconvenient object whenever the leaden skies suggest rain; the reason being that their inconvenience is comparatively small – and, importantly, concealed when not in use.

Despite these evident concerns, my style of umbrella – commonly referred to as the City umbrella – is the only form of umbrella I would carry. It is no wonder that smarter versions of it are named ‘Gents Umbrella’ or ‘Diplomat’ as it is certainly more polite than the rather anti-social golf umbrella, and undoubtedly more protective of one’s sartorial elegance than the foldaway. It is larger, yes, and you cannot carry it in a bag, but is that really so awful? I like having to carry it by the bamboo crook on my amblings around town. It’s a piece to be proud of and contrary to popular belief, I think it is easier to mislay a smaller, less significant umbrella; after walks in the rain, I leave it unfastened, dripping on the back of a chair. No matter how many ales I imbibe, it’s still evident to me as I rise to leave. In contrast, the little bag brolly, which still requires drip-time and cannot be placed back into one’s bag until completely dry, is so insignificant and so diminutive it is unsurprising that so many are found under tables, on train seats and in the bulging lost property hold of public transport offices.

Velo-re Belts


As any of my friends will testify, I am not adverse to something playful draped around my midriff. These belts by Swiss born Betty Galizzi (short for Bettina) certainly fit that bill. Betty actually lives in South London, and she and her friends Javier and Agata quietly work away churning out these handmade belts. And what are they made of? Bicycle tires.

There is in fact more to the humble bicycle tire than you might expect, some are very valuable and highly prized (Who’d have guessed?). There are, for example, bespoke, limited edition race and country tires for noted professionals in the cycling world. The type of tire, and its past use, is also what gives rise to the distinctive patterning. Each tire wears differently according to its rubber compound and whether it has been used on road, track or cross country.

As you’d expect she has quite a following in the cycling community. Many professional racers like to give the belts as gifts to friends and sponsors, using tires they’ve raced on. Indeed, her latest devotee is British Olympic gold medallist Nicole Cooke. Other clients simply want mementos of races won or endurance treks. In fact this last group, Bettina tells me, provide quite a bit of work as a result of the popularity of biking tours across far flung corners of the globe.

My particular favourites are the multicoloured ones, which would sit as well with jeans and chinos as they would shorts. The colours are original to the tires not later additions. But then there is enough labour involved making these belts, aside from the washing process everything is done by hand. They‘re pre-punched with eight wholes and come in two sizes, SM 30-34inches and ML 36-38 inches, but you can have any size you like, simply get in touch with Bettina.

Now these belts aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, and for a good many the idea of wearing anything other than leather or suede is heresy. But as an alternative to Ribbon, Grosgrain and other preppy stereotyping apparel I think they have real merit. I try to keep my casual wardrobe as simple as possible but there is a fine line between simple and pedestrian.

Bettina is based in London, but her belts are available at

Reader Question: Buying Odd Jackets

David: I very much enjoy your blog and find it to be a great source of inspiration in my desire to master the art of permanent style. I was hoping you could help me in the matter of choosing odd jackets. I am starting a new job where most people wear a jacket but no one wears a necktie. I will probably wear grey flannel trousers, beige chinos and a light-coloured shirt. But I am not sure what odd jackets to wear. I don’t currently own any. What would you recommend to me if I have only one, three or five odd jackets to use for work?

d-j-crewThe first thing to ensure about an odd jacket is that it goes well with the trousers. They must not clash in their pattern and they must be of a similar formality. As both your suggested pairs of trousers are plain, pattern is not much of an issue. And as they are both relatively informal, the jackets should reflect this in their cloth.

So my first suggestion to you would be a jacket in a pale grey, with a heavy texture in the cloth and in a relatively informal wool. So not worsted, but flannel, tweed, camel hair or something similarly rough. The heavy texture could be a herringbone or a hound’s-tooth. (Like the one pictured – from J.Crew)

The reason I suggest this for your first jacket is that the pattern is not too bold or eye-catching – there is enough visual interest to distinguish it from the trousers, but it is not a loud tweed. It is also classic and simple without being uniform – a blazer would offer less personality in your one item.

Your second jacket should be a blazer, though. Navy blue, preferably in something heavier than standard worsted wool, and fitting immaculately. Too many Americans wear a blazer and chinos out of laziness. Neither is likely to fit well and the jacket will rarely be buttoned. To differentiate yourself, get a blazer that is slim-cut, perhaps with just one button. And don’t go for brass buttons – something different, either plain blue or a different metal; perhaps even a cream colour like the Italians.

Third for me would be a tweed. The colour is a question of personal taste, as is the size of the check, but make sure it is slim (again) and smart enough to look at home both in the country and the office. I have a Donegal one-button tweed from Kilgour, in mid-grey, that I would put in this category.

Fourth, something for the summer – a tan linen or cotton gabardine. Make sure the linen is heavy, and if you think tan would be too casual, switch to a navy or a grey.

The fifth jacket can be something more adventurous: a classic black stroller if you want to add formality, something in an unusual colour like mid-green if you want to add flair.

When building the collection, just bear in mind that you want a spread of weights for different seasons and a spread of formalities for different occasions.