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.

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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!

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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: sales@wwchan.com 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.

www.wwchan.com


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 (barimavox.blogspot.com)

Short, Cropped or Rolled – A Trouser Issue

I’d like to unambiguously state that I firmly believe the shorter trouser has a place in the well-dressed man’s wardrobe. For those who have not skipped along to a different article in dismay and disgust, allow me to explain myself further:

Some time ago, I was gifted a tiny, charming and wordless book of detailed illustrations entitled An Edwardian Holiday, by John S. Goodall, which details the seaside vacation of an aristocratic brother and sister with their parents. Say what you will about the society of the time, but the era marked the flowering of the styles and standards of clothing that some of us now hold dear. And chief among the gentleman’s looks of the tome was a light blue sportsjacket, a black necktie, white laceups and cuffed light grey trousers that ended on top of or half an inch above the shoes, revealing more than a sliver of black sock. It was rather youthful, and, more intriguingly, right “on trend” in both today’s parlance and fashions. I’d wager that for most, the look is more closely associated with the greasers of the 1950s (of course, the same decade that gave us the Teddy Boys), the punks and skinheads of the 1970s, and the post-mod hipsters of the 21st century.

But some connoisseurs of tailoring that I’ve observed via style blogs are rather fond of the “no break” look, with the daring amongst them taking even more audacious steps to show a little ankle. As the summer sun draws near, it’s time to consider a little change to one’s hems to bear the warmer weather, whether on holiday or at home.
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The least fussy way to go about this is to simply have a higher hem on the bottom of the trousers. This is a simple alteration for a tailor, particularly as part of a suit, and can also be achieved by purchasing a pair of trousers with a shorter leg length. The length will really depend on the purpose of the trousers. In a more casual suit, leaving an inch off the shoe emphasises a more relaxed, moddish and whimsical nature, especially if paired with a sock choice that might garner commentary on its own. With a pair of odd trousers, particularly denim, cotton or linen for the upcoming summer, two inches is entirely suitable for the sockless look and neatly avoids the “manpris” trap that would put most men off more adventurous trouser lengths. Done right, the effect will be much more prime Michael Jackson than wacky old Pee Wee Herman.

trouser-fashseThe more affordable, and presently more familiar, method of achieving the cropped look is a simple roll of the hems to create adjustable trouser “cuffs,” a much more versatile and manageable approach all round. This has the added benefit of an even more casual and less calculated aesthetic, as well as avoiding the pitfall of “too short trousers” accusations and appearing as a practical response to the heat. The style is usually done with jeans and chinos, and while not necessarily advisable with formal trousers, can be possible if the trousers are already cuffed. The look can be successful with or without socks and works best for gentlemen when dressed down with linen shirts and panama hats.

As far as widths go, a figure-hugging look can appear either idiosyncratic or overly feminine and wide legs would seem somewhat comical due to their expanse, so it’s best to wear trousers that fall straight down towards the ankles. To avoid or minimise any punk associations, one can opt for desert or Chelsea boots, while shoes such as sturdy brogues (Tricker’s, Alfred Sargent), loafers (say, Crockett and Jones or Bass), deck shoes and plimsolls should suffice for the more low cut-inclined.

A little seasonal inspiration may just be the lift one needs for summer elegance.

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 (barimavox.blogspot.com)

A Code of Style: The Gentleman’s Movement

We hear it over and over, from our friends to the magazines to the message boards. Men want to step up their game, cast off the teenage garments that have taken many of them far into their 40s, allow the marketers and the designers to steer them towards the classicist world of traditional gentleman’s raiment, and emerge as the best dressed that they can be.

Year in, year out over the falling years of this early 21st century decade, the messages in the best dressed lists and the interweb lionising of renaissance men from 50 years or more prior all lead to one conclusion – the suit and tie separates the men from the boys and its benefits are so enriching as to leave no faults corrected. Put simply, dapper is king.

But is the movement actually taking flight? The touchstones of the well dressed seem to have remained stable (if not wholly inspiring) over this decade – actors and fictional characters, television presenters and awards ceremonies, the odd singer and whimsical music videos – but it strangely seems that so little seem to have gotten the message, and the old reticence of looking overdressed remains.

In my experience, nowhere else is the idea that elegance in dress is constrictive more exemplified than at the events at which dressing up used to be most mandatory – evenings out at operas, ballet, theatre and fine restaurants. And further disbelief results from it taking place in Britain, because it means the effects of America’s stripped down, jeans-and-t-shirt/shorts-and-flip-flops approach to event dressing has become a more pervasive influence than before. From nowhere else in the world do I hear so many anecdotes of grown men mocking pocket squares to the extent of snatching them out of another’s breast pocket, nor tales of young partygoers being hassled by aggressive attendees for “dressing up” in a shirt and chinos, or even clubbers in New York being asked if they were “Gay or European?” due to the relative “outlandishness” of their attire (again, a simple shirt and trousers combination).

On the other hand, America knows how to celebrate its style heroes as positive influences. The term, “The Gentleman’s Movement”, is most associated with Derek Watkins, better known as Fonzworth Bentley, entertainer and former valet to Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. His dedication to improving style may be sensationalistic and shallow to some, but to my eyes, he is committed and sincere. He rarely is seen in t-shirts but for promotional appearances, he spent time during club appearances giving “gentleman’s makeovers” to the low-slung jeans set and his reality show, ‘From G’s to Gents’, revealed a man who put on no truly pretentious airs (his televisual persona was straightforward, steely and free of flowery prose), emphasised fair play, respect and correctness, and was always interestingly turned out with a key trait that is paramount for a good dresser in these times – a lack of self consciousness. While his efforts, and those of his friend Andre Benjamin, did not cause a paradigm shift in the attire of their fanbases, those amongst their peer group and their followers who were receptive followed suit, so to speak. Not for nothing have they become darlings, and sometimes pariahs, of the online style sets.

Indeed, a consistently well-dressed man can become an icon of male style, as the increased interest in the wardrobes – and related minutiae – of departed legends such as Fred Astaire, Gianni Agnelli and the Duke of Windsor proves, along with the more than passing approval of present-day men of refinement such as Prince Charles, Gay Talese, Willie Brown and Beppe Modenese. And each of these men would utilise their sense of style in practically every area of their wardrobe. The remit of this site alone is to foster the development and expression of personal style, and I think that this should be just as apparent “off-duty” as “on”.

I’m not so churlish as to think that casual items such as jeans, sweaters and comfortable footwear have no place in a gentleman’s wardrobe. But I feel that some will rather wear less conspicuous items outside of their well-made working wardrobes so that they can avoid the stigma of being “the dressed-up guy” or even a “dandy” (in the context of “fop” as interchangeable with “dandy”) amongst social circles. I have always believed, as does Bentley apparently, that being well turned out is all encompassing, and that even the most casual outfit for a night on the town should have some flair.

My experiences are personal and subjective, but appreciation can be shown for the smallest of efforts such as a flower in the buttonhole, a well cut jacket, a good watch or elegant footwear. The pocket square might be frowned upon or even mocked overenthusiastically by other men at an event, but the response from women may often be far more positive and encouraging. And the use of aristocrats, gentlemen and dandies as cornerstones in many an au-courant fashion designer’s collections proves that the great traditions of menswear are not going away. If their presentations are stories, then the morals all conclude that being a gentleman in all situations and climates is a bedrock of fashion and style. Not always is the person who differs from the crowd, who places an emphasis on dressing best to dance, to drink and to decompress on a friend’s sofa, the object of criticism and disdain. On occasion, his attire will open up conversations and doors, for on the surface he might be the most interesting person in the room.

Being well dressed outside the office doesn’t mean costumes or caricature or foppery, just an expression of how much you enjoy adapting your style to suit your environment. Just because you’ve left work for the day, does not mean your style should too.

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 (barimavox.blogspot.com)