What sets the studio further apart from most is its one-of-a-kind tailoring model…
STYLEXSTYLE . 6TH SEP 2016 | DAWN HEE
THE ENDURING APPEAL OF BESPOKE TAILORING
Master tailor Thomas Wong of The Prestigious takes us through the labour-intensive process, and discusses mass production’s impact on the fashion industry.
In a world inundated by fast fashion, it’s not every day someone opts for a specially-crafted suit by a master tailor like Thomas Wong. But for a select few – including titled dignitaries and captains of industries – they’ve done so for decades.
And with their mass-produced brethren available at a steal, one might wonder if bespoke commissions are worth the splurge. At Wong’s bespoke tailoring house, The Prestigious, prices for a suit start from S$1,200, and goes up to S$50,000 for a top coat crafted with wool made with rare and fine Vicuna hair from the South American camelid.
Here, the 69-year-old tailoring guru gets down to the nitty gritty of a tailored wardrobe and tells us what he thinks of it all.
sXs: Hello, Mr. Wong! Could you share with us the bespoke tailoring process in detail?
TW: Each House has its own unique way to measure a customer, and it must be noted that at a very technical level, the [different] ways and methods utilised in the “simple” act of bodily measurement will necessarily impact factors and considerations when we draft a patron’s pattern.
After drafting, we would a patron’s pattern on paper and copy it onto a basted fitting fabric. For new patrons, especially for those with unique bodily features, there are several fitting stages:
SKELETON [using cheap testing fabric]: We use this to make revisions and reflect them on the patron’s paper pattern.
FORWARD: the structure of the apparel is transferred onto the selected fabric, and about 30-40% of a suit is pieced together.
FIN-BAR-FIN [Finish Bar Finish]: approximately 80-90% of the apparel is done, and fitting sessions are arranged to see how the fabric falls on a customer, given the characteristics of its weave or composition.
FINAL PRODUCT: Final sewing of suit.
While it will take about 10-12 weeks to complete a suit for new patrons, subsequent commissions can be ready within two weeks.
What difference does it make to have a commission fully completed in the atelier?
The access to our own atelier allows us to prioritise quality above all else. The method we use to piece together our apparel is not common in many pieces regionally or locally produced.
As bespoke apparels are crafted specially for an individual, a personal pattern based on an awareness of his body shape and an understanding of his preferences and lifestyle needs to be drafted. And at the Prestigious, a single tailor will see through the completion of your commission from start to finish.
Do you tailor the clothes at the atelier yourself, or do you leave it to the junior tailors?
I sit in for a majority of consultations to ensure that our patrons receive a commission that would truly meet their needs and purpose. I do work on a limited number of commissions, however, for specific requests or older patrons who have been with me with decades. However, all my patrons know that more time is required for me to complete their works. All commissions completed by myself are personally signed using non-washable ink as a mark of commitment and guarantee.
Looking for something a little different? The Prestigious really means business when it comes to bespoke. So even if your tastes run a little niche, shall we say, perhaps fancying a suit milled from pure gold threads or even diamonds processed into a pinstripe cloth?
Is there anything that differentiates The Prestigious from its competition?
As a courtesy to the other business in the industry, I would not strive to make a comparison. Instead, I will share some of our strengths and values which may or may not be shared by my peers.
The Prestigious is an intellectually-charged outfit. Our team members are all university graduates and are expected to be inquisitive – this helps drive constant improvement and perfection. In this trade, they are all aware that there are no shortcuts.
The demand to craft high quality, authentic works is of great importance to us and this is why it took us over two years to train and build up our production capabilities before re-launching The Prestigious 2.0. We could have opted to launch years ago, and outsource our work if our primary focus was on profit generation, but instead opted to prioritise craft, skill and quality above all else.
On top of commissions by customers, my team also attends weekly training sessions. Plus, our Apprentice and Tailors are freed from pursuing sales targets. At this early stage of training and development, each is judged purely on technical considerations only.
Well, all you really have to do is say the word.
We hear you got into the tailoring business as a teenager yourself.
I started at age 16 as an apprentice with a tailoring store at High Street, where my uncle used to work. At that point, I did it to survive. My sister was working in a tailoring store, and I thought maybe I should learn a skill or two to earn some money.
As a young apprentice, I was always curious as to why things were done a certain way… In fact, most tailors at that time were trained by the British, and they did not know how to impart their skills. I learnt everything I knew by observing them, and I just kept pushing myself to question these techniques… the whys and hows.
You’ve come a long way! As a master tailor, what are your thoughts on mass production and fast fashion?
It certainly is easy to comprehend the appeal of mass production and fast fashion. Style on the cheap, if you will. Positively, both have served as platforms to enhance the demand for fashion and allowed designers to rise and, in some cases, prosper.
Yet, as a craftsman, and more critically, an educator and mentor to next-generation tailors and designers, I am troubled by the prevalence of fast fashion in modern society. Ironically, fast fashion comes at a price. The pressure on the supply chain to produce more for less has come at the expense of factory workers and their families. 14 hour work days with no breaks within and a negligible income to support loved ones. Environmentally, increased consumption and decreasing life cycle of clothes add significantly to global warming and contribute to an already precarious environment.
Without honest pay for honest work, our talented youths, designers and next generation craftsmen will get shortchanged.
That’s definitely something to think about. Speaking of the next generation, you’re the Lead Lecturer of Men’s Fashion at the LASALLE College of the Arts.
I turn 70 this November; having led an exciting and commercially rewarding past, my focus now is to pass on good technical capabilities and ethical values to the next generation.
Having taught at LaSalle the last six years, and acting as a consultant to upcoming local tailors, I am heartened and energised when I spend my time with my young charges. Their passion, drive, energy and earnest desire to absorb justifies all the energy and sacrifice put into nurturing “my grandchildren”.
For me, success is no longer determined by the value of my bank account, but on the success, values and ethics of these young talents. I’m fortunate and proud to be able to mentor and nurture them.
Ah, now we can see why. How do you balance your time between teaching and managing your atelier?
As long as a student is passionate and disciplined, I will groom him or her. This semester, I am at LaSalle for full day lectures on Wednesday and Thursday. All other days, I am back at The Prestigious working on commissions and nurturing my handpicked team.
My students at LaSalle do not just see me during assigned lecture hours. In fact, half of the final year students in the menswear program have done internships with me for extended periods of time and have been exposed to skillsets beyond what LaSalle demands. Earlier in July, we even extended an invitation to three long-term interns to join my Apprentice and Tailors to Thailand for the biennial Regional Tailors’ Congress.
It sure sounds like you’ve got plenty on your plate.
My wife complains that I work too hard. But she also knows that I am passionate about what I do and even if I were to take a break, I’d be itching to get back to tailoring within two weeks.
At any age whatsoever, it is good to remain active in any passion you love.