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!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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 (barimavox.blogspot.com)