Established in Hong Kong in 1953, Ascot Chang is one of the most respected names in bespoke clothing. The son and grandson of Mr. Chang, Tony and Justin Chang, spoke to Giancarla Espinosa Aritao the last time they were in Manila to talk about exquisite menswear.
Giancarla Espinosa Aritao: What was it like to grow up in the environment of Ascot Chang?
Tony Chang: At the early stage, there was no pressure at all that I would be in the business so I just enjoyed my life, evolving around my father’s business—running around his store, being around all these fabrics, and seeing all the customers. After my graduation in college, my father called me back, and I started to learn the business. My passion and love for the business gradually grew after I worked for my father. Before that, I was just living around what my father had created.
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Justin Chang: How I came in was more organic. After graduating, I did a few internships in New York. At the same time, I was working at a New York store on the weekends. I realized that I liked working at the store more than my weekly job. I started getting into menswear. I came at a good time when you can find a lot of information online on classic menswear. The information online really helped ignite my passion.
GEA: How does this increased flow of information influence design?
JC: An interesting thing that we’ve been seeing over the past five to 10 years is that previously, there was a distinct divide between English-style suits and shirts versus Italian-style suits and shirts. Even within Italy, there was a difference between northern and southern Italy.
Normally, we would get a lot of clients who would say they want an English- or Italian-style shirt. For instance, an English-style shirt traditionally (has) stiffer collars, baggier shirts, and tends to have cleaners. Italians tend to like softer collars, softer cuffs, and a more slim fit. Americans like button-down collars, Brooks Brothers style, with a box pleat at the back.
With all the information available online, people start putting all these things together so that you get an American who wants that buttoned collar but with a very slim body, or you get an Italian-style collar but they want it with a stiffer lining. Information has really brought those things together and created a melting pot.
GEA: Is it safe to say that the old categories of style no longer exist?
TC: The distinction is getting less and less. I would say that we are going to a generation of creativity. The younger generation know what they want. That’s what custom made is. We cater to a style that they want and have been looking for. We give room for customers to create their own thing.
GEA: Would you ever refuse a customer’s request?
TC: Sometimes we experience that the customers want something, but we think differently. It could be a disaster, but it turns out very nicely.
JC: We end up learning from a customer.
TC: This is why we call it creativity. Some customers imagine something that maybe we don’t have the same vision for. We would not impose anything, but we can suggest.
JC: We had a customer who wanted a shirt with a mandarin collar that was one piece and did not fold down. It was open. At first, we thought it was weird—it’s not even a shirt—but when we saw it, it turned out to have a nice design.
TC: For custom made, we really open a world for customers to create something special for themselves.
GEA: What is the current state of the bespoke industry?
TC: In the past 10 years, a lot of the menswear brands who used to only be ready-to-wear now offer made-to-measure clothing. That means that the market is growing. In a way, men are more particular. Actually, dressing (is) a process of education. We try different things and then we learn from it.
GEA: What caused this shift, in your opinion?
TC: My first view is that the older generation experienced custom made at an early age, and we saw the market go to ready-to-wear. The second view is that for the younger generation, they learn a lot about the different styles and the old-world craftsmanship. They try to find someone who can do that for them. They are also very conscious of how they dress.
GEA: Where does Ascot Chang fit in the new landscape of menswear?
JC: I think we like to see ourselves as innovators or, at least, listeners. We always try to keep up to date with the trends, no matter whether it is fit or fabric or silhouette. If we only stick with one type of tailoring, we only stick with one kind of customer.
GEA: How should clients approach bespoke clothing?
JC: To get the most out of a company like ours, I think it is best to come in with a bit of an idea of what you want. If they do not know what you want, then that is where there is room for disappointment down the road. It is important to be able to communicate what you want to the tailor.
This story originally appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 12 No 4 2013.