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Interview with Diana Chan and Gerald Shen from Vanda Fine Clothing

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August 28, 2013 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?

D&G: We are both 27 years old and under our label Vanda Fine Clothing, we sew neckties, pocket squares and soon, shirts for a living.

VR: Your educational background?

Gerald: Double Degree in Economics and Business Management (Finance).

Diana: Degree in Business (Marketing).

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What hobbies or passions do you have have besides sewing and apparel?

Gerald: Like every good Singaporean, I enjoy eating tremendously, and I’m often cooking/baking when I’m not making clothes.

Diana: I enjoy sewing clothing for myself, practicing yoga, and learning new languages (I am now learning Japanese).

VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your style enthusiasm)?

…and your parents and siblings’ reactions back when you were younger?

Gerald: I’ve always been interested in clothes, so I don’t think it came as a terrible shock to anyone that I got deeply interested in classic menswear. My father is a businessman as well, so he’s been very supportive of me following my dreams to start Vanda Fine Clothing.

Diana: My family has always been very supportive of me pursuing my interests, and building Vanda Fine Clothing was no different — after all, they get to have new clothing articles every now and then!

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VR: How did you first become interested in clothing, and when did you turn your eyes towards classic goods? Why classics instead of fashion?

Gerald: I’ve always had a tendency to get deeply obsessed with things I was interested in. My first interest in clothing was actually in streetwear, and in particular Japanese raw denim. When I enrolled in business school, I started to pay more attention to classic menswear, and it didn’t take long for me to be sucked in to the magical world of menswear.

Diana: My interest lies in the ability to use various materials to create items (not confined to clothing) that I would be happy to own. Since I was schooled in a convent school, my alma mater’s motto, “Simple in Virtue, Steadfast in Duty,” has been imbued into me. My parents are also simple folks, and reinforced that one does not need to be extravagant to lead a happy life. So I guess this has translated into the clothes that I wear and my take on life.

Interview_with_Diana_Chan_and_Gerald_Shen_from_Vanda_Fine_Clothing_at_Keikari_dot_com03Unlined six-fold construction

VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of apparel and tailoring — from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?

Diana: Since my younger days I have enjoyed taking apart clothes my mom would buy for me, and figuring out how clothes were put together. When Gerald asked me to make a pocket square for him about 5 years ago, I examined his old squares and through trial and error figured out how to hand-roll an edge. The first examples don’t look pretty, but I guess that says we’ve come quite a long way! When we started getting a backlog of pocket square orders from Styleforum, I was unable to handle all the sewing myself doing this and my full time job, so Gerald was given an ultimatum of either giving up the business or learning to sew — he chose the latter and hasn’t looked back since.

Gerald: A year after we started selling pocket squares, as a sort of challenge to ourselves, I wanted to see if we could make a tie. Very little information was available anywhere about tiemaking, so we essentially had to take apart many ties (in the process learning about dirty tricks of the trade) and reverse engineer the make. After literally dozens of failed experiments we finally made a tie I was happy enough to wear — and sell. In 2011, we started taking formal shirtmaking lessons under Mr Thomas Wong, a true artisan who is widely regarded as one of the best tailors in Singapore. His intense curiosity and drive to constantly improve his knowledge and skills despite his age (early 60s) are a constant source of inspiration to the both of us. Having him as a sifu (master) and mentor is one of the luckiest things that has happened to us.

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VR: How would you describe your own dress? Have you any particular style or cut philosophy?

Gerald: I think my dress style is actually quite conservative with an occasional touch of fun, and that is reflected in the style of our range of conservative neckties and somewhat playful pocket squares. I enjoy simplicity, and prefer experimenting with texture more than crazy colour combinations. I prefer a soft and natural feel to clothing as it helps one look at ease with his clothes, and again, that’s reflected in our style of very lightly constructed neckties.

Diana: Colours lift my spirit, so I tend to wear many colours. These days, I dress simply in solids with the occasional headscarf just to add a pop of colour. Clothes with breathing room are also much preferred over snug clothing.

Interview_with_Diana_Chan_and_Gerald_Shen_from_Vanda_Fine_Clothing_at_Keikari_dot_com05Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ orchid crest ties, the VFC signature model

VR: Apart from Vanda’s products, which RTW makers or tailors do you favour today?

G: Most of my clothing is made either by myself or custom made for me, so I haven’t paid attention to RTW clothing. For shoes, Vass is my preferred shoemaker as I enjoy their quality and simple styling, and I think they offer some of the greatest value shoes around. Nomos watches also appeal greatly to me as they have quite a similar philosophy of in-house production, direct distribution, elegant styling, and most importantly a good, honest product.

Diana: I prefer modest cut clothing, so the wrap dresses from Diane von Fürstenberg are always an inspiration for my dressmaking projects.

Interview_with_Diana_Chan_and_Gerald_Shen_from_Vanda_Fine_Clothing_at_Keikari_dot_com06Vintage kimono silk handkerchiefs

VR: Please tell us how Vanda was born and what goals you set in the beginning. How have you been received so far?

Diana: Before we started Vanda Fine Clothing we had been selling handrolled kimono silk pocket squares on Styleforum. That venture was born out of Gerald’s desire to have some interestingly designed pocket squares that were well-made and honestly priced. However, the process of making and selling the pocket squares made us realize how much we enjoyed sitting down and focusing on crafting beautiful things with our hands, and that is why we decided to go into the business full time. So I guess you could say Vanda Fine Clothing was born out of a love for the craft. Our ultimate goal has always been rather simple – to craft our products the best that they can be, and to have our customers enjoy our products as much as we enjoy crafting them. To that end I think we have been rather successful. It always brings a smile to our faces when we get a note, or better yet, a handwritten letter air-mailed from an appreciative customer.

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VR: How have you two shared the business responsibilities?

Diana: We always ensure that we’re equally well versed with sewing, so the both of us can and do make everything we sell – shirts, ties, pocket squares, from start to finish. On a day to day basis though, while we’re both generally sewing orders, Gerald ends up doing more cutting work, and as the more OCD one, I tend to deal with the important administrative work such as custom orders, keeping track of inventory, etc.

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VR: There are hundreds of men’s accessory stores online  — why should my readers try you?

VFC: There are so few independent manufacturers these days, which means that even when you buy neckwear from different brands, chances are they were mass-produced in the same factories. Conversely, there is only one Vanda Fine Clothing, where everything is made from scratch in-house. Every single product passes through our hands and eyes. As such, we believe we offer a product that is simply quite unique in both construction and styling. Finally, because we prefer to deal directly with our customers, we have eliminated the middleman markup that inflates prices. We have been often told by our clients that our products represent tremendous value for money, and simply put, we agree.

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VR: What’s your definition of style?

Gerald: I think a man is stylish if he carries himself with confidence, dresses appropriately for the occasion and has a certain ease about things. Having a nice pocket square puff or dimple on your tie knot is great, but checking every three minutes in every reflective surface really shows a lack of confidence that puts me off.

Diana: A stylish person is always comfortable in his or her own clothes and skin. Clothes that do not make you feel good, cannot possibly make you look good.

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VR: Over the years you must have learned quite a bit about neckties. Is there something you wish more men would know? This is a great opportunity to make a lasting influence on my younger readers. Most of us aren’t blessed with rakish relatives, which makes learning about style a challenge later in life and yet another trait men are supposed to master. All tips and thoughts are valuable.

VFC: While there are many excellent online sources of information on style and clothing, we think it is important to approach the subject in a less academic way than we’ve seen many do these days. When the opportunity presents itself to allow us to learn from someone more well-versed than us in any subject, listen with an open mind and you’ll find yourself learning far more than what strangers on the Internet can teach you. Focus less on magical numbers (3.5” lapels, 2” cuffs, etc.) and more on developing a sense of proportion, and a feel for what suits you.

Respect the rules but don’t take them too seriously, and finally, to quote a very stylish good friend, “wear without care.”

http://vandafineclothing.com/

Pictures: © Vanda Fine Clothing


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"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
~ Beau Brummell