Local tailoring is no longer purely the domain of shopping centres from bygone eras and the tourist-traps that purport to be "personal tailors to Bill Clinton". The new collective of men's tailors are a testament to the wealth of young creative talent in Singapore as well as reflecting the desire of a new generation for stylish personalised suiting options.
First up in this brand new installment is Hertslet & Co. that does things a little differently. Starting off life in a small hut at Scape three years ago, walking up to their new space on Joo Chiat Road gives you the sense that you're visiting an old friend rather than a business. And with wooden buttons, floral, and even animal prints just as common a sight as the traditional materials, a rather eccentric friend at that.
I sat down with Ramon Hertslet, the man behind the name, to find out just why he considers his business to be cut from a different cloth.
So Ramon, how did it all begin?
I started Hertslet & Co. because there were a lot of things about the Singapore tailoring industry that I didn't like. It's a very tight-knit industry and tailoring is such a beautiful craft that should be accessible to the everyman, and not something that is kept indoors or exclusive. From our choice of location to how we choose to brand ourselves, we're pretty unique and we're a lot more quirkier and different than traditional businesses. We might not be on Orchard Road but we are slowly and steadily grooming a group of clients that really trust us and our products, and for me that's most important.
Let's get onto the subject of the physical product then. What kind of materials do you tend to use in your pieces?
I don't like to talk about brands when it comes to fabric and I would rather take each fabric at its own merits rather than sell them on their name, which some tailors tend to do. When it comes to a fabric, it is important to me that it's made out of 100% natural materials. Most of the time when a layman goes to get his first suit commissioned, what he thinks is 100% cotton is actually a blend. A blend is bad because even if it might have the look of cotton, it won't be breathable. When synthetic materials blend with natural fibre, you lose the breathability. So these guys are going out into the world, sweating like hell, and then looking at people like me who wear suits all the time thinking we're crazy.
I won't lie, when I saw you out on the street with your jacket fully done up in this heat, that thought did cross my mind. So at Hertslet and Co. all your fabrics are all natural and all breathable?
Absolutely. For Hertslet & Co. it's all about getting our clients on the right path. We may not have a fantastic array of fabrics and swatch books, but each and every fabric we choose to stock has been personally put through a burn test. Especially for Asian fabrics, it's hard to actually know whether everything the producer says about the fabric is true. And so even now the burn test is the only way to properly know the make up of a fabric. The colour of smoke when burning a completely natural fabric should be white. Anything synthetic will be black.
At Hertslet & Co. we encourage creativity, be it with colours or patterns, for the good of society.
What would you say sets you apart from more traditional tailors?
When someone first steps foot into Hertslet & Co., we start with an entirely blank canvas where every small detail can be chosen and changed. We don't sweat the small stuff. With some tailors, at each and every step there is an extra charge, unless you want a white shirt with white buttons, and that dulls creativity and adventurousness. At Hertslet & Co. we encourage creativity, be it with colours or patterns, for the good of society. We do everything freehand here, there aren't any set templates.
Do you find that some customers can be resistant to trying something a little out of their comfort zone?
Up to today, I've never met a customer whose mind I haven't been able to turn around to a particular print or design, whereas most tailors will usually find issues here. They will usually say something like "this customer is so difficult", but if you know the person and can explain to them what works and what doesn't, then they are much more likely to trust your decision. At Hertslet & Co. it's much more about looking at the client as an individual personality as opposed to a body to just put a shirt on, and we reflect this in our clothes.
So you're an image consultant as well as a tailor then?
Clothing should be a translation of the gentleman and some people forget this. What Hertslet & Co. is trying to create is not just one or two sales; once you've been to us you'll never go anywhere else and we will groom your wardrobe. My customers won't call up and ask "Ramon, I want a blue shirt", they'll ask "Ramon, what do I need next?"
It's been a few years now since you first set foot in the Singaporean suiting scene. Where do you see it heading in the future?
If you've been to Bangkok, you'll know that Bangkok is a good place for tailoring. You have everything there, a full range of tailoring options with everything in between. So as a consumer you are able to look at your budget and go for the service that complements you. That is a good scene. Every tailoring aficionado used to avoid Singapore because it was stuffy and because the products and prices were overwhelming. But things are slowly changing. Tailoring is becoming more of a thing here and I hope it gets to a stage where there's such a robust scene that it's not a question of whether you tailor your clothes, but rather, where you tailor your clothes.