From humble beginnings of selling hand-rolled pocket squares made on his bedroom floor on online style forums, Gerald Shen’s Vanda Fine Clothing has since ballooned to a four-man operation at a Paya Lebar studio. With his keen (and a tad obsessive) interest in classic menswear and eye for quality design, the ever-expanding range now includes handsewn neckties and self-tie bow ties.
In this edition of Eye Candy, we caught up with Gerald as he shares his vision for the brand, his favourite articles of clothing, and tells us about his artistic streak.
How and when did you start getting interested in menswear?
My interest in clothing began around 12 years ago, during my days in national service. I was initially interested in raw denim, but started getting into tailored mens clothing when I started school at Singapore Management University. If you get to the core of it, the principles of streetwear and tailored clothing are actually quite similar – it always boils down to fit and quality.
How did Vanda Fine Clothing get started? Do you have a background in fashion or with textiles?
I have a double degree in economics and business management, but I had no formal training in fashion. In 2009, I was looking for unique pocket squares that were well-priced and of good quality, but couldn’t find anything suitable in the market. So I gave my then-girlfriend (now wife) Diana one of my old pocket squares and some fabric and asked her to take a shot at it as she’s always had a knack for sewing.
When we bought fabric, the excess pocket squares we sewed were sold via a USA-based clothing online forum, and it took off from there. Since both Diana and I enjoyed the process of sewing and running the business, we decided to delve into it full time and started Vanda Fine Clothing in late 2011. We’re very proud of the quality of our products that we believe can hold their own even against the best brands worldwide.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Dealing with difficult customers is probably the hardest part of my job. We always try to go the extra mile to serve our customers, but dealing with rude customers with unrealistic expectations of a completely handmade product crafted by a team of four can sometimes drive me up the wall. We’ve had to refuse business from a few customers because of this reason – sometimes it’s just not worth it.
What do you think about the way the majority of Singaporean men are dressed?
Ten years ago, when I started getting interested in clothing, I think Singaporean men were much more poorly dressed than they are today. Very fortunately for the classic menswear business, tailored clothing has been in the spotlight in recent years, and Singaporean men have been exposed to better quality information about how to dress. I think we’ve seen local gents become less obsessed with brands and more with quality, and that’s a great start.
Is there a basic tie that every guy should have?
I always recommend investing in a good quality plain navy silk tie – it goes with just about anything. People tend to spend less on the simple, basic designs, but I think the basics are the ones you end up wearing the most, and people can always tell great quality when they see it.
Do you have a personal favourite tie and pocket square?
While we were on a buying trip in Japan four years ago, we found a very unique roll of striped seersucker in navy and blue and made them into ties. There was only enough for 18 ties, and it sold out almost immediately. I kept one for myself and it’s my absolute favourite. I only managed to find the weaver of the fabric a few months back, and we have placed an order for more of this fabric that should be arriving in June this year.
My favourite pocket square is made from a vintage kimono silk, and we call it The Phoenix. The colours and texture of the square complement just about any tie and coat combination I wear. The fabric was sourced from Kyoto and was really quite expensive, and is only offered as a reward through our loyalty points program, so it is truly a pocket square that money alone can’t buy.
What do you do on your off days when you’re not sewing?
You’ll probably find me in my kitchen baking sourdough bread or cooking for friends. I’ve very recently also started pottery classes, because I’ve been quite interested in ceramics in the past few years and figured I’d spend some time learning how to make functional ceramics for my own kitchen.
What’s casual wear for you? Surely you don’t wear a shirt and tie everyday?
A well-fitted oxford shirt with sleeves rolled up and denim always works for me. I love selvedge denim because of how it evolves over time with use and abuse. Natural materials like that evolve – linen, brass, vegetable tanned leather, have always interested me more than synthetics that are too perfect and degrade with use.
So what’s next in store for Vanda Fine Clothing? After ties and pocket squares?
We started sewing bow ties last year, and don’t plan on increasing the range of products any further. Specialising in a few products gives us the scale to offer a huge variety of fabrics and the ability to customise our ties in size to suit just about any body size or shape. We plan to work more on original designs for neckties and pocket squares, as the response to our ‘Simply Shiok’ food pocket squares and Zodiac series pocket squares has been promising.
Shop Gerald’s intricate pocket squares, ties, and bowties at Vanda Fine Clothing, 140 Paya Lebar Road, #07-14, AZ @ Paya Lebar, Singapore 409015, p. +65 6384 6160.