Inside Out: Talking Cutting Edge Custom Tailoring with Ian Fong
In an age where menswear is becoming more bold and expressive of personal style, we steer from the traditional tailor to introduce you to Ian Fong, CEO and founder of CUFFS. The Hong Kong-based custom clothier is anything but ordinary. We spoke with Ian about his stylish brand and the creative processes that keep him on the cutting edge.
How did you get into the men's clothing business, specifically bespoke?
Funnily enough, I studied Engineering in college and then spent 6 years in the coffee industry. After that I wanted to start my own business, and often the best place to look for an idea is in the little frustrations of your everyday life. For me that nuisance was buying shirts that fit me. I have broad shoulders and if the shirt would fit there, it would be very baggy everywhere else. So I decided to try one of the many tailors that Hong Kong is famous for. Sure enough, the shirt fit better than off-the-rack, but it still wasn't perfect - I realize now that the 70-year old tailor's idea of "slim" and "stylish" weren't the same as mine! And the process was complicated - I wanted a white shirt and there were two hundred white fabrics in the swatch book. So I was inspired to create a modern tailor that combined old-world craftsmanship with contemporary design sensibilities.
What sparks your creativity and helps you stay inspired?
I find that traveling is always a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Whether it's sourcing fabulous fabrics and trimmings or checking out great retail concepts, changing your environment is definitely inspirational.
How would you describe your creative process?
A lot of the creative process comes from visiting my favorite fabric suppliers. Much like a chef will browse the local market for the freshest seasonal ingredients, discovering new finds at our suppliers often leads to that season's new designs. Of course like any designer I also keep an eye on the latest trends from the catwalks of major brands.
Can you walk me through one of your favorite projects?
We often collaborate with designers on cool projects. One of these would be our collaboration with Hong Kong design stalwarts G.O.D. We took some of their iconic Hong Kong-style prints (which they normally use in homewares and gifts) and digitally printed some cotton poplin. Our customers could then use these fabrics on their own custom shirts.
Is there any place you traveled to that has influenced your style and designs?
Japan is somewhere that has influenced our designs. One time I went to Tokyo for a holiday and decided to visit Nippori, which is their fashion district. I ended up filling a 30kg suit case with some beautiful Japanese poplin prints, which proved to be a hit with our customers. More recently we also started to work with a fantastic supplier in Osaka, who has a phenomenal selection of prints and unique Japanese weaves.
How is CUFFS different from other custom clothiers?
We are very different! We look more like a cutting edge fashion boutique than a custom tailor. We also make it easier for the customer, with step-by-step guides, curated fabric selections and seasonal reference designs.
I imagine you get many orders for conservative, traditional suits. What makes bespoke fun and creative for you?
Even in a traditional business suit, there a lot of a small details with which a customer can add their own personal touch. For example they might pair a navy suit jacket with a royal blue lining, or add a sharp red button hole on the lapel. With shirts, there is more scope for going a little more crazy - from collar linings to full-on color blocking.
What have you found most exciting on Le Souk thus far?
We love finding new fabrics. We are like kids in a candy store at Le Souk!