If 2015 was the year for pleasant surprises then Singapore would feature prominently in that description. The city’s artisinal menswear community continues to subvert expectation, demonstrating solidarity in the face of a titanic fast-fashion market. Going from strength to strength, esteemed makers Vanda, Ed Et Al and Arete Goods are joined by another deserving contemporary – Dylan and Son. Having operated steadily for over five years, TVG took the opportunity on the cusp of the 2016 Lunar New Year to profile owner Dylan Chong’s titular custom clothier.
“Keep it loose but keep it tight”
Despite Singapore’s general shortage of homegrown made-to-measure, Dylan & Son remains a happy outlier. Its value, quality and individualism are all symptomatic of the city’s wider – yet continuously growing – community of craftspeople. Unconcerned with reinventing the sartorial wheel, Dylan and his team provide loyal and tightly knit clients with their dose of regular Neapolitan tailoring. And for good measure, it is adjusted – through a process of hard won experience – for Singapore’s notoriously tropical climate. The Dylan & Son team have succeeded in crafting clothing that is largely familiar. Theirs are garments that ring classical aesthetic bells without sacrificing an inch of comfort. “Comfort is one thing that you cannot fake. I detest tight fitting clothes with a passion and,frankly, tight clothing in hot temperatures is suicidal”, says Dylan. “To me there is something very romantic about having a little excessive fabric draped upon the body.”
While the tailoring appears to derive from the Neapolitan tradition, you’ll be hard pressed to find many clothiers aping that aesthetic that also prioritize comfort. Notwithstanding shallow similarities with its competitors, the house style makes for more characterful garments. To illustrate this, Dylan showed me jackets with (relatively) small degrees of waist suppression and generously wide sleeves. The effect is a jacket which retains its unmistakable Neapolitan flair whilst looking a little less trendy. And a little less trendiness goes a long way to improving a garment’s longevity.
The company’s house style is juxtaposed with its seasonal fabric selection. Dylan and his team make an impassioned case for less widely available suiting cloths. It’s well earned advice, given that the company’s early days were dominated by textiles that were rougher and much more synthetic. Nowadays, both linen and solaro figure heavily in the company’s aesthetic while cotton is provided courtesy of Andreazza & Castelli. For Singaporean clients who must wear suiting with some frequency, the finer properties of fabric become their first priority. According to Dylan, “informed cloth selection becomes extremely critical. It’s crucial to find a good balance”. In light of the city’s year round heat, a Dylan & Son suit is almost always unlined and cut in a fabric weight between 8 and 9 ounces.
In The Neighbourhood
Armed only with start-up funds that he had saved over a three year stint with Singapore Airlines, Dylan revamped his father Peter’s business – then under the moniker ‘Oriental Tailors’ – in 2010. “The first space was extremely small as the rental was insanely high. I was paying close to 2000 dollars per month for a space no more than 90 square feet” says Dylan. A far cry from the era of all-pervading social media, Dylan & Son relied in the early years on visibility and foot traffic to sustain their business. The company has since gone onto establish a comprehensive digital presence, with spaces on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr. Additionally, their Blogspot continues to host new content largely written by Dylan wherein he lengthily details a number of the company’s products and cut-and-sew processes.
By 2013, Dylan & Son had consolidated a substantial enough client base to shift its operation to a 1100 square feet space. The move entailed higher leasing rates and reduced physical visibility but Dylan remains satisfied with that choice. “We already have a healthy group of regular customers. Fortunately, we have been able to rely on their word-of-mouth recommendations.” Located in the historic Telok Ayer neighbourhood, Dylan & Son is now on its second major commercial lease. The company’s staying power has lessened the risk of moving away from a ground floor space, especially in a retail leasing environment as cutthroat as Singapore.
The Singular Vision of Dylan & Son
Playing out against the backdrop of the company’s commercial success is an intriguing human element. It is becoming apparent that many of Singapore’s young business owners no longer measure success through the prism of gross profit, and Dylan Chong is no exception. In a city as famed for voracious capitalism as it is capital investment his stoicism is quietly astounding. “I strongly believe that if you set out to establish a business that is ethical and create products that are genuine, the rest will sort itself out” asserts Dylan. Increasingly, young startups are finding it difficult to negotiate the delicate balance between financial gain and artistic integrity. And yet, Dylan and his team remain optimistic. His father continues to serve as the central tailor in the company. And while Peter continues to cut for and supervise the workshop producing his son’s garments, Dylan arrived in the menswear industry via a much more circuitous route. He is surprisingly blunt about early life before the business took off. “Speaking generally, my time studying aeronautical engineering was of little to no impact on what I do now”. Further training at Singapore’s La Salle College of Arts endowed him with the necessary managerial skills to enter the clothing industry but “because the school focused mainly on womenswear, it was of limited help”.
The reality is that much of Dylan & Son’s success has been derived from tireless iteration. Dylan, his father and their team continuously incorporate new ideas on the job, adding better mills and products to their lineup as regularly as possible. The company is one of select few (accurately dubbed) tailors in the Asia-Pacific to forge a relationship with elusive Biella mill Drago’s. Meanwhile, Dylan has cultivated ties with other industry insiders, recently securing the supply of Vanda & Viola Milano accessories – an association which is bound to influence the #menswear savvy crowd.
Dylan & Son remains a small enterprise, but its teething days are largely over. The company enjoys a substantial following within Singapore and is credited – much like P Johnson did for Australians – with revitalizing much of the local community’s interest in classic menswear. Its products remain familiar whilst placing a refreshing emphasis on comfort, and are subtly influenced by Singapore’s idiosyncratic colonial roots. While Nehru jackets and linen overshirts are confidently offered, Dylan is emphatic that these pass his exacting standards with regard to authenticity. “You won’t find me trying to ‘age’ my business with vintage furniture and rustic pretenses. Given the commercial challenges we face in Singapore, it’s extremely hard to manufacture continuity”. As far as the end product is concerned? Fortunately, that’s achieved quite a successful continuity.
Dylan & Son. Sartorial are located at 147A Telok Ayer Street, Singapore.
Their website will be live shortly. In the meantime, visit dylanandson.blogspot.com.au for more information.