Nestled amid a bastion of sunkissed industrial tenements in East Geylang, Vanda Fine Clothing stands as a beacon against the old ang moh stereotypes of Singapore.
Despite the city’s status as an international financial hub, Singapore has endured many years of criticism relating to its lack of homeward creatives. Whether in fashion, fine art, or filmmaking the (uninformed) consensus seemed to be unanimous – inspired Singaporeans move, the bankers stay. This has been particularly evident in the city’s retail culture, which often confuses size with a sense of reverence and innovation.
“There used to be many more makers and craftsmen here” says Gerald Shen – proprietor and co-owner of Vanda – as he steps over his store’s threshold looking out onto many empty apartments below. “Most of the old masters are retired and aren’t passing on their trade. Their children don’t see it as a viable career path anymore.” Though he observes (matter of factly) the lukewarm interest in innovating local arts & crafts, Gerald is far from bellyaching. Along with his partner and co-founder Diana, the duo have gone on to establish one of the most recognisable accessories brands in the region’s #Menswear community. More than just an Asian brand, Vanda channels products that are uniquely Singaporean.
Vanda’s success has been well documented for many years now. Since 2011, they have had no shortage of glowing critical endorsement from customers and journalists alike on mixed media platforms. During TVG’s visit, Gerald mentioned a substantial chunk of Vanda’s clientele have never even set foot in Singapore, their appetite for the product undiminished. Instead, Vanda ties & pochettes find their way to far flung corners of the world, shipped off as ambassadors of a vibrant, wholly original brain trust.
While much of Gerald & Diana’s success may be linked to prominent iGent personalities, and the brand’s proven value proposition, it cannot be overstated that when you buy a Vanda tie it is unlike anything else you’re likely to have handled. We all know that the nuts & bolts of accessories aren’t comperable to tailoring . There are simply less operations involved in what amounts to a smaller end product. Nonetheless, this does not detract from the fact that good tiemakers have every opportunity to show off the quality of their handiwork. This is where Vanda’s neckwear and pocket squares shine. If one were feeling stoic, they would be inclined to describe a Vanda product as being made with exacting discipline.
With between four and six folds for a more voluminous drape, and some of the most lively rolled edges on the market, Vanda products possess a symmetry sadly absent from most neckties. In particular, the ties are known for their lightness. Slipstitching so delicate as to be invisible makes them ideal for the tropical weather of South East Asia, while textiles are employed that are seasonal in the literal sense of the word. In the store, Gerald produced four loose groupings of ties each geared toward different temperatures. Indian matka (with a strong and dry hand not unlike shantung) lay alongside fastidously proportioned blends of Japanese silk and wool – all with a particular climate and temperature in mind.
As the fashion mainstream continues to tap menswear’s growing market potential, it is reassuring to see brands like Vanda Fine Clothing thriving at the edges of the industry. While neither a couture nor streetwear brand of unbridled dramatics, Vanda have remained innovative within the constraints of their nominated specialty. Ties & pocketsquares, by their very nature, remain conservative expressions of men’s style, and it speaks volumes about the quality of Diana & Gerald’s work that within those margins the simple beauty of their products is so self-evident. In concert with several other independent artisans, the Vanda approach has helped to iterate an up and coming (if still fledgling) Singaporean style. In stark contrast to the towering spires of Orchard Road, it fuses international manufacturing standards with a uniquely local modesty, and that is something every Singaporean ought to be proud of.
Vanda Fine Clothing is located at Block 1014, Geylang East Avenue 3, #02-218. Made to order products from Gerald & Diana may also be purchased through their e-store.