This Singapore couple runs one of fewer than 10 tie ateliers in the world
Gerald Shen and Diana Chan, who founded Vanda Fine Clothing in 2011, defied convention to become one of the youngest makers of ties, pocket squares and scarves in Singapore.
As a university student, Gerald Shen was finicky about his sartorial choices. When he wanted to make pocket squares, he asked then-girlfriend Diana Chan, a crafts aficionado, to sew one with some of the vintage fabrics they had bought from Japan.
The final product turned out so well that they made more of the same from the remaining fabric and sold them online. The response was so encouraging that they opened Vanda Fine Clothing in 2011, a few months after Shen’s graduation.
Shen and Chan, now married, make classically-inspired ties, pocket squares and scarves with another seamstress on their team. Each product is crafted by hand in their Singapore workshop and includes Asian-inspired designs such as the Chinese zodiac and Singapore’s discontinued floral coin series. The couple, who are in their early 30s, are entirely self-taught.
Shen said, “People don’t associate artisans with two young graduates like Diana and myself. About half the visitors that come to our workshop are very surprised to find that 100 per cent of the work is done on our premises.”
“When we started the business in 2011, Singapore was known as a sartorial wasteland to many menswear aficionados. We wanted to flip the entire notion and show that Singaporeans can actually put out something good in terms of menswear,” said Chan.
According to Shen, a good tie should not only be “supple and lively” but also comfortable to wear in Singapore’s hot and humid climate.
At Vanda, the ties, which include four-fold and unlined six-fold versions, are cut on the bias at a precise 45-degree angle such that they drape naturally with fluidity. Instead of a flat crease, the edges are meticulously hand-rolled and stitched to ensure fullness. “That eventually results in a 3D plump finish that feels very tactile when you touch it,” Chan explained.
The duo design and make about 100 ties each month. They are obsessive about the details to the point of re-doing something over and over until they feel they’ve achieved the desired result. But they stop short of calling themselves “artisans”.
“I think it’s a title that somebody bestows upon you. We’re just regular craftspeople doing things to the best of our abilities,” Shen said humbly.
Customers, who are mostly professionals with a discerning taste for old-world classics and styles, are appreciative of the couple’s thoughtful service, which takes into account the wearer’s body and facial features in the creation of the perfect tie with the right-sized knot.
Despite a waiting list for Vanda’s bespoke ties, Shen and Chan end their day at 5pm every day so that they can spend time on other recreational pursuits. Shen reflected, “When we started the business, we were not even taking a day off. After a couple of months, we decided to take one day off and we realised how important that was for our mental health.
“We like what we do, we’re happy with the work-life balance that we have. We are basically very simple folks with very simple pleasures in life.”
Even though their business is gaining popularity, Shen feels that their craft is not highly scalable as they’d like to retain full control of what they do.
“Luxury really is a matter of time. That’s one thing that we try and give every single client. Every tie is made with individual attention to care, whether in terms of cutting or sewing or inspection, quality control – that is what truly makes a luxury product.
“We prefer to grow organically as we have done in the past and just reach more people globally that we have not been able to. That would already make us happy.”
“When we started the business in 2011, Singapore was known as a sartorial wasteland to many menswear aficionados. We wanted to flip the entire notion and show that Singaporeans can actually put out something good in terms of menswear.” – Diana Chan
Adapted from the series Remarkable Living (Season 3). Watch full episodes on CNA, every Sunday at 8.30pm.