Bespoke Clothiers Ascot Chang Makes Shirts That are Tailored to Your Life
In 1953, Ascot Chang Chi Bing set up his first shirt shop along Kimberley Road. Propelled by his superior needle skills and attentive approach to clients, the venture flourished. Now, the family-run business has stores in New York, Beverly Hills, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and, of course, locations in Manila, including spots in Rustan’s Makati and Rustan’s Shangri-La Plaza Mall.
Today, Tony Chang, Ascot’s son, is the managing director of the premier bespoke clothier in Asia. “The concept of the perfect fit changes with the times,” says Tony. Ascot Chang was built on the Shanghainese shirt-making tradition, which itself is grounded in British principles: clean seams with a high stitch count, stiff collars, and a slightly looser cut.
“Since Shanghai was a melting pot of so many western cultures in the 1930s, Shanghai tailors quickly learned to adapt these principles to accommodate different tastes and trends,” he says.
The fuller American fit prevailed for a while before giving way to the more tapered Italian fit of today. Because of this movement, Ascot Chang’s most popular style in Asia (50% of their shirt orders) are “trim through the body and have moderately high armholes and semi-spread collars.” Tony adds, “We are also very big proponents of what we like to call the medium fit. The fit is flattering, trim, and comfortable. You can sit down and have a big meal without pulling around the shirt buttons. And when you stand, there won’t be extra fabric spilling over your pant waist.”
“The shirt must drape cleanly from the neck down to the chest without excess bunching or pulling of fabric.”
Whatever the fit, nattiness is the goal. “The shirt must drape cleanly from the neck down to the chest without excess bunching or pulling of fabric,” he describes. Around 25 measurements, including neck and chest circumferences, shoulder width, and sleeve lengths, are taken to produce a streamlined appearance free of bunches, wriggles, and pulls.
Ascot Chang opened his first store in 34 Kimberley Road in Hong Kong in 1953.
“The key to perfect fit is balance,” he says. “It’s all about emphasizing the wearer’s strengths and balancing their physique.” As nobody is truly symmetrical, idiosyncrasies of the body such as, say, a higher right shoulder or a longer left arm, are given special attention. Posture affects fit. In fact, when clients, who have become gym rats, develop a ramrod stance, “the clothing we made for them before no longer fits properly.” New posture means new shirts.
Apart from the best fit, a bespoke shirt by Ascot Chang boasts of superior quality and high craftsmanship. You have access to a vast shirting fabric library of over 6,000 samples. This includes the world’s finest fabrics from renowned mills such as Thomas Mason, David and John Anderson, Loro Piana, Alumo, and Monti. (Discerning clients are “so familiar with these qualities of cloth that they request them by name.”) Trimmings are equally beautiful. There are handpicked Australian mother-of-pearl buttons and the more flexible and durable core-spun thread, among others.
“Besides the materials, each of our bespoke shirts is made with age-old tailoring techniques that have been passed down from my father’stime,” stresses Tony. “Shirting materials are preshrunk to ensure minimal shrinkage over time. Patterned shirts are cut individually to ensure that stripes and checks align at the front button placket, along the sleeve placket, and across the shoulder, resulting in visually seamless transitions between the different garment pieces. Shirts are then sewn together using single-needle French seams and 22 stitches per inch, which not only add durability to the seams but also appear aesthetically clean.”
Tony Chang, managing director of Ascot Chang, believes that the perfect fit changes with the times.
Tony emphasizes tradition because he believes that the old ways of construction results in the finest shirts. But while Ascot Chang avoids fiddling with their decades-old operation, they welcome innovations in fabric and trimmings. “David and John Anderson recently introduced a three-ply 330s yarn count fabric that is the best in the world. There are also fusible interlinings that maintain a clean appearance, shrink less, and appear more natural,” he offers.
Modern trends are adopted, too. Because clients of Ascot Chang know their stuff—they are, as Tony puts it, “some of the most dashing gentlemen in the world, and many of them are very in touch with the newest styles”—the narrow collars seen on Dior Homme and Prada are now included in their selection of collar styles.
“Ultimately, we will always follow what the customer wants,” the managing director avers. That is the way bespoke is played. As long as the style is within the context of a shirt, anything is fair game. Through the years, the outfitter has seen very unusual requests: A musician asked for special buttonhole sewn in his shirttail, where his microphone line could slip through during performances. A conductor wanted the length of his sleeves to be perfect when both his arms were raised over his head.
“We also created a shirt with what we thought was the correct sleeve lengths. When the customer came in for his fitting, he said that they were much too short,” Tony recalls. “It turned out that he wanted the sleeves to be the correct length when he had his arms extended on the desk during board meetings! Knowing this, we of course replaced the sleeves for him.”
Tony, himself, specifies a unique feature in his shirts (a medium-fit piece with a semi-spread collar and single cuffs). “I order a hidden pocket sewn underneath the armhole on the shirt,” You can’t see it when I have my arms down. I put my iPhone or a pair of glasses there when I don’t want to carry them.”
Makati Shangri-La Hotel, Rustan’s Makati, Rustan’s Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Rustan’s Cebu
This story was originally published in the June 2013 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.