Tailor-made in Malaysia

07 March 2018

With the longevity of family-run businesses and the rise of a new generation of young tailors, tailoring is most definitely not a dying trade in Malaysia.

At the helm of Lord’s Tailor, established in 1974, is master tailor Robert Loh. He has spent his lifetime in the pursuit of perfection in stylish suits, combining traditional techniques with cultivated accents of confidence, elegance, and sleek sophistication.

Today, Lord’s Tailor is one of Malaysia’s foremost family-driven menswear business, with 43 years of experience dressing the crème de la crème of the country’s personalities and professionals – namely Dato’ Siti Nurhaliza, Datuk Lee Chong Wei, Prof. Datuk Jimmy Choo, who is perhaps the brand’s most passionate ambassador, and more.

While the city’s other established, existing older tailors – such as Ah Loke Tailor at Jalan Yap Ah Shak and Kwong Fook Wing on Jalan Sultan, which has been in operations for over a century – confront the very real possibility of closing down for good in the twilight of their careers, Robert Loh has named his oldest and only son, Kenny Loh, as his successor.

“I was not much of a scholar,” says Kenny, currently the creative director at Lord’s Tailor. “I grew up in the store, in a tailoring environment. This is something that comes naturally to me, I suppose it’s in the blood.”

In the years since Kenny came onboard as creative director, Lord’s Tailor has celebrated the opening of its flagship stores in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur and The Gardens Mall, with another to follow at Four Seasons Place; the boutiques focus on made-to-measure as well as ready-to-wear menswear.

In the modern age of mass production, the beauty of something made by hand is infinite, but the complex craft of custom tailoring remains mysterious to a society that relies on assembly lines, machinery and mills in far-flung countries to make our clothing.

According to Robert: “Tailoring is a dying trade. Tailoring requires endurance, time, and a lot of patience. The younger ones prefer taking on easier jobs – hence, we could and should open tailoring training schools to introduce the craft to them, to create more opportunities for them.”

After being in business for decades, he is still very much involved in day-to-day operations and still services a loyal clientele; Kenny mentions that some customers, such as Tan Sri Dato' Seri Dr. Jeffrey Cheah, personally request his father’s attention.

Robert is perhaps best known for having suited the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 1975, when the latter was in Malaysia for his match with Joe Bugner. “It was the year after we established the shop. He’s quite a gentleman, and also quiet; quite different from when he was in the rings. He liked black suits – only black,” Robert recalls. 

Subang Jaya-born designer-tailor Shahrin Bahar is the creative director – and founder – of his eponymous label, S BAHAR

Tailoring the world over might be in trouble, but one of apparel’s most solid commodities remains: the suit. While appetite for the traditional suit – the uniform of bankers, lawyers, and corporates – is on the wane, there is a market for formal wear, but not in the strictest sense, according to Subang Jaya-born designer-tailor Shahrin Bahar. He is the creative director – and founder – of his eponymous label, S BAHAR.

“At S BAHAR, we have this slogan of alternative tailoring; we clash contemporary staples with classics,” he says. “Tailoring, I think, is not dying, because fashion is so free. There’s always tailoring elements to clothes, whether it’s the shirt or the trousers, or whether it’s just a styling exercise.” Shahrin points to a mannequin in his atelier in Bangsar; it is dressed in a tuxedo with a mandarin collar shirt, paired with mid-rise jeans.

At S BAHAR, the tailor clashes contemporary staples with classics. 

“That’s unorthodox, I suppose, for some tailors; sometimes I style New Balance sneakers [with] suits. The world of tailoring to me isn’t so formal; it’s the appreciation of something that fits you, something you can style with your everyday garments,” he says.

Upon graduating from the London College of Fashion, Shahrin went on to work with DKNY Jeans and Puma – just to name two. He was a part of Nike's team in producing the World Cup 2014 as well as the Euro 2016 jerseys; he also had a hand in designing kits for Harimau Malaya.

“After ten years, it was just a little romantic thing I had in my head; that I had to come back to my first love – suits,” he says of his return to Malaysia to start his own label. “While I am a fan of the streetwear scene, I don’t have fashion ambitions like some people do – I find that a lot of things are too contemporary, too ephemeral for me.

The details that go into the making of a Shahrin Bahar suit

“Tailoring has that element that I like: the principles are distinct, and a little stubborn. It’s the doing of the details that are sometimes only visible to your own eyes. There are these nuances of practicality, of timelessness.”

From the first sketch to fitting and measurement sessions, you’ll have to wait several weeks for an S BAHAR suit – but it’ll well be worth the wait. Shahrin’s suits are a display of the artistry of the form; they are characterised by beautifully cut coats in light fabric, their shoulders just a little softer than usual, in the style of Neapolitan tailoring that Shahrin pursues.

Sketches by Shahrin Bahar

“Suits, they’re very momentous; he’s probably planning a business pitch, or he’s getting married, and as much effort as he’s poured into his pitch or as much planning that’s gone into the wedding, you have to match that into the making of the suit – so it’s only fair for him, that you’ve given it your best and he’ll wear your suit to portray his best person,” Shahrin says.

“The only way I could see myself designing something that elicit and evoke emotional responses… is through tailoring,” he continues. “I want to design something that gives the wearer the highest high. Some people get married in suits, some people die in it.”

Lord's Tailor F18 & F19 Bangsar Shopping Centre, Jalan Maarof, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. 
Shahrin Bahar A-3-2 Centrio Pantai Hillpark, Jalan Pantai Murni, Kuala Lumpur. Visits by appointment only. Email info@sbahar.com.

By Ng Su Ann
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi



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