While the grandeur of Raffles Hotel might not necessarily be the place you’d expect to find one of the city’s finest tailors, it holds a hidden gem of men’s fashion that’s well worth a visit. CYC The Custom Shop, known simply as CYC to its loyal clientele, carries a history as rich in tradition as the majestic hotel that hosts its downtown boutique. Founded in 1935, the CYC Shanghai Shirt Co., as it was known back then, was the first company in Singapore to offer custom made shirts.
At the time, fashion dictated that Gentlemen should sport the best fused collars available. Made by running a hot iron multiple times over a cell-starched collar, this painstaking process was perfected by Chiang Yick Ching, the original patriarch of CYC. This dedication to meticulous perfection established CYC as the manufacturer of fused collars, and Chiang Yick Ching’s legacy carries on today, not just in the name CYC, but also through the quality and precision of the work completed by the modern day CYC craftsman.
The CYC backstory has not all been plain sailing and success. By 1960, CYC had expanded its customer base to neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia and the product line had shifted to readymade shirts. CYC was able to offer its clients one of the very first fully air-conditioned shops, where craftsmen on the upper floors carried out the hard work, while the clientele enjoyed air-conditioned bliss in the boutique below.
By the time of the 1984 recession, CYC had grown to include six branches and several sub agents throughout Singapore, and even owned a five-storey factory capable of producing 20,000 shirts a month. The recession hit hard, and with additional competition from new cheap imports, the business went through a period of significant distress.
In 1992 the next generation of the family stepped in with a refocus on the original core values of Chiang Yick Ching. Gone were the mass-market ready-to-wear offerings as Fong Loo Fern, now Managing Director of CYC, brought the business back full circle and targeted the exclusive high-end custom tailoring market. This shift back to the core values of the company has proven a success with the current customer base estimated to be 40,000 strong and growing.
Anyone who has used a bespoke tailor in South East Asia knows that the experience is nearly always the same; measurements on the first visit, a fitting a couple of days later, with potentially a couple of alterations before the suit is ready for final collection. Generally, one week later you can walk out with a new suit.
A visit to CYC is a different world right from the start. The whole process takes at least a month and for some clients up to two months to complete, comprising at least two if not three visits. Do not let this be a deterrent though, as you are entering a world of tailoring more in common with the exclusivity of London’s Saville Row.
To start the process, customers are guided step by step through the multitude of options available by a fully trained and knowledgeable tailor. With over 2,000 different shirt and suit fabrics to chooe from, from the same mills that supply designers like Zegna, Armani and Prada, the guiding hand of a trained professional is an absolute necessity rather than a luxury. This same tailor will be with you for each of your visits to ensure customer satisfaction. The initial discussion and measuring allows the tailor to better understand, not just your physical dimensions but also to gain an insight into your personality, allowing them to better tailor an outcome to match your physical requirements as well as your fashion ones.
I was fortunate enough to be looked after by Jeremy Yip – it’s an excellent advertisement when the tailor is better dressed than the client, and Jeremy put me in a solid second place in this regard. Our conversation meandered from what clothes I like to wear, what my average workday looks like, through to what restaurants and bars I frequent and even what football team I support. The fact that I support Arsenal and he Manchester United did not damage the relationship too much.
Once the first cut of the suit has been produced by the Singaporean-based workforce, the outcome immediately demonstrates why this is not just any old tailored suit. The quality of fabric gives the suit a feeling unlike anything you will find off the rack. Unlike experiences elsewhere, the first fitting with CYC focuses on an almost complete suit – you get a feel as to what the finished product will look and feel like. The tailor will then make adjustments, a pin here, a pin there, and within no time you’re looking in the mirror at a suit that could grace the catwalks of Paris and Milan.
After further minor changes, you are then left with the anticipation of the final fitting and the finished product. Nothing is rushed and the quality that this creates is clear to see.
I had been a loyal client to my previous Singapore tailor for over 20 years with no inclination to try anywhere else – the service was always been quick and friendly and the price tag acceptable. However my experience at CYC has left me a changed man – once you have experienced the service they offer, it’s very difficult to walk away. This comes at a price – average suits range from S$800 through to S$6500 depending on the fabric – so don’t expect it to match prices you have seen elsewhere. However, in terms of experience and quality CYC is hard to beat. Having now received my first CYC suit, I have already placed an order for a second one!
The fashion for only fused collars may have passed, but when I am proudly wearing my CYC suit, I will definitely raise a glass in gratitude for the dedication and precision Chiang Yick Ching brought to his craft that helped create what CYC is today.
By Alex Dare
CYC The Custom Shop, found at:
328 North Bridge Road, #02-12 Raffles Hotel Arcade, Singapore 188719
9 Raffles Place, #01-21 Republic Plaza II, Singapore 048619
277 Orchard Road, #03-16A Orchard Gateway, Singapore 238858
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