Gone are the fluorescent lamps of traditional tailoring shops. Here, one won’t find bolts of fabric lined against vanilla walls. Instead, a pink neon sign is emblazoned on one of its flamboyant purple partitions. Crisp suits of various styles and colours hang on a rack.
If it is difficult to visualise this tailoring shop along North Canal Road, Jonathan Chiang has hit bull’s eye in modernising a 40-yearold business once known simply as Leong Tailors and now rechristened as Leong T.
He has single-handedly revived his granduncle Chow Leong Choy’s business which was bleeding from dwindling traffic and increasing overheads at Hong Leong Finance Building, where it had operated out of a basement unit for over four decades. Giving up a career in manufacturing, Chiang returned from Shanghai in 2013 after learning of how his granduncle was about to wind up his tailoring business. Chiang says: “I didn’t want the business to die. I’m so proud of the history and culture of my family business. And I love beautiful things.”
With Chow, who is in his late 70s, and his team of tailors helming the back end, Chiang set about rebranding the business and pumped his own savings – he declined to give the exact amount – into the enterprise. Since the new brand launched in January last year, he has been encouraging Chow and his team to explore more contemporary Italian silhouettes, in place of the traditional British cuts that they had been offering that were more structured and formal.
Chiang has also brought in complementary niche products, such as shoes from Shanghai-based designer Charles Philip, Ross & Brown sunglasses handmade in Italy, and Turkish designer Begum Khan’s lapel pins.
Last month, he hosted a trunk show by cult shoemaker Phillip Carr of Saint Crispin’s. Chiang, who takes measurements for clients while his granduncle’s team stitches, says: “Everything I have is not mass (produced). There’s a story behind them – how they developed and who designed them. Such stories captivate me, and I hope to (similarly) captivate my clients.”
It is a by-appointment- only boutique and his clientele does not exceed 100. He admits that business has been challenging because it is still a niche name, but its customer base has been growing. While he declines to give sales figures, he says the sons of Leong Tailors’ customers go to him, believing in the workmanship. Shirts start from $180, and suits are from $2,200.
Chiang plans to set up Singapore’s first men-focused emporium later this year, with dedicated areas for men’s grooming, apparel, accessories and furniture from speciality regional brands, which he says are well-made but not well-represented here. “It will be a destination for all artisanal, tailor-made products from Asia.”