True collars: Ascot Chang reflects on 60 years in the business
As it celebrates its 60th anniversary, bespoke tailor Ascot Chang aims to raise its profile on its home patch, writes Abid Rahman
Hong Kong bespoke tailor Ascot Chang has an impressive clientele. The brand has been worn by US presidents such as George Bush senior and Richard Nixon, Hollywood stars, musicians and is regularly featured on men's style blogs. With such an impressive following one would think Ascot Chang would be a household name in the city. But the reality is different.
"We're proud that Ascot Chang is a Hong Kong brand, but we've established ourselves internationally so many Hong Kong people are not familiar with the brand," says Tony Chang, group managing director and son of the company's founder, Ascot Chang. "We are quite famous as a niche brand, especially in menswear and are well known in New York, where we've been since 1986," says Chang.
With its 60th anniversary approaching the venerable menswear brand that started on Kimberly Street in Tsim Sha Tsui is looking to raise its profile in the city.
"In 60 years we've gone through a lot so we need to show our history. The time is right to reach out to the home audience," says Chang.
From September 5-9, Ascot Chang will hold a 60th anniversary exhibition in the IFC Atrium in Central. The exhibition will detail the company's journey from its first store to the present day in what Chang feels is a compelling story that closely follows the ups and downs and growth of Hong Kong from a city to an international financial centre.
The exhibition is a departure for the normally more discreet and traditional Ascot Chang, a restraint and respectfulness that comes from its close-knit family structure. "We are a family business, I am the second generation, I also have my uncle here, my uncle's son. But our family is wider than that, we have Thomas in the Prince's Building, Nelson in our Peninsula store, people in our factories, they have been with us since they were teenagers, some for over 40 years. They are also part of our family. It's still a very close-knit operation."
It's that strong bond and familiarity, an almost old-school relationship between customer and tailor, that has allowed Ascot Chang to develop a loyal customer base that sticks with the brand for years, and in some cases, such as actor Andy Lau, become personal friends. Chang says Ascot Chang's consistency and integrity comes from three basic principles laid down by his father from the beginning.
"My father's first principle was the customer always comes first. What that means is we totally understand them, what they want but also their posture etc. The second, in the factory, quality always comes first, so we make our garments following a very strict process. People still say we make garments in a very traditional way, like they did 80 to 90 years ago. The third thing is customer satisfaction - make sure they are happy."
Catering to clients' quirks and idiosyncrasies is something Ascot Chang prides itself on. "James Taylor, the musician, wanted a special opening in his shirt so his mic wire would go through it without interrupting his performance. We also have a conductor who wanted to have the right amount of sleeve cuff showing, but not when his arms were down but when they were up!"
Chang also tells a story about one of Ascot Chang's more powerful clients, former US president George Bush Snr. For men in high positions with busy schedules, consistency and high quality are key. "When we first met he was [US] vice-president and was visiting Hong Kong for only 20 hours. His secretary called and arranged a fitting," says Chang recounting the security rigmarole he and his uncle had to go through. "We measured him up and all that, and there the relationship started. Then, through his presidency and afterwards he always ordered the same shirt, the same colour the same fabric, the same blue, the same white. Every time he came to Hong Kong he would see us."
The exhibition at the IFC is also a chance for Ascot Chang to talk about its future. With 18 stores worldwide, and men increasingly moving away from ready-to-wear to custom made, the future of bespoke tailoring looks good, particularly with the succession plans in place with Chang's son Justin joining the family firm. "I'm glad he joined the business," says Chang of Justin. "We need to build the brand and maintain our principles and we think that's easier to do as a family brand because we have the trust there. If we keep the same principles I believe we can keep going forward."