Closet encounters

Men are demanding well-designed, organised wardrobes that make getting dressed a joyful experience

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 5:04pm

There was a time when a bloke's allocation of wardrobe space was directly apportioned to his housework contribution. Ergo, not much. No offence, guys, but let's face it.

How times have changed. We may still be none too thrilled with the idea of domestic duties, but give us a man-closet and it's happy days. As Melanie Charlton, New York's closet designer to the stars, points out, the Mr Bigs of today have as great a wardrobe need as Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw. "Of course," says Charlton, CEO of Clos-ette, "closets are the ultimate man cave for a man who loves clothes, watches and accessories".

Charlton's clients spend hundreds of thousands of US dollars on a place to put their sartorial kit, and it seems that in Hong Kong we are not much different.

Interior designer Monique McLintock, of Monique McLintock Interiors, says: "Guys want well-designed and organised spaces, just like girls. Believe it or not, guys have a lot of shoes. Men want to have outfits match their shoes and have their fair share of man-bags."

We also have closet predilections, she says. "Every man has a certain way they hang up their slacks, store their ties, organise their cufflinks and stack their shirts. Men are very particular when it comes to how clothing is stored. They often come to me with photos of a retail store they want their closet to look like."

Hong Kong men can give New Yorkers a run for their money when it comes to wardrobes, McLintock says. "I have had men who have told me they have more than 100 pairs of shoes. Getting dressed has become more of a joyful experience than a chore. They like to take time to select the perfect cufflinks and tie."

One recent wardrobe project, completed for a "billionaire bachelor" (a thirtysomething Asian developer living on The Peak), involved a walk-in closet fitted to display his sunglasses, caps, ties and cufflinks "so that he could see them when pulling together an outfit".

McLintock says: "He wanted grey suede on the bottom of the shelves and all the tracks to be European and of the highest quality." The lights had to be on sensors "so that when he walked in, they all turned on and every item was perfectly lit", she adds.

Shoes were displayed with style, and each pair had their own cubbyhole.

All the wood was of high-end rich walnut with chocolate brown leather handles." All tracks had to be top-quality and soft closing. (He did not want to hear any noises when opening the drawers). There was "zero error for workmanship" allowed in the client brief.

Architect and designer Barrie Ho, of Barrie Ho Architecture - Interiors, says this kind of sophistication is a matter of course for the successful executive. "Wardrobes nowadays are becoming automatic," he says. Like the smartfridges that can keep track of the food inside them, our ideal wardrobe would find the clothes for us. Bling aside, a closet should still be practical. A perfectly designed wardrobe would have boxes and cubbyholes for everything. All items would have a place and each item would be displayed perfectly.

McLintock says: "Different levels of lighting would help accent certain items like in an upscale retail shop. There would be a mix of luxury metals with rich grain woods. The handles would be made of high-end leather so that they just melt into your hands as you open the drawers."

At what cost? McLintock's billionaire bachelor spent more than HK$700,000 on his. Ho says that, among his high-end clients, "HK$2 million is a must".

Size also matters. One project recently completed by Ho's firm (for a high-ranking official) involved a 1,000 sq ft dressing room - bigger than the average apartment.

Charlton draws parallels with our daily drive. For the "Rolls-Royce" of Clos-ette designs, starting at US$250,000, expect LED lighting, custom-made hardware, decorative counters, bio-locked jewellery drawers, Lucite shoe storage and three-way mirrors. The "Aston Martin" (US$500,000-plus) may have mechanical doors and hi-tech security systems, marble counters and smartmirrors (which double as computers). Upping the ante further, the "Maybach" - think onyx counters, digital doors embedded with TVs and iPads, and a virtual styling robot (a computer system that organises photographs and styles your wardrobe for you) - runs to a cool "US$ more, more, more".

And that's just to hold our stuff. It's been estimated that the discerning man would want a wardrobe containing at least one Stuart Hughes suit (cashmere and silk, diamond-encrusted - cost US$900,000); a couple of Eton's 80th anniversary dress shirts (US$45,000 each); US$4.2-million Jacob & Co cufflinks and a US$223,000 necktie by Satya Paul, to do the design justice.

Back to the design. No names, no pack drill, but local and international wardrobe designers alike have fielded some unusual requests. One of Charlton's clients, "probably the most famous athlete in the world", wanted a winding room inside the wardrobe to hold his collection of more than 2,000 watches.

Others have asked for secret doors (one can only guess why) and embedded LCD touch screens (for the executive who needs information spoon-fed to him at all times, Charlton explains). Baccarat bars are required "for the man who likes to live like James Bond - he may dress and then serve a martini or glass of Champagne in his closet". Ho also sees it.

A man of note in Hong Kong may spend the whole afternoon getting ready for a function, so he needs entertainment in his dressing room, Ho says. Audio-visual stimulation is routine, it seems. One prominent jeweller required a hidden safe with 24-hour monitoring, while another wanted security checkpoints at the entrance. A wealthy industrialist wanted a rear camera so that he could examine his outfit without having to turn around (he'd seen this in California). Another client, inspired by Jackie Chan's movie The Tuxedo, desired a hi-tech wardrobe like his on-screen action hero.

"The mirror gave him information such as the weather forecast, his own schedule, health information and laundry reminders," Ho says. He's even been asked to sign confidentiality agreements, such is the sensitivity of a well-dressed man to his wardrobe. Two things in an uber-luxe Hong Kong home are very important: one is the master bathroom, Ho says, and the second is the wardrobe. The man about town will routinely demolish a spare bedroom or dining room - both usually surplus to his requirements - to build a fitted closet.

The sartorially splendid among us agree. When his driver moved overseas, fashion designer Barney Cheng converted the former employee's bedroom into a grand wardrobe.

He ordered good LED lighting ("to see the colour and texture of suit fabrics"), glass-fronted drawers so that everything is visible, shallow drawers for cufflinks, cubbyholes for ties and belts, and Louis Vuitton and Hermès shoeboxes, and cedar wood shoe trees that eliminate odour, are used to store the footwear.

Cheng also modified an antique Chinese cabinet to have kitchen sliding shelves inside, to improve its usefulness while retaining the look. Celebrated interior designer Ed Ng says a perfect wardrobe should reflect the owner's character and style. More importantly, true luxury in a wardrobe is about comfort, simplicity and couturier-like elements that blend seamlessly with functionality and style.

"It should be an intimate space where you can feel like you are in your zone and your personality is reflected in the design elements," says Ng, of AB Concept.

"In Hong Kong, where space is so scarce, luxury is also having a wardrobe that allows you to see everything at one glance.

"There should be sufficient space so that users enjoy easy access to every item, ensuring nothing is hidden in the back corners and forgotten. An ideal closet for men should also include a shoe cabinet. Shoes are a man's ultimate accessory, so they definitely deserve their own space."

Such extravagant dressing rooms are not for everyone, Charlton concedes.

"Very few people in the world can afford them or understand them. They are for a certain class of people who demand a certain lifestyle. It is for the man who has everything, and what he doesn't have he imagines and creates for himself.

"That is why someone would hire Clos-ette. We create dreams today. Anything you dream, we will create."

Ho agrees. "Anything that can be imagined can be created," he says. "With wardrobe design today, it's mostly mission possible."


Going the extra mile

As the shopfitter of choice to luxury brands such as John Varvatos, Calvin Klein, Canali, Halston, Reiss, Hermès and Ralph Lauren, master builder Anthony Faglione knows a thing or two about storing high-end apparel.

The more expensive the clothes, the more it's worth going the extra mile, reasons New York City-based Faglione, of team CIS (Capital Improvement Services).

He offers this advice for fitting out a home wardrobe where designer clothes are to be kept.

"Every type of garment should have a designated spot in your closet - organisation is key. I also stress the importance of good lighting and openness so that the space is manoeuvrable.

"A home wardrobe should be dense but well thought-out, with an understanding of how clothing is picked from out of your closet - for example, are you the type of person who picks an outfit based on shoe choice?

"If that is the case, shoes should be the most easily accessible."

From a design perspective, Faglione adds: "My projects balance high design with high function, but always with the most acute attention to detail and specific client needs. It's about being efficient, effective, creative and purposeful - where form and function meet. Often the most minimalist and modern aesthetic is the most difficult to achieve."

Remember too that proper wardrobe maintenance is part of the art of manliness. So keep shoes buffed and jackets brushed. Use hangers correctly - ideally the thick wooden kind - and keep mould at bay. Your clothes will thank you for it.