You may think of suits as very much the traditional form of menswear in the Western world. Well, that isn’t the case any more. More and more, we see guys donning suits – regardless of their culture.
Shahrin Bahar, who owns an atelier in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, explains that the suiting culture in Malaysia is young. The men in our country, however, are slowly beginning to see the appeal of a well-tailored garment.
“One thing I like is that they come from all ages and backgrounds,” he says, regarding his customers. “I get clients from different industries and fields too, both the creative and corporate.”
Shahrin founded his business just last year. This was after spending years working in cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, Amsterdam and London. He graduated in 2007 with a degree in menswear from the London College Of Fashion.
“When I came back to Kuala Lumpur, I saw that there was a gap in the market. It started out with me making a suit for a friend’s wedding. One thing led to another, and it turned into a real business,” the 32-year-old states.
According to him, his suits are more lightweight. While they are made using Italian fabrics, he only chooses the ones that will work better in our weather. He is also a big fan of designs that are less structured.
“For many years, the form of tailoring presented in Malaysia is more of a British aesthetic. Designs come strongly padded. Yet you have guys in Italy – Naples, for instance – who are suited up in light, breathable fabrics.”
That said, Shahrin has a very set view of modern tailoring: “I clash contemporary staples with classic codes. But I don’t do it for the sake of doing it. It’s the matter of 'why design’, rather than ‘what design’.”
While living abroad, he worked for big labels such as Nike, Puma and DKNY Jeans. He was focusing more on sportswear at that time – something which he says requires precise tailoring.
“With athletic wear you make garments that can perform. With these, what’s important is the aspect of motion. It shouldn’t restrict the athlete,” Shahrin notes of the challenges.
“It’s the same when tailoring menswear. Suits, for example, need armholes and shoulders that allow for movement. They should make a guy look slim and comfortable, yet not too tight.”
Eye for the craft
When asked about his childhood, Shahrin says he was born and raised in Subang Jaya. While he has always been interested in clothing, he says he was not much of a stylish kid back then.
“I was always interested in suits and tailoring though. As I grew up, and after moving to the UK, I became curious about why suits are so expensive. I always wondered why it takes six to eight weeks for a suit to be made.”
Shahrin now realises that the amount of work going into creating a quality suit is what justifies the time required – and its price. This is something that he feels the public needs to be educated on.
“We have guys wanting to get married in May, and they come to me in mid-April. Maybe they’ve gone elsewhere that can get a suit done in a week. But for me, it’s longer because I do it the traditional way,” he explains.
Shahrin requires one or two fittings before he presents a garment to customers. He also doesn’t compromise on construction, but the design can be adapted to fit different needs.
“My clients love my suits because of the softer structure – either unlined or with soft shoulders. What they say is that these are easy-wear suits. Something that they can just ‘sarung’.”
On his pricing, which starts from RM2,950, he stresses that men need to know that it’s “not to buy more but buy better”. He also wants guys to have an emotional connection to their garments.
“I want you to ‘live’ with the suits. Then come back for more. I have clients like that. They come back because they had such an experience when going for an event, closing a deal or rocking a presentation in my designs.”
As it is, Shahrin’s approach to tailoring is technical: “I think it’s like engineering. It can get very precise. You’re trying to tailor a garment to the anatomy of a body. But every person’s body is different.
“In menswear, we work by the millimetres to get things right. Tailoring is the most classic form of garment creation. It’s undervalued in a sense. Sometimes it’s overvalued, but it’s the basis of menswear,” he concludes.
Look up Shahrin’s instagram (@shahrinbahar) for more information, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.