The homegrown custom clothing brand opens a second boutique in Central, designed by Studio Cassells. Tamsin Bradshaw reports.
When Ian Fong launched Cuffs a few years ago, his mission was to find a solution to his own frustrations with off-the-rack and tailored shirts. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who struggled to find a shirt that fit properly – his business model has been so successful, he’s just opened his second store, in Hong Kong’s Central district.
Cuffs presents a modern twist on traditional men’s tailoring, and it simplifies the process when it comes to buying everything from shirts and chinos to suits and tuxedos. There’s a special Shirt Bar; a curated collection of fabrics for those who struggle with the “tyranny of choice”, as Fong puts it; a seasonal selection of sample designs and an in-house designer.
“I wanted to create a reinvented tailoring experience,” explains Fong, who is an engineer by trade. His background helped him create his easy-to-follow guide to shirt shopping, which was one of the starting points for the business. “We started out with shirts in our Causeway Bay store and then a year or two in, we added chinos and suits,” he says.
Four years on, Fong had the following to open a second store: something he envisaged as bigger, slicker, and offering additional, value-add services like personal styling. For the design, he turned to David Cassells and Lucy Cant of Studio Cassells, who he found through the Hive’s hotdesking and co-working space in Kennedy Town.
“One of the key things about Ian’s business is the ability to break the process of picking a shirt down into something linear,” says Cassells, Co-Founder and Creative Director of the multidisciplinary design firm. “The fact that they curate all their fabrics elevates Cuffs above tailor status. We wanted to encapsulate that in a design.”
Cassells translated these abilities into a clean, uncluttered space with an industrial, loft-like feel. “We used powder-coated, box section steel, real timbers and raw concrete finishes throughout the space,” says Cassells. And to echo the linearity of the Cuffs design process, Studio Cassells worked with streamlined, angular forms, such as the sculptural, black box that greets visitors to the store. The Cuffs team hangs their latest design creations here, so customers can visualise how an on-trend shirt might look; they can then use these ideas as a starting point if they like – or they can copy them outright.
Another attention-grabbing feature is the industrial window on the left. Through this window, you can see the in-house tailor at work. “We wanted to put the tailoring on display,” says Cassells.
This, along with the oversized peg boards, gives the space its workshop feel. “We stylised them and blew them up to scale to make them less literal,” says Cassells of the boards, which give the Cuffs staff a place to display outfits – and they can change the displays whenever they want.
On the entrance side of the store are the chinos and shirts, while the other side features the personal styling area, and the suits and tuxedos. These two zones are delineated by different coloured concrete on the floor, and different coloured ceilings: the floors are pale grey and the walls and ceiling white in the fun area, and the floors, walls and ceiling are dark grey in the space in which the work happens (the suits, the tailor, the styling service). “It’s funky having the light and the dark side,” says Fong. “It helps highlight the suits as being cooler, a bit more serious, and it emphasises that the chinos are a bit more fun and colourful.”
As with any other project, there were challenges along the way. One of them was the budget. “This was done cheaply,” says Cassells. One of the ways they managed this was by having Fong create the layouts for all the storeroom shelving himself, using his engineering background and insider knowledge of Cuffs to create an ordered system. The design and build process was also a short one: “It was two months from brief to opening the doors, with five weeks of construction,” says Fong.
Despite the difficulties, the results are beautifully polished, and both Fong and Cassells say they had fun working on the project. “One of the things I cherished about this project was the collaborative aspect. It’s what we like to do,” says Cassells.
And Fong is clearly happy with the outcome. “I think Studio Cassells did a great job,” he says. And it’s easy to see why. Cassells and his team worked hard to understand the Cuffs concept and translate it into a design that reflects the company ethos. “When you go to a tailor, it’s often cluttered. You feel awkward if you’re changing and other people come into the store,” says Cassells. “It’s not a very intimate or pleasurable experience. What we tried to do is design a better experience from start to finish for Cuffs’ customers.”
The Cuffs Central Flagship store is located at 2/F Yuen Yick Building, 27-29 Wellington Street, Central. All photography by Grischa Rüschendorf.