Measure of a Man
The late Lee Kuan Yew may have cared little for fashion, but he always looked impeccably neat and crisp in CYC shirts. This Singaporean brand has dressed royalty and statesmen alike, including the much revered, iconic first prime minister of Singapore. We speak to Managing Director Mrs Fong Loo Fern, who shares her thoughts on CYC’s evolvement over the years, and the honour of dressing Mr Lee himself.
How has it been like taking over the business from your elders?
Initially it was difficult to make changes as some of the older staff had their own way of doing things. Those who were able to accept the changes I brought to the business stayed with me and supported me. Those who were unable to accept change moved on. When I took over the business, it was like a ship with many holes in it. My uncle and my dad, who were the main drivers of the business, both passed away within short time of each other so in a way, I had a free hand where management was concerned.
Has it been different as a woman at the helm of a label known for its men’s shirts?
I don’t think there is any problem with a woman at the helm of a menswear brand. After all, most men seek their better half’s opinions when it comes to dressing.
What defines CYC in your opinion?
CYC stands for quality, affordability, reliability and service excellence – we believe in cultivating long-term relationships with all our customers.
How is CYC different from then and now?
In the past, CYC had eight shops which sold readymade shirts. Only a few of the stores offered tailor-made clothing. Currently, CYC has three shops with a focus on quality custom-made clothing. We still have a small range available off the rack. Our product range has also expanded, and we now offer tailor-made shirts, trousers, jackets, vests and shorts for men and tailor-made shirts and skirts for ladies.
What sets CYC apart from the rest of the competitors?
We have our own production facilities, which ensure that the cut and fit are always consistent, and we are able to complete garments quickly if necessary. We are also one of the only tailors in Singapore offering fabrics from the best mills in Europe, including Thomas Mason and Alumo.
Did Mr. Lee Kuan Yew have any particular favourite styles or fabrics?
He had very simple tastes. Mr. Lee left the decision to his wife who used to select the fabrics and colours for him. Being a classic person, the colours she chose for him were usually white or pink.
Are there any particular shirts of Mr Lee’s worthy of mention?
In 2001, we organized a charity drive which encouraged our customers to bring back shirts more than a decade old. We had intended to build up a collection of these classic shirts for an exhibition. Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew brought back three of Mr. Lee’s shirts which were more than thirty years old. She told me that one of the shirts was extremely sentimental to him, as he wore it during the first National Day Rally in 1965.
How was he like as a longtime customer?
Mr. Lee was a frugal person. He only bought when he needed something. We are certainly very proud to have had him as our customer for more than 50 years since he started buying from us in the ‘60s.
Were any of Mrs Lee’s clothes tailored at CYC as well?
Yes, Mrs. Lee did make a couple of shirts for herself.
Where do you see CYC heading in the future?
We intend to grow the business internationally and the first step will be the launch of our brand new e-commerce website which we are currently building and will be launched sometime this year.