‘Asian fit’ menswear by way of Savile Row
Venerable British men’s shirting brand T.M. Lewin has just opened four stores in ManilaBy Alex Y. Vergara |Philippine Daily Inquirer
If T.M. Lewin had expanded in the Philippines four years ago, the respected British men’s shirting brand would have probably raised not a few eyebrows back in London. But that has changed, as the brand, which was founded way back in 1898 on Jermyn Street, the so-called “Savile Row of shirts,” has opened not one, but four stores one after the other in Metro Manila.
The move is part of T.M. Lewin’s overseas expansion, particularly in Asia, to reach out to more discriminating men who “want to stand out in the crowd,” said Mark Cowdery, the brand’s head of international operations.
Short of wearing a green suit, these men want to look smart and stylish without totally abandoning the established office dress code.
T.M. Lewin offers a wide range of men’s shirts in various fits, shades and color combinations. Suits, ties, pocket squares and cufflinks complete the busy man’s office essentials.
Although its printed shirts come mostly in traditional pinstripes and ginghams, they manage to look far from staid. Thanks to fresh color combinations and a play on dimensions by designer John Francomb, these classic elements are updated and reinterpreted to suit today’s market.
Prices start at P1,990 per shirt. At P2,990 for two shirts, its multi-buy offer gives customers more value for their money. The brand also offers a similar deal in its UK stores, said Cowdery.
Apart from its regular and classic lines of shirt, T.M. Lewin offers a collection of designer shirts designed by Francomb. The line’s silhouette is slimmer, while its color combinations are a tad quirkier and more vibrant than the classic line.
Cowdery is also proud of the fact that the brand goes beyond style, as it also pays attention to quality of materials and construction. For one, its shirts are fashioned from Chinese-made
fabrics with a higher thread count.
“But quality goes beyond thread count,” he said. “It should also take into consideration the type of weave. As recent as seven years ago, we sourced almost all our fabrics from the UK. But since we now manufacture close to three million shirts, trying to do that scale with UK as the main source was quite difficult.”
T.M. Lewin also offers customers a choice of collars and cuffs. The so-called French or double cuffs, for instance, are favored by many British lawyers and bankers. Since Asian men, including Filipinos, are more into single cuffs, T.M. Lewin has beefed up its offering of single-cuff shirts in its Philippine stores.
“We’re going to open another 30 stores outside the UK this year,” said Cowdery. “By next year, our overseas business will be bigger than our domestic business.”
Thus, it’s also beefing up its stock inspired by the so-called “Asian fit,” which consists of shirts that are shorter in length and come with pockets as well as button or single cuffs.
But T.M. Lewin’s Philippine stores will still carry shirts with its trademark European fit. And since it constantly introduces new “varieties” every month other than the classic white, blue and gray shirt, it’s best not to postpone buying an item once it catches your fancy. It might not be there anymore when you come back, said Cowdery.
He had his hands full recently as he oversaw the opening of four T.M. Lewin branches in Metro Manila: Tri-Noma, SM Megamall, SM Mall of Asia and at the newly opened SM Aura in Taguig.
“I don’t think our entry into the Philippine market with four new stores is a bold move,” he said during the formal opening of T.M. Lewin’s SM Aura branch. “We have brand awareness and we’re here at the right time with the right partners.”
Vogue Concepts, Inc., the same group behind the French ready-to-wear label Promod, exclusively represents T.M. Lewin locally. British ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Lillie graced the store opening and led in the ribbon cutting.
“T.M. Lewin has grown into a trusted brand since its first shop opened in London a century ago,” said Lillie in a written statement. “T.M. Lewin, a British pioneer in quality menswear, is famous for its craftsmanship. It is increasingly in demand globally and I’m really pleased that it is now entering the Philippine market. Its presence here will give Filipinos a wider selection of quality menswear to suit their sartorial needs.”
For Cowdery and the rest of T.M. Lewin, venturing into the Philippines was a matter of timing and finding the right partners.
Before the company decided to expand in Southeast Asia, he got to talk to a friend in the UK who knew the region fairly well. Cowdery said that his friend was a bit surprised when he learned that one of the brand’s target cities was Manila. When you talk of Southeast Asia, it was always either Singapore or Hong Kong.
“Well, that was a few years ago,” he said. “He hasn’t been here for quite some time now. Wait until he sees Manila now.”