From staple to sexy

Mercerised Supima cotton? Check. Hem that hits right at the hip? Check. French seams? Check. Eons ago, around the time when Kate Moss was the face (and body) of Calvin Klein rather than a reality show starlet, T-shirt shopping usually involved grabbing a six-pack of Hanes.

Blame it on the resurgence of American sportswear - whereby designers such as Calvin Klein himself, followed by Alexander Wang and his peers, have elevated ribbed cropped tops and bralettes into high fashion territory.

Or the neo-Normcore movement, whereby after a season of supermodels and fashion insiders sporting grungy granddad cardis and sweatpants, style sophisticates are hankering for more refined versions of their fave comfy staples. Now, T-shirts, Oxford button-downs, jeans and other casualwear staples have undergone a glam facelift by brands dedicated to perfecting these everyday classics.

Feeding the shopaholic's insatiable thirst for high-end basics is new-to-market label, American Vintage. Not to be confused with a brand also known for its smorgasbord of tees - but more recently making headlines for being on the brink of bankruptcy, American Apparel, this boutique at Takashimaya prides itself on its brilliant basics. Despite its name, the brand hails from France and was established in 2005 by entrepreneur Michael Azoulay, who made it his mission to take the tee from staple to sexy.

"Well, actually, we took a basic piece, the T-shirt, and we made it a truly feminine and fashionable piece," says Mr Azoulay. "We gave it a French touch, paying attention to detail, sensuality and style."

Its hero product is a line of tanks and T-shirts that cost up to S$100 each, made from Supima - a long-fibre US cotton that is dubbed "the cashmere of cotton" for its luxuriously soft feel that doesn't wear off after washing.

And, perhaps, the likes of American Vintage have cottoned on to a smart business model by banking on basics: How many times have we snapped up a pair of jeans in multiple washes, or T-shirt in a kaleidoscope of hues, after discovering The One? But creating the ultimate fashion fixture isn't as easy as tracking down a premium fabric with a fancy pedigree - as Larry Peh, first-time fashion designer and Designer of the Year at the President's Design Awards 2014, discovered.

"Faculty's designs are based on functionality in mind and are tweaked from my own unsatisfied buys over the years," says Mr Peh about his new menswear brand, available at K+ Curatorial Space in Scotts Square. "I'm sure there are guys out there who appreciate good quality apparel and feel the same way I do."

Faculty's debut collection of shirts, chinos, jeans and socks comprises looks that appear seemingly simple at first glance, but reveal impeccable attention to detail.

Mr Peh has, for example, designed shirts with shorter sleeves and larger cuffs to accommodate the larger watches men typically wear, and the sleeves and armholes are slightly larger to enhance comfort and ensure work-to-play versatility. Think the distressed details found on a pair of Japanese selvedge jeans are nothing more than random rips?

Think again.

"I'm a great fan of damaged denim and have had over 100 pairs, but I've always felt that each piece could have been better," explains Mr Peh, who also runs his own design agency &Larry.

"The Denim 15 Damaged has undergone countless treatments, from dyeing to sandpapering and ripping, to achieve the look and I like the crispness of the material, which holds its shape even after many washes.

"For the 'damaged' parts, we went through various discussions to make sure that they look as natural as possible and upon closer inspection, one would notice that we've included grey and blue threads as well for a seamless finish."

Such a rise in purveyors of classics comes from a demand for everyday pieces that can be worn and re-styled into endless ensembles.

Today's trend-followers, inspired by self-styled fashion influencers that dominate social media - rather than the highly manufactured, pristinely outfitted celebs seen on the red carpet, consider fashion as a form of personal expression and creative experimentation. Instead of buying full looks from any given brand, they mix seasonal buys with a coterie of timeless pieces.

Another homegrown label, Do, also focuses on wearable staples for men and women that can be matched with more fashion-forward separates. The brand, currently available at boutiques Egg3 and Keepers on Orchard Green, hinges on functionality over fads.

"Our clothes do not follow trends but are instead very much inspired by everyday people and focus more on design details and practicality," says founder of Do, EM Baey.

"All our fabrics are from Japan or Europe, and manufactured in-house in limited quantities. These reinforce the quality of our clothing. Ultimately, we strive for our wearers to create their own stories with our clothing rather than let the clothing wear them."

For homegrown designer Suraj Melwani, who helms his own label Sifr - a range of menswear also made from Supima cotton - wardrobe staples appeal to those who do not seek external gratification by wearing the season's au courant trends. They also happen to value investment pieces that can be put on heavy rotation.

"People wear 20 per cent of their garments 80 per cent of the time, and they would like garments that are made well, feel good and which are also priced competitively," says Mr Melwani, who obsesses over the weight and handfeel of his T-shirts to preserve comfort for wearers in our humid Singapore weather.

"It's the type of garment you can put on and feel like you have a completed look. The idea is for you to forget about it when you put it on, and then realise later on just how much it is a part of your life."


This article was first published on June 13, 2015.
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