Nestled along Shanghai’s quiet Anfu road (安福路), Suitsupply’s one-stop shop for luxurious menswear offers everything that the modern Chinese city-dweller could want, from custom suits to evening wear and accessories. While the store revels in the look of the neighborhood’s historic villas — complete with cane chairs, paper lanterns, and bamboo — it’s also full of funky vibes thanks to a collection of irreverent images of well-dressed men and beautiful nude women gracing the walls. The feel is calm and serene, as customers sip tea in the garden while waiting for their suits to be altered by the in-house tailor.
Born in Amsterdam in 2000, Suitsupply brings a new kind of attitude to luxury tailoring in China. All their fabrics are sourced from the world’s most renowned Italian mills, many of which serve top brands like Chanel. Their suits are constructed with floating canvases (a high-end detail typically found only in handmade luxury suits) and refined accents like pleated shoulders and genuine horn buttons. The company’s vast selection of contemporary colors and styles — not to mention their unique stores, which are often housed in converted former churches and loft spaces — make it appealing to younger generations. The brand currently has over 100 stores across 22 countries, including stores in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hangzhou, and Chengdu.
“Our Chinese customers are very informed, and they appreciate style,” said Fokke de Jong, the CEO of Suitsupply, to Jing Daily in the courtyard of their Amsterdam store. “A lot of people in China have been used to suits made for conformity, suits like uniforms. But our customers see different styles and colors of suits as a way of self-expression. They wear it not only to work but also to go out.”
How does that make Chinese customers different from their Dutch counterparts? At this, Fokke laughed. “Dutch customers are generally like me: blond hair and blue eyes,” he said. “We can wear blue and maybe grey suits. Because Chinese customers have dark hair and a different complexion, they can wear a much wider palette of colors. Generally, Chinese customers are more fashion-forward. They are willing to experiment more.” Coincidentally, Vicki Jiang, Suitsupply’s former Vice President of Asia once shared an anecdote of clients drawing inspiration for custom-made suits from Chinese TV shows.
As to Suitsupply’s marketing approach in China, Fokke referred simply to “word of mouth,” and he believes that “happy customers tell each other.” However, there is more to the brand’s appeal than the product. The Shanghai store is a trendy place where men can hang out thanks to a variety of events at the shop, including hair salons, a styling workshop, and a gin pop-up bar. In 2016, Suitsupply even organized some performance art by having over 20 men in suits ride bikes through Shanghai’s alleyways to arrive at the city’s Fashion Week.
But Suitsupply has also courted some controversy with their outside-the-box ways. With their ads of men in well-cut suits diving into pools with naked mermaids and miniature men in suits sliding down a model’s giant bare breast, Suitsupply now has reputation for its somewhat “shameless” approach, and its Chinese stores are covered with these eye-catching campaign images. “Not everybody likes it! If a brand says ‘don’t just fit in’, it cannot please everybody,” said Fokke. “But young Chinese customers find it interesting and funny.” On Dianping, China’s largest customer review website, customers clearly aren’t shy about sharing pics of the bawdy images from their Suitsupply shopping trips.
But truthfully, it’s the shopping experience at Suitsupply; compared to those at more pretentious or serious suit stores, that’s the difference-maker for them. “We bring fun to menswear and make it less intimidating,” Fokke said. One of their customers agreed, saying, “They’ll look after you, talk to you, teach you how to dress well, and you have fun along the way.” In particular, he enjoyed learning things like how to fold a pocket square and the mysterious rule about not wearing a blue suit after 6 pm.
“There is someone there who is genuinely willing to help and engage with you. It is not just to bluntly hand you the size,” Fokke said. “On the other hand, we want to make it fast and effective…. We have tailors who do all alterations on the spot to make sure customers leave with a perfect fit.” And in fact, a man who stops into the Suitsupply store in Schiphol airport’s departure lounge can literally have a pair of pants fitted while he waits for his plane.
After running his menswear business in China for over six years, Fokke refuted the conventional notion that doing business in China is necessarily difficult. “I find people there very welcoming, pragmatic, and entrepreneurial, which actually makes it easier to do business in China,” he said. “In 2019, we plan to roll out five to eight stores in Chongqing, Shenzhen, Shenyang, etc. Wherever we can, we try to find special locations. It all comes back to our mantra: ‘Don’t just fit in, find your own perfect fit’.”