Famous HK Tailors (Part Four): the Shanghainese Tailors – Loa Hai Shing, H. Baromon, Ying Tai, Jimmy Chen, W.W. Chan, Ascot Chang and William Yu
York Lo: Famous HK Tailors (Part Four): the Shanghainese Tailors – Loa Hai Shing, H. Baromon, Ying Tai, Jimmy Chen, W.W. Chan, Ascot Chang and William Yu
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a large number of Shanghainese tailors relocated from Shanghai to HK and became a major force in the HK tailoring industry with their excellent craftsmanship and expertise from an industry they had built up in old Shanghai that dwarfed its HK counterpart in terms of size and sophistication. Many of the Shanghainese tailors came from the coastal city of Ningbo and are known as the “Red Gang” (紅幫) as the first batch of Ningbonese tailors in the late 19th century learned the skills of making Western dresses from British tailors and Chinese at the time referred to Westerners as “red hair”. The prosperity of the foreign concessions in old Shanghai led to a boom in the tailoring business and one by one, many Red Gang tailors set up their own shops after apprenticing (usually starting at the age of 14) for a few years for European tailors (which included French, White Russian from Harbin and German Jews) or fellow Red Gang tailors. During the 1920s, the number of tailor shops in Shanghai increased by 200. By 1934, the number of tailor shops in Shanghai exceeded 300 and total income of the industry was over $2.5 million. While the industry suffered some setbacks during the Sino-Japanese War in the late 1930s, early 1940s, by 1946 a newly formed tailor’s union in Shanghai counted 3050 members (not counting the owners who were usually tailors themselves) working at 420 tailor shops. With the regime change in the mainland in 1949, over 600 Red Gang tailors moved to HK. The Red Gang tailors focused on the higher end market with their shops situated in prime locations and some of them also participated in the HK garment industry. Red Gang tailor Che Chi-ming (車志明, 1926-), who came to HK in 1948 and started his own shop in 1965, was the first Shanghainese chairman of the HK European Dress Merchants Association, the local trade group dominated by Cantonese tailors.
- The China Press Apr 12, 1936
Below are the profiles of notable Shanghainese tailors which are still in business in order of their inception dates (original inception date in Shanghai if the firm existed before the founder’s relocation to HK):
Loa Hai Shing (老合興) and Fu Shing (福興)
Left:logo of Loa Hai Shing; Right: Joint ads of Loa Hai Shing (top) and Fu Shing (bottom) during the Christmas shopping season of 1960 (Source: Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1960-12-17)
Founded in 1902 in Shanghai by Ningbo natives Wong Ming-tong (王銘堂) and his brother in law Sze Ching-chong, Loa Hai Shing (hereafter referred to as LHS) is the oldest Shanghainese tailor in HK and has a long history of making suits for US servicemen. Sze was a legendary tailor in old Shanghai, who started outfitting American naval officers in 1884 and was described as “known to every naval officer who visited Shanghai”. Among his US naval customers who became admirals include Admiral George Dewey (highest rank naval officer in US history best known for his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American War), William Caperton (commander of Pacific Fleet 1916-19), Rear Admirals George A. Day, William C. Cole, H.H. Christy, W.W. Phelps, Fred Rogers and Hugo Osterhaus. He remembered every client and sent Christmas cards to all of them. In 1925, LHS moved to 14 Seward Road in Shanghai. Aside from the US Navy, its clientele in old Shanghai also included prominent Americans such as AIG founder C.V. Starr and ad man Carl Crow and even Chiang Kai-shek and the Soongs were clients. By the 1940s, the second generation was running the show with LHS being led by Ming-tong’s son K.G. Wong (王晉祺) while another son ran Fu Shing & Co (福興呢絨行) which was founded in 1947.
In 1949, LHS relocated from Shanghai to Hong Kong where business took off during the 1950s and 60s as America escalated its military efforts in the region during the Korean War and Vietnam War. It was the biggest of 8 tailors that had official contracts with the US Navy, which specified the thread count and stiffening of the suits to protect the sailors. Aside from making suits, LHS has also been a major distributor of high end European fabric (most notably Scabal which it is the exclusive distributor in HK), supplying to its own tailor shop and other tailors
In 1959, LHS moved to bigger space at Tak Shing House at 20 Des Voeux Road in Central, where it has operated out of ever since. The opening ceremony was attended by Shanghainese tycoons such as Paul Y. Tso of Paul Y Construction, C.L. Hsu of Diaward Steel Works and movie mogul Runde Shaw and key players in the tailor industry such as Cheung Wood-hoi. At the meantime, Fu Shing operated out of nearby Central Building.
According to the 1971 New York Times article on HK tailors, LHS was serving between 7000-10000 customers per year with 80% of them were servicemen. But aside from servicemen, LHS also built up an impressive list of civilian clients in HK including Run Run Shaw, CY Tung and his son Tung Chee-hwa, Gordon Wu, Cheng Yu-tung, I.M. Pei and Ho Tim.
K.G. Wong (second from the right) and wife (first from left) at the opening of the new Loa Hai Shing store at 20 Des Voeux Road in 1959 (Wah Kiu Yat Po 1959-10-6)
LHS is currently led by Wong Ming-tong’s grandson Robert Wong Van-chung (王文宗). In 2009, Robert’s son Victor Wong (王明輝) joined the family business, marking the fourth generation in the business. At the meantime, Fu Shing has evolved into Fu Shing & Sons run by another third generation member of the family – Tony Wong (王文虎, aka “Tony the Tailor”) and operating of Fenwick Pier where it continues to make suits for servicemen and also sell other merchandise.
- The China Press, 4 Mar 1925
- Shanghai and Beyond by Percy Finch, 1953
H. Baromon (培羅蒙)
Left: Hsu Ta-cheong at the H. Baromon shop in HK in 1981 (Fortune); Center: the original H. Baromon tailor shop in Shanghai in the 1930s-40s. Right: Hsu Ta-cheong (seated) and his apprentice Tai who started Baromon Tokyo
Founded in Shanghai in 1919 by Hsu Ta-cheong (許達昌, aka Hsu Baromon, 1895-1991) and moved to HK in 1948, H. Baromon is often regarded as the best Shanghainese tailor, in fact Fortune magazine recognized the firm as one of the eight best tailors in the world and the only one of the eight from Asia.
The sixth of ten siblings and a native of Ningbo, Hsu first apprenticed at Wong Shun Chong (王順昌), one of the earliest tailor shops founded by fellow Ningbo native in Shanghai as a teenager before setting up his own shop back in Ningbo. He returned to Shanghai after a few years and started “Hsu Ta-cheong Tailor Shop” in 1919. Several key factors helped Hsu stood out from the 300 plus tailors in old Shanghai and enabled his business to thrive to this day. First, he insisted the highest quality in terms of workmanship and materials – having trained many of the top Shanghainese tailors who stayed with him for many years and buying only the best materials from the UK. Secondly, he was a genius in marketing and customer acquisitions.
In 1935, he changed the name of his tailor shop and his own English name to “H. Baromon” to differentiate from the competition which mostly had very traditional Chinese names. Baromon was supposedly the name of a film company which Hsu’s younger brother worked for in Tientsin and he liked the foreign sounding name. The same year, he opened his store next to the popular Grand Cinema on Nanking Road, the busiest shopping street in Shanghai. Hsu was also great at connecting with clients and allegedly it was Eugene Penn, the husband of the famous actress Butterfly Wu (see article on E. Penn Manufactory) who introduced Hsu to the politically well-connected publisher Lin Pai-sheng (林柏生, later minister of propaganda in the Wang Ching-wei puppet regime) who in turn referred him to KMT dignitaries such as T.V. Soong, General Ho Ying-chin and foreign minister Chang Chun (張群) who all became clients and Chang also gave Baromon the business to make suits for all KMT diplomats.
In 1948, H. Baromon moved to HK where it set up shop on the second floor of the Hotel Cecil (Chan Wai-chuen 陳渭銓, the manager of the hotel was listed as a shareholder of H. Baromon in 1955) in Central with workshop in North Point. He also sent his first apprentice Tai Tsuyee (戴祖貽) to Japan to set up a branch of H. Baromon in Tokyo. (Eventually the ownership of the Japan branch which operated out of the Imperial Hotel was transferred to Tai in 1969) Starting out with his old clients from Shanghai such as the former banker turned shipping magnate Y.K. Pao, H. Baromon built an impressive list of clients in HK which included foreign celebrities such as President John F. Kennedy, producer Mike Todd and actor Edward G. Robinson; the top Shanghainese tycoons such as movie mogul Sir Run Run Shaw, textile and property tycoon D.H. Chen, CITIC’s Rong Yiren and his son Larry Yung and other business leaders such as Li Ka-shing, Stanley Ho, banker Sir Q.W. Lee, Hui Sai-fun and former Finance Secretary Antony Leung. Over the years, H. Baromon moved couple of times within Central – when Hotel Cecil was demolished in 1954 to make way for Alexandra House, it moved to Prince’s Building, and then operated out of Swire House before settling in its current location in the Galleria. Hsu personally continued to work until his final years and after his death in 1991, his successors are able to sustain the reputation of the firm.
Left: H. Baromon shop on Chater Road in the 1950s. Right: H.Baromon shop today
Hsu Ta-cheong and his wife (first and second from the left) welcoming Elizabeth Taylor (centre) and her then husband Mike Todd at H. Baromon in November 1957. (Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1957-11-15)
Ying Tai (永泰)
Ying Tai Ltd was founded in 1926 in Shanghai by Hanson Luh, who learned the trade as an apprentice under European tailors. It operated out of Yates Road in old Shanghai, which was known as “Pants Alley”. During WWII, the firm relocated to HK and in 1958, it opened its flagship store at the Peninsula, the same year the company was incorporated. In 1964, Ying Tai was invited by its client Conrad Hilton, the famous hotelier, to open a second store at the HK Hilton. In 1978, Hanson Luh died and eventually the shop relocated to the Galleria in Central where it currently operates out of.
- The fall of Shanghai by Noel Barber, 1979
Jimmy Chen (占美洋服)
Of the famous Shanghainese tailors in HK, Jimmy Chen (陳占美) was probably the most entrepreneurial, given the number of stores he has opened and the variety of businesses he has invested in. While the general public in HK might better remember him for his other venture – The Optical Shop (高登眼鏡), for many local elites and international clients, Jimmy Chen is still best known for his tailoring.
A native of Pudong in Shanghai, Jimmy Chen came to HK in 1948 where he built his tailor business from the ground up. His clients included Lyndon Johnson who visited when he was Vice President and the Hollywood actors William Holden and Clark Gable. The original Jimmy Chen was located at 12A Cameron Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and later branches were added in the Peninsula (2 of them, one under the name of Italian Tailors which was launched in 1986) and Hong Kong Hotel in TST and Edinburgh Tower and Central Building in Central with a workshop that has 50 staff. Once he achieved success in tailoring, he started branching out, first by investing in two neighboring apparel businesses – Frank Fong Co Ltd (萬芳公司, incorporated 1961, dissolved 1995) which specialized in ladies dresses at 18 Cameron Road and Benny’s Footwear at 15 Cameron Road. Other ventures which he invested in during the 1960s included Hero Taxi Co (operated out of Sun Po Kong, incorporated in 1967, dissolved in 1975), and Winward Piece Goods. Jimmy’s High Fashion Tailors.
Left: Jimmy Chen from the 1960s (Source: HK Album, 1967); Right: Jimmy Chen label from one of its products.
In 1972, he launched the Optical Shop. One source claimed that Chen started The Optical Shop at the recommendation of one of his sons in law who was an optometrist. As explained by Jimmy himself, he saw the same potential in glasses as custom suits, where he could sell high quality German frames such as Rodenstock to tourists at half the cost in the West. But Chen’s success formula was customer service – anyone who walked into the store could get a cup of beverage and get their glasses cleaned for free and all staff were courteous and professionally trained. By 1980, he had 8 stores and by 1988, there were 37 stores and The Optical Shop was generating annual profits of HK$35 million. This attracted the attention of the mighty Jardine Group who made an offer to Jimmy Chen the same year and as a result, The Optical Shop was acquired in 1988 for HK$270 million. (Since then Jardine have sold the chain to Luxottica which changed the English name of the chain to LensCrafter although they kept the Chinese name for a while)
In more recent years, Jimmy Chen and his wife Lee Yun-wah (李雲華) have spent a lot of time in their native Shanghai, where he has invested in various projects and engaged in philanthropy, especially in his homwtown of Pudong where he donated the first and second library in 1986 and 1989.
“The World of Jimmy Chen” LA Times, Jan 6, 1980
- “Some HK Tailors and their Services” NY Times, 1988-2-21
- “怡和斥資二億七千萬已收購高登集團黎定基稱高登將成怡和一部分預料高登可擴大在此間塲所佔份額” 大公報, 1988-03-30
Left: W.W. Chan in the early years. Right: W.W. Chan and family at his first shop in HK
W.W. Chan, one of the leading Shanghainese tailors in HK, was founded by Wing-Wah Chan (陳榮華). Born in Ningbo in 1922, W.W. Chan started out as an apprentice at Sang Lee Tailor on Szechuan Road in Shanghai at the age of 14. In 1943, he graduated from the Shanghai Cutting and Tailoring College, a certificate which is still proudly displayed in W.W. Chan’s shops. In 1950, he came to HK and opened Kum Wah Tailors (later renamed W.W. Chan) in Tsim Sha Tsui. His early clients included executives from Swire who were so impressed with his workmanship that they awarded him the contract to make uniforms for Cathay Pacific Airways. WW Chan also began traveling to the US to meet clients every year, a tradition which continues to this day.
In 1982, the 60 year old W.W. Chan retired and was succeeded by his son Peter Chan (陳家寧). Peter embarked on a series of expansions, starting with the acquisition of the ladies dress maker Irene Fashions (爱莲公司, incorporated in 1969) in 1987, which became the women’s division of WW Chan. In 1990, W.W. Chan acquired George Chen & Co (陳兆琦公司), another famous Shanghainese tailor shop which had operated out of the Peninsula Hotel for over 35 years. In recent years, W.W. Chan expanded into the mainland with shops in Nanking Road and Huaihai Road in Shanghai. The HK store of WW Chan is located at Burlington House on Nathan Road above Sam’s Tailors.
Left: W.W. Chan and American naval commander client; Right: W.W. Chan’s certificate from the Shanghai Cutting and Tailoring College.
Ascot Chang (詩閣)
Left: the first Ascot Chang shop in HK in TST when it opened in 1953. Right: the second Ascot Chang store
Left: Ascot Chang (right) and brother Johnny (left) and actor Kirk Douglas. (Source: HK Heritage); Right: Ascot Chang store in Central Park, New York City.
Recognized by many as one of the best custom shirt makers in the world, Ascot Chang is probably the best known Shanghainese tailor globally with its network of branches spread across the globe. The firm’s founder Ascot Chang Chi-bing (張子斌, 1923-1993) was a native of Fenghua in Ningbo and like most of the Red Gang tailors of his generation, he left his hometown for Shanghai in 1937 at the age of 14 to become a master tailor’s apprentice. With just US$10 in his pocket, Ascot Chang came to HK in 1949 and at first made a living selling shirts door to door to Shanghainese businessmen who were not able to find high quality shirts in HK. By 1953, he saved up enough money to open his first shop under the name of “Ascot Chang Underwear Co” (Chinese name of 新星 which means “new star”) in a 600 sq ft space at 34 Kimberley Road. In 1963, a branch was opened at the Peninsula and when business was negatively affected by the 1967 riots, he made his trunk show trip abroad in 1969, visiting 20 cities over 3 months in the US. Over time the firm built up an impressive list of celebrity clients including Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirk Douglas, Sammy Davis Jr., Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, Peter Sellers, Andy Williams, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Andy Warhol, Kirk Douglas, John Woo and Andy Lau from the arts & entertainment world and world leaders such as US President George H.W. Bush (who bought his first Ascot Chang shirt when he was vice president in the 1980s and visited the store every time he returned), French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and General Alexander Haig.
From the beginning, Ascot was assisted by his younger brother Johnny Chang (張德祥) and when he suffered a heart attack in the 1970s, his son Tony Chang (張宗琪, 1956-) also joined the firm as did his nephew Lincoln Chang (張宗豪, son of Johnny). Under the leadership of the second generation, the firm began to expand. In 1986, Ascot Chang opened its first store abroad at 57th Street in New York. Over the next two decades, more branches were added. In 2007, a 5000 sq ft flagship store was opened at 110 Central Park South in New York . Today, the firm has a network of 17 stores worldwide – 4 in HK (Peninsula, IFC, Prince’s Bldg and Elements), 2 in the US (Beverly Hills and NYC), 7 in China (3 in Shanghai, 1 each in Suzhou,Hangzhou, Wuxi and Xiamen) and 4 in the Philippines (3 in Manila and 1 in Cebu) and in 2013, a 60th anniversary exhibition was held at the IFC.
Aside from the many family members who worked in his firm, Ascot Chang also had a large number of loyal staff, some had stayed with the firm for over 4 decades. In 1977, Ascot backed one of his young staff members, Benson Tung (董華榮) in starting Do Do Fashion (多德製衣) to manufacture silk apparel for US designer labels. Within a decade, this became Tungtex Holdings (同得仕集團) and was listed on the HK Stock Exchange. The Chang family maintain a stake at Tungtex and Tony Chang has served on the board since 1994, succeeding his father.
William Yu (惠利) and Y. William Yu (惠隆)
William Yu Expert Tailors was founded by William Yu in 1953 at the Peninsula Hotel. Born in 1912, William Yu was regarded as one of the best tailors in HK and worked until his 80s. In the 1950s, he took on Michael Poon (潘国忠) as an apprentice and eventually Poon succeeded him and took over the business, which currently operates out of Sands Building in TST. The celebrity clients of William Yu over the years included Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, movie star Nicholas Cage and the CEO of Coca-Cola. In recent years, it worked with Latland, a startup from Shenzhen to penetrate the mainland market.
Y. William Yu Co Ltd was founded in 1952 and incorporated in 1964. In 1959, it shared its premise in 30 Kimberley Road with Frank L. Chan. In more recent years it operated out of 40 Mody Road. In 1994, it formed a joint venture in Shanghai and it also has a branch in New York under Y. William Yu Inc.
There is likely a connection between the two firms since both the English and Chinese names are very similar. (One source suggested that Y. William Yu was the younger brother of William Yu)
This article was first posted on 23rd October 2017.
Related Indhhk articles:
- Famous HK Tailors (Part One): the Cantonese – Tak Cheong, A Man Hing Cheong, Yee On Tai, Tailor Cheung, and Others
- Famous HK Tailors (Part Two) – the British (Sayle, William Powell, Diss Bros, James. T. Shaw and Mackintosh’s) and the Indians (Tajmahal’s, Mohan’s, Harilela’s, J. Kima, Raja and Sam’s)
- Famous HK Tailors (Part Three): Dress Makers – Fairall and Mme. Flint, Mow Kie and Moon Kee, Hong Zang and Lo Kai Fook, Johnson and Zeepha