Singapore is not usually considered a world fashion capital, but look beyond the Crazy Rich Asians stereotype and you will find Wei Koh. Scion of a diplomatic dynastic family, Koh grew up in the United States, where his Harvard- and Cambridge-educated father served as Singapore’s permanent representative to the United Nations. After a few years in the salt mines of Hollywood—his first job was working for Kathryn Bigelow, and he still has a surfboard from her film Point Break—he returned to the island entrepôt to found a watch magazine called Revolution and then, in 2008, The Rake. At the time, it was a near lone voice of classic male elegance in what he saw as a stylistic wilderness of big-name publishing brands.
Twelve years later, The Rake has found its place as the newsstand equivalent of spending the day with Gianni Agnelli driving a Ferrari GTO up to Saint-Moritz to be photographed by Slim Aarons. The Rake has long championed regional Italian tailors, artisan shoemakers, small shirt workshops, and heritage tie-makers. Then three years ago, in what Koh describes as “a way of finding a new relevance for print,” he started an e-commerce shop within The Rake’s Web site to sell the clothes his magazine had been writing about.
Now he is launching his own label, called Rake, and declaring war on the tyranny of tight tailoring. Specifically, he says, “suits where the fabric is pulled to appear to have the surface tension of a sausage that is just about to explode.”
The Rake has found its place as the newsstand equivalent of spending the day with Gianni Agnelli driving a Ferrari GTO up to Saint-Moritz to be photographed by Slim Aarons.
His battle cry is “Drape.” “I think it started in the early 2000s when Hedi Slimane was head of Dior Homme: Karl Lagerfeld had lost something like a third of his body weight to be able to fit into those [suits],” says Koh. “And Tom Ford suits, which were very beautiful, were cut only for people who had Tom Ford’s body. I wanted to create clothing that looked incredibly stylish on different body shapes. A lot of that was about bringing volume and drape back into the tailoring, and make the idea of style and, sort of, sexiness associated with volume.”
The research process began by taking another look at the style of the golden age of Hollywood—through images and films of Fred Astaire, specifically. “Too often, we imagine clothing to be static,” explains Koh. “The reality is that, as we’re moving throughout the entire day, we have to look our best.” And comfort is crucial. “The idea of reconciling style with liberation and effortlessness in terms of movement was super-interesting to us.”
In the collection, that manifests in touches of Neapolitan tailoring, as seen in a soft, unstructured jacket. The British Drape, as created by Frederick Scholte, who mentored one of the founders of Anderson & Sheppard, was another influence. And Giorgio Armani’s deconstructed jackets, popularized in the 80s, also loomed large. Jackets are double-breasted and cut to be fastened on the bottom button; Neapolitan “shirt shoulders” contribute to the easy look with plenty of cloth at the front and shape through the side seams. Trousers are double-pleated, high-waisted, and best worn braced: Koh recommends a size larger than usual.
Clothes are made at a factory in Puglia, and much of the inspiration is Italian, too. Koh has sourced the gray flannel that Agnelli used for one suit and had Luca Cordero di Montezemolo in mind when designing another. British royalty also plays a role: the double-breasted dinner jacket was inspired by a photo of the Duke of Windsor, and “we love the way Prince Michael of Kent wears his blazer, so we’ve done a double-breasted blue blazer with these cool brass buttons that have skulls and crossbones on them.”
Some of the suits will take a bit of chutzpah to wear—the white flannel suit inspired by style god Bryan Ferry calls for confidence—but Koh believes that the clothes are democratic in both pricing (jackets are a shade more than $900, trousers around $250) and appeal. “I think there are so many people who would love to feel they are incredibly dressed without feeling as if they are trussed up or restricted in the way in which we’ve been over the last two decades.”
Nicholas Foulkes is a London-based writer