24 Minutes with Shahrin Bahar, creative director of bespoke tailoring label S Bahar
Pantsuits are an essential in every man's closet, and one that's tailored to perfection can make you look taller and leaner—you'll look great and feel great. Looking to make a bespoke suit after years of shopping them off the rack but don't know where to start? We got in touch with Shahrin Bahar, the creative director of Malaysian bespoke tailoring label S Bahar—who counts local celebs Joe Flizzow, SonaOne and Altimet as his clients—to educate us on the things we should take note of, and also give an insight into his brand as a whole.
How did you get into fashion?
I was never into fashion per se, nor have I attended any formal art classes back in school. I was always drawing and doodling in class, and somehow I've always paid extra attention to the clothing details. One day during my last year of secondary school I decided that men's clothing is something I've always had an interest in and I never looked back since. Let's just call it a happy accident.
You used to work for big brands including DKNY and Nike. What prompted you to establish a sartorial label—that is totally different from the activewear and streetwear flair of previous brands—of your own?
My graduate collection was hugely emphasised on tailoring. Tailoring has always been a big part of my interest, not just the aesthetics, but the emotional aspect they bring. The companies that hired me took my tailoring obsession as a plus point, as that knowledge is a base that could be translated into different types of garments.
S Bahar is dubbed a "premium sartorial destination". Tell us more about it.
Right now, we are a five years young company. The established tailoring houses in Malaysia have been around for decades, and the legendary houses in the UK and parts of Europe are reaching centuries. We are a by-appointment-only atelier that only houses fabrics, trims and linings at a very high quality. Our suits are constructed in-house, therefore, we can only cater to a certain amount of orders per month. We believe that our clients deserve the upmost attention and experience tailoring a suit—more like an investment rather than just a purchase.
What do you think sets you apart from other bespoke menswear labels out there?
My team and I know every client by name and have memorised their likes and dislikes, requests, measurements, body shape and fabric orders by heart. It's not just a transaction, we forge relationships and I think a lot of these services are slowly vanishing in today's world. We also have a signature house cut that sets us apart from other bespoke houses, and we do not force feed you into getting a suit done. We have advised clients to come back only when they are ready or have always used the term "buy better, not buy more". A good classic navy suit can last you a very long time and can be styled in many different ways.
In terms of presentation we have collaborated with the best fashion photographers in Malaysia such as Zhong Lin and Chee Wei to shoot our campaigns. Every campaign we have done has in-depth storytelling, catered not only to the sartorial enthusiasts, but the fashion crowd as well.
Walk us through the process of creating a pantsuit.
First we'll set up an appointment, get to know each other a little better and recognise a client's needs. Then, we'll go for our first fitting process that consists of fabric selection, measurements and style options. In two weeks' time, there will be a second fitting where the suits are constructed halfway, and being fitted on the client. This is the crucial part of the process where we get to know a client's posture, how he stands and sits so that we can then take further steps in ensuring the best fit. Finally, it's the handover when the suit is done. We'll also check for any minor aesthetic changes that needs to be altered such as perfecting the trouser length or shortening the sleeves of the jacket to ensure the optimum amount of shirt will be shown under it.
What are some things a groom needs to take note when it comes to making the perfect suit?
Being timeless is the way to go. One might be distracted by a look that is very contemporary or flamboyant, but the best wedding photos are the ones that look classic and elegant. You wouldn't want to look back at the most memorable moment in your life thinking "God, I wish it was just a nice dark tuxedo."
What are your price points for a bespoke suit like?
Our entry-level two-piece suits sets at RM2,950 and a tuxedo starts at RM3,350. This includes our consultation, fabric selection and multiple fittings. All suits that are constructed by us will have enough room for you to come back and alter if you've outgrown it a little. Your tailor should also be your style consultant, not just agreeing to an order that's been instructed.
What are some of the top suit trends right now?
A lot of the big fashion houses have reinterpreted some sort of suiting style in their own way. But the base of all the contemporary cuts come from tailoring. On the other hand, the labels that focus on tailoring have been very interesting in terms of presentation and direction. There's Drake's from the UK that's giving a breath of fresh air in terms of how tailored garments are presented; P Johnson from Australia with really modern yet elegant lookbooks and styling; and Husbands from Paris that presents tailored collections with cool retro film-like images.
Understood that you'll be launching a bespoke womenswear line soon. Tell us more about it.
It will be a capsule collection of different styles, and it will be priced higher than our men's line. It will be captained by Yana Baharudin, who is my life partner and has been in the fashion editorial industry for more than 12 years. It's a more creative side of S Bahar; as we are both fashion graduates, and we hope that the womenswear line will cater to an audience that is looking for investment pieces that make a statement.
Tell us about your most memorable client.
My client stories can be turned into a fun, wholesome TV series. There's many, and some aren't appropriate to share, but I think the best is me getting a phone call from a client who was overseas for a job interview. We knew that this job would mean the world to him, that it could put him and his family overseas and experience a new venture ahead. Weeks later, I got a surprise call from a number that isn't from Malaysia, and it was him screaming emotionally "I got it! I got it! This suit is magic! This suit gave me the mojo!" Apparently I was the second person to know after his wife. So I guess at times clothes do bring out the best in people. Another memorable moment is dressing Joe Flizzow for the MTV EMA Awards in 2018 that was held in Bilbao. And to see him win Best South East Asia act in our suit, little things like that make us thank our lucky stars and pray we get luckier!
What's the biggest business challenge you face today?
As materials and trims are getting pricier, we do face some challenges in terms of getting the right price point that not only gives value to our clients, but also adds value to us as a business. There's also a lot of other affordable alternatives which could divert traffic elsewhere. But as long as we keep educating and owning the space and expertise we are in, we should be able to sustain as long as possible.
What's your proudest achievement so far?
Besides working abroad for more than 12 years, my proudest moment is that I'm making a living out of doing something that I believed in even when the odds were against me and now to be able to share it with two beautiful children.
What are your advice for young designers or tailors who'd like to launch their own brand?
Just go ahead and do. All the business seminars in the world and all the motivational quotes on social media would not mean a thing as long as you start to practice on your own. Try to think commercially as well—as much as we want to do what we love, we need a healthy amount of profit to ensure we what we love doing won't sabotage us!