Almost one year to the day I excitedly bounced from rail to rail inside Singapore's finest retail concepts, Surrender. Inspired by the history of one of the world's oldest hotels, Earn Chan and the gang, opted for a more welcoming and rustic surrounding to house their heart poundingly strong assortment of brands. The inventory of design talent read like my yearly letter to Santa. The finest products from blog favourites including Bunney, Mr Hare, Saint James, Oliver Peoples Vintage and now Casely-Hayford alongside the often obsessed over Visvim, Porter, Thom Browne and Gitman Vintage to name but a few. I felt I had found my retail home in a true emporium of menswear. Upon entering this well curated space, the common reaction is that all self control is relinquished and replaced with retail abandon. My wallet was thankful when I left the store over nine thousand miles behind when I landed back in London. Saved by proximity, there was no reason to hoist the white flag to temptation. Until now. Today sees the unveiling of Surrender's online store with global shipping.
Building on the success of the global enquiries directed at its blog following its frequent product showcases, Chen and the team have finally opened up their digital shutters. Here we talk to Chen across the digital seas to discuss this natural evolution of the store...
SS: For any readers unfamiliar with Surrender, how would you describe the retail venture?
Earn Chen: Surrender offers a selection of menswear and sportswear to people who have already discovered their own style. However, for people who are about to find out, it's never too late and always welcome.
SS: Having read so much about your Singapore institution it was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity excitedly bounce from rail to rail of so many favourites of the blog last year. Now, thanks to the wonders of the web, you've saved us all the airfare. What brought you on to the wonderful world of e-commerce? What was the catalyst for launching the online arm, why now?
Earn Chen: Thank you for your kind words. It's a natural progression from our store. We started the blog a few years ago and it was meant to be a casual site for the locals to keep track of what we have at the store. To be honest, none of us took it too seriously. Hence the photography was always a bit off. I guess that made us a little different from the rest. Perhaps coming from a non commercial aspect of the blog, we were getting a lot of enquiries from overseas. So we have built up a web base clientele and have been corresponding with them via email. Finally, we thought the time is right and decided to offer the service. However, we are only offering 70% of our store inventory on the webstore. Ultimately, we still want people to visit us at the store.
SS: The physical store, located in the colonial masterpiece that is the Raffles Hotel Arcade has such character. Was it difficult bringing this online?
Earn Chen: Yes, the Raffles Hotel has indeed a lot of heritage of Singapore. It is quite impossible to translate that into our webstore. People might already have an impression on how our store feels like. So instead of creating an identity for the web, we are allowing our online store to create its own identity.
SS: There are a few well-curated menswear shopping websites including Mr Porter, Oki-ni and LN-CC to name but a few– what edge do you see that Surrender has over them?
Earn Chen: These are really good online stores. To be honest, we realised that setting up an online store is more difficult than setting up a physical one. So I respect them for doing such a good job. In the meantime, we want to keep it simple and just like our physical store, we want to progress organically as we move along. Being a shopper myself, I enjoy buying vinyls in London. I go to HMV which offers wide varieties of music genre, a lot of information and good discounts. On the other hand, there are smaller record stores like Sounds Of The Universe and Rough Trade which have a more focused selection. They may not have every genre or albums of the band but they will select the best for you. That's what a good select store should be. In reference to that, it is exactly what we are aiming for.
SS: In recent years we have seen how the internet has changed people’s shopping practice. What do you think the immediate future holds in terms of changing how we buy stuff and how we shop?
Earn Chen: We agree that the Internet is still the most convenient way to do things. People are very influenced by what they see in the Internet so shopping online is a natural thing to do. It allows us to connect to the product instantly. We see some things we fancy and we can buy in the next minute. It's fast, efficient and it helps if you live far away from the stores. Nevertheless, some people still prefer to travel and explore. It brings more joy going to a physical store to discover, try or buy stuff. It's more exciting that way. Although the Internet has affected some businesses, I believe the shops on the streets will continue to enjoy good business for many years to come.
SS: Which menswear designers and brands are really exciting you right now?
Earn Chen: Personally, I really like Casely Hayford. The idea of British tailoring with a feel of anarchy is really exciting. The father and son team are really pushing the envelope and reinventing through tradition. Also Paul Harnden which is not necessarily my style, but I do appreciate the style and aesthetics of the brand.
SS: What items are you lusting after from the S/S12 Surrender selection?
Earn Chen: My favourite is the Lhamo shirt by Visvim. It's an over shirt, but you can also wear it as a cardigan as well. Its very easy to wear. A Bunney badge compliments it very well. As for trousers, everyone I know looks good in a pair of Visvim high water chinos. I am tempted to get them in every colour. It will make my life easier. I also like the Raf Simons 1995, Orlebar Brown and Band of Outsiders chinos. They are well made chinos which are comfortable and their silhouette are flattering. Meanwhile, I'm really into trainers. My favourite is the luxury trainer, Vonnegut by Mr Hare.
SS: Are there any items that you think are essential to every man’s wardrobe?
Earn Chen: We dress for the occasion and of course there are different wardrobe for different occasions. Depending on your style, it can vary from suits to varsity jacket to leather blouson, the lists goes on. Ultimately, every men's wardrobe should include sports blazer, oxford shirts, plain tees, denim, chinos, brogues and of course trainers. I guess if you are about to start building a conservative and yet dignified wardrobe, these are the essentials.
SS: What excites you about the future of menswear?
Earn Chen: The new generation of designers that are currently creating a heritage instead of following one. They are creating an identity that are both timeless and yet full of expression. It will be interesting to see how they progress over a decade.
SS: Finally, what can we expect from Surrender in the coming seasons and beyond
Earn Chen: We are working on a few capsule collections by our favourite designers. We are grateful that the brands we work with are really supportive of the online store. It should be exciting to see how they turn out.
The online incarnation of Surrender only launched last night and more product and content will be added over the coming weeks. There's certainly enough to whet the appetite though. I'm excited to see how it will grow. In the meantime, I'll leave you with their latest lookbook...