Kelvin Cheong’s quirky Singapore store, Only Brown, wouldn’t look out of place in London’s St James. ‘I’ve always liked the stores around Jermyn St.,’ admits Cheong, ‘but I wanted something contemporary. I didn’t want a typical traditional look – old and stuffy. I wanted colour.’
And colourful it is – Only Brown’s striking storefront is a bright blue (the paint used is a rather appropriate tone called ‘Bachelor’s Pad’, he tells me) with gold accents. The entrepreneur’s love of all things bright doesn’t stop at his front door – he has brought a rainbow of quality accessories to the men of Singapore.
It’s been a slow process. When he started the business, back in 2011, he was very much swimming against the current. ‘Black was the tone of choice for leather goods and even brown was seen as too casual back then. I wanted to change that and bring in more variety. And, although trends are slow to change in Singapore, guys are now wearing all sorts of colourful accessories – red, coral, and even purple - and we joke that you should now only wear black to wakes.’
So it’s a job well done on that front. But, Cheong’s love of variety aside, what else has changed since 2011 and why?
‘British made goods have surged in popularity – items with a story and a heritage are selling well. And good quality craftsmanship is being appreciated. And this is mainly down to Instagram and bloggers,’ says Cheong, a prolific Instagrammer himself.
Social media has brought the past back to life, it seems. Bespoke tailoring is now fashionable again (although Cheong notes that you really only see suits at a board meeting or wedding, ‘it’s normally 34/35 degrees and any extra fabric is going to make you sweat’). And there has been renewed interest in well-made leather shoes and other accessories.
This shift has been good news for Only Brown. ‘All this helps with our business of course, as once you dress well you must pay attention to all the little things – pocket squares, neck ties, hats, belts, wallets and all the rest.’
Ettinger’s colourful accessories have been a mainstay of Cheong’s collection since the two brands began working together six years ago – so what is the brand to Cheong?
‘Ettinger is all about classic style and traditional skills. Quality comes first - it’s the level of consistency and quality which I always notice.’
Cheong treasures his Piccadilly Tote Bag in Ivory: ‘Ivory is not a common colour, but I love it. It goes with everything I wear. And the tote is simple, functional and fantastically lightweight.’ And nestled inside his tote is an old and much loved billfold from the Brogue collection – ‘the billfolds sell really well nowadays as no one really carries cash,’ he notes of the timeless classic.
The future looks bright for British brands in Singapore, it seems.