If you’ve kept tabs on the local fashion industry, Atelier Fitton and the man behind the eponymous label – Joshua Fitton – would definitely be on your radars. An architect by training, Fitton took a leap of faith when he jumped into the fashion industry a couple of years back. Today, Atelier Fitton is worn by some of Malaysia’s most prominent celebrities and socialites, and the label is even expanding its offerings from bespoke menswear to a line of ready-to-wear offerings for both men and women.
You trained as an architect, in fact you have a Masters in architecture. So how did you go from that into the fashion industry?
After I got my Masters, I came back to Malaysia and worked for an architect for a few years. As time passed, I got on more responsibility and I was in charge of two or three projects, housing estates, office towers, hotels and stuff. Then after doing that for awhile, I got a bit tired of commercial architecture. Because when I was doing my Masters, thesis was all about tropical architecture, making buildings and living spaces appropriate for the climate.
So, at the time I started looking for passion projects and I started making t-shirts. When I was researching culture and history I found out that the younger generation here did not really care about who we are as a country, our culture and history. It was all about what’s being worn in America and Europe that’s is cool, so I started a t-shirt brand called Tempatan and that was basically to incorporate local culture into streetwear. And this was about five years ago.
Within a year, the awareness for buying local grew tremendously so I just so happen to start Tempatan when this trend was starting to pick up. So, right place right time and making the right thing.
Then we got invited to KL Fashion Week within six months of starting Tempatan. All the papers were writing about us. And I think to them it was weird because it was this half Malay, half English guy who was really concerned about locals not taking into consideration their heritage.
How did you go from t-shirts into suits?
So, when we got invited to KL Fashion Week we had to figure out how to showcase more than just t-shirts so that’s when I started to learn how to make shirts, trousers and renamed the label Tempatan Black. I had no formal training in fashion whatsoever. But my business partner Misha Shah did fashion merchandising, so I would just read all her textbooks watch a ton of YouTube videos and talk to a lot of old school tailors. It was more learning on the job.
I don’t like not knowing something. I need to know everything. So, in our first ever collection for Fashion Week, that’s when I made two suits. And that, for me, was the most interesting part of it because there was so many different bits and pieces that go into a suit. Deconstructing it – because as an architect I always wanted to know how everything worked – I was amazed at how many pieces actually go into a jacket.
From there I started to focus more on suits. It was fascinating how the individual parts of the suits is just flat pieces of fabric, and then when you sew it together it follows the contours of your body; I guess you could say to me it was like drawing plans for a building. That really drew me into bespoke tailoring.
Were you still doing architecture at that point?
As soon we got the invitation to KL Fashion Week I decided to really give fashion a go. So I stopped doing architecture and went full time into it. Then, more and more people began coming to me for suits. And to me, making these suits were more learning about who I am as an English person as opposed to Tempatan which was about Malaysian heritage. And that led me to start Atelier Fitton because I wanted it to be more personal, it had my surname. But, at the end of the day, I was still trying to stick to the same ideology of making things that was appropriate for the local culture and the climate.
That got me to study more about the fabrics themselves – wool, cottons, cashmere and silk – and how breathable it is, how fast your sweat would evaporate. So, it got really technical. And I think as a designer it is your responsibility to understand all the materials you are working with. It’s the same as being an architect, understanding your bricks and concrete.
So it would seem that you take quite a different approach to fashion design.
My approach to design is very different than taking a piece of paper and start sketching I will have to have a problem I am supposed to solve first before I can design something. I guess this process is quite different from say, a fashion student. For me the process is very important and understanding why you are doing what you are doing.
And with that you can choose appropriate fabrics for your clients and finding out what time of the day they are going to wear the suit. If it’s a daytime suit then I use different materials and colours and if it’s a night time thing it will be different materials and linings.
So you really got into the fashion industry through these bespoke suits. With bespoke the scale of everything is much smaller. Now, Atelier Fitton is moving into the ready-to-wear space. How did this come about?
When we first started doing streetwear sizing was quite basic, S, M, and L. Then with bespoke it was very different because each part is so specific. Then moving into ready-to-wear, with the shirts especially, finding a good sizing balance was tough. I was buying all kinds of shirts from different brands and measuring every single one. That was a lot of math but once we figured that out, it was much easier to move forward.
We wanted to do a ready-to-wear line because we wanted the brand to be more accessible. With bespoke suits, it doesn’t matter where your office is, people will find you. But with ready to wear it opened up the market for us. We have our shirts and accessories on Fashion Valet, which is a more female-centric fashion e-commerce platform but what we realized that there were a lot of female customers buying these things for gifts.
But what’s interesting is, when we launched our first ever Raya collection earlier this year, it was the female stuff that sold out way before the men’s stuff. Which I thought was quite interesting that we do have a female market that we can tap into further.
Any challenges moving from bespoke to ready to wear?
There is of course a lot more money needed up front. When it comes to producing large scale, with each material that you use you have to take into consideration the price to the cent because you’re buying rolls and rolls of the stuff. It’s a bigger risk, but I guess the more research you do it becomes a more calculated risk. We manufacture everything locally, but the fabrics we source it worldwide. But making it is still done in KL.
You even moved into your first physical space at the Zhongsan building a year ago.
It was interesting moving in there because we knew it is additional commitments. But that also gave us the push that every month we have to sell a certain amount. Moving in, we just tried to keep the cost crazy low and we did everything ourselves. That’s where my background in Architecture comes in because I knew the best suppliers to get everything. Rather than outsourcing to a contractor.
We do need a bigger space already but being in the Zhongshan building is amazing because everyone is a creative person even though they are from different aspects of design.
What are the future plans for Atelier Fitton?
Well of course the goal would be to grow the brand name further and hopefully we will be able to go international.
Breitling Navitimer 1 B01 Chronograph
On his wrist Fitton wears the Breitling Navitimer 1 B01 Chronograph that is arguably one of the most classic Breitling watches in their entire line up. This watch is part of the large pilots watch that, over the years, had become synonymous with the name Breitling. This time around Breitling offers the Navitimer 1 in three different case sizes including 41mm, 43mm and even 46mm while the case materials range from stainless steel to 18k red gold. The one thing that ties all the watches together however is the Breitling Manufacture Caliber 01 which is has a chronograph functions, is a COSC certified chronometer and has at least 70 hours of power reserve.
ART DIRECTION AUDREY LIM
PHOTOGRAPHY ROBIN LIEW