Welcome to the House of Lord’s

Welcome to the House of Lord’s

A custom of bespoke

It’s been more than 40 years but Robert Loh of LORD’s Tailor still gets a little starry-eyed at the memory of the time he took the measure of the legendary Mohammad Ali. “I made him three safari suits,” he says of the boxer who was in Kuala Lumpur to fight Joe Bugner. “He was a very tall, but very soft-spoken and gentle man – not exactly what you’d expect of a boxer!”

Back then, in 1975, LORD’s Tailor was still known as Groovy Apparel – “A very young, kinky name,” Loh laughs – the tailoring business that Loh founded a year earlier. “We started out in 77 Jalan Alor,” the Managing Director of LORD’s says. By the time Ali and his entourage rolled into town, Loh had already established a reputation for the quality of his work and was contracted to provide suits for the staff of some of Kuala Lumpur’s leading hotels, including the old Hilton Hotel, where, incidentally, the boxer stayed. It seemed almost inevitable that pugilist and tailor would meet and history made. “We even got tickets to the fight – and that’s where I saw a totally different Mohammad Ali,” Loh says. “It was an amazing experience.”

As amazing, perhaps, as the journey LORD’s has had so far. The brand became LORD’s Tailor in 1980, at the suggestion of Loh’s wife, Liew Lee Lee, a reflection of the standards that the brand aspired to as it increasingly focused – and excelled – on bespoke. Slow but steady expansion followed, with opening of outlets in Bangsar Shopping Complex, where LORD’s was one of the pioneering tenants, and The Ampwalk in Ampang (which replaced the Jalan Alor store). An extension brand, LORD’s 1974, also came into being, offering ready-to-wear as well as made-to-measure, with all the typical hallmarks of the brand’s dedication to quality, in The Gardens Mall. Later this year, LORD’s will open in the upcoming Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur, the latest, fitting milestone of its story.

The road to bespoke excellence started, of course, with Loh. “I always had an interest in tailoring,” Loh shares. He grew up in an area where there were plenty of tailors and he learned from observing them. “I actually started when I was 15, when I was still in school! I made clothes for friends and schoolmates. I found it very interesting and later decided to look for a store.” Before that, however, was a two-year apprenticeship, followed by a stint in Sabah where he was contracted to make suits for three years. Since then, the brand has grown from strength to strength, boosted by a client list of who’s who in Malaysian corporate, politics and society, loyal customers of LORD’s over the years, many of whom even introducing their s ons – and even grandsons, in some cases – to the pleasures of LORD’s bespoke.

Today, LORD’s is very much a family business. Loh remains involved in the day-to-day operations, as does his wife, Liew. Their son, Kenny, is the brand’s Creative Director, while daughter Olivia is Marketing Director of LORD’s 1974. Their youngest, Vicky, is the Corporate Director. “I joined because the shop was shorthanded” Kenny quips but, as Olivia points out: “We all grew up around the business.”

Liew Lee Lee and Robert Loh.

Olivia, Vicky and Kenny Loh are the second generation leading the LORD’s experience.

One of the strengths of LORD’s is how the brand has moved with the times and, yet, remained grounded in timeless virtues like quality and dedication. “Our father has always been the one to set the quality and technical standards,” Olivia explains. “My brother’s input has been a lot of modern styles and trends, and it is this combination that has made us improve from year to year. Kenny would challenge him to come up with more contemporary cuts, improving things without compromising on the standards of our brand.” Although he has always been keen on fashion, Kenny attributes his contribution to his education: “I was trained as an art student, and I applied what I learned – composition, and art and colour sense, for example – to tailoring. I think what I learned in art school didn’t go to waste!”

More than that is how the brand’s is expanding its reach to a wider audience. “From a macro view, we have moved from just offering bespoke,” Olivia says. “We want to be a menswear destination, not just in terms of suits and shirts, but also ties, accessories, shoes and bags – you can say we are becoming a luxury menswear brand. We realise that, for a lot of younger men, going straight into bespoke is daunting – they don’t know much about fabrics or cuts, for example. This is why we introduced ready-to-wear and, especially, madeto- measure, a bridging experience that offers a taste of what bespoke is. Eventually, we hope this will lead them to bespoke.”

In spite of a world of hurried trends, the demand for bespoke is growing, especially among the young. “They are more knowledgeable and more interested in handcrafted items, especially one-of-a-kinds, and this is where bespoke comes in,” Kenny says. “Bespoke is a much sought-after service because of its uniqueness – it is, after all, made for a single individual.” Consultations take several hours, according to Olivia: “Beyond just taking measurements, it is also about understanding your lifestyle, learning exactly what you need and what you’re using the suit for.”

Loh adds: “Bespoke is very personalised: a bespoke suit is not just one that makes you look good; it’s also about catering to individual tastes and desires. It’s about being unique – some people even want personalised buttonholes and bespoke allows you to choose your own fabric, buttons and lining, which isn’t available in ready-towear or made-to-measure. People with ‘difficult’ figures need bespoke. We create suits that fit a customer’s personality, career and needs. Bespoke has a singular and particular value for a customer.”

Of course, like all good things, it takes time. Where once it would have taken LORD’s a week to complete a bespoke suit, current demand is such that, Kenny estimates, it now takes at least three weeks – conservatively, the brands makes around 100 bespoke suits a month. Behind that carefully measured and constructed suit is a process that still relies heavily on attention to the tiniest details, steady hands, sharp eyes and a dedication to the craft. “Make no mistake – this is an art,” Loh says. And all like good art, it demands dedication and time. “There is no shortcut,” he adds. “The art of tailoring takes a long time to master. Cutting is another matter altogether – it is easy to learn but it is only by practising, learning from your mistakes and gaining experience that you truly master it.” It is not a process, he admits, that greatly attracts the young. There is interest, however: “We do get young people who approach us for internships, but we lack a structure at present where we can make this meaningful,” Kenny says. “It is something we’re considering for the future, however.”

Olivia explains: “During my father’s time, he had a real masterapprentice kind of relationship, where you start at the bottom and learn everything step by step. We tell people who come to us that they need to start by doing sales, for example, and learn about fabrics before moving on to another department but most are too impatient.” There is, though, a growing need to do something – the art behind LORD’s are skills that would be lost to future generations if no one makes the effort to pass them on. “We do see that there is a gap; there is no one in Malaysia offering this sort of training. We are looking at an apprenticeship programme, where you come in and learn from all the departments, and shadow different people within the company. That way, you really see how things are pieced together.”


With so much experience behind them – Loh quips that, with one eye closed, he can get the measure of anyone who steps into LORD’s – the brand is uniquely position to claim a lead on the Malaysian bespoke experience. Typically, Malaysians have two to three suits – LORD’s thinks you need a basic set of a tuxedo, and a navy and a charcoal suits, that you can mix and match – that try to cover all sorts of occasions, both formal and casual. They are more conservative when it comes to colours, leaning towards lighter tones. Change, however, is afoot as Kenny has seen growing appreciation for less traditional hues. “People are starting to look for things like green velvet or burgundy jackets and even blue tuxedos instead of the usual black.”

Most of LORD’s senior clients prefer classic cuts, which are looser and more comfortable. “They’re not going to like modern cuts, which are tighter and more form-fitting,” Loh says. Modern cuts are slim-fit, where the shoulders are slightly undersized, and are shorter in length. “We call this the young man’s style,” Loh smiles. “We usually recommend what we call a semi-classical look, a cross between modern and classical cuts. You’ll look sharper and still remain comfortable.”

“We have clients who have been with us for 20 to 30 years, and they’re not going to change overnight,” Kenny says. “We try to educate them slowly, taking them through fabrics and cuts, for example.” Customers who know what they want are always a joy to work with, says Liew, who’s had her share of dealing with bespoke clients. “Sometimes, though, they can be quite difficult – nasty even and criticising everything. They can be unreasonable at times.”

However, there is still pleasure in the business, according to Olivia: “This is a craftsman and artisan level of work. There needs to be a level of trust that allows us to find out exactly what we need to put into the perfect suit. We get great pleasure working with clients who are willing to meet us halfway. And when you get the details right, they end up being happy customers, which is what makes it such an enjoyable process.”

Asked about his thoughts of the last 44 years, Loh glows with a silent satisfaction. “I think our brand is doing ok,” he says modestly. Yet, he takes great pride in what LORD’s has become: when pressed, he adds: “We offer very good Italian combined with British cutting, as well as modern technology and up-to-date styling – I think we are on par with European standards.” In the end, though, it is the craftsmanship in him that has the final word. “I like those who appreciate my work,” he says. “And look good in my suits!”


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