There is a certain Annie Hall-esque element to the personal style of Janie Cai. I have mentioned Janie Cai before when I had talked about emerging trends, one of which I thought would be women taking on the world of dandyism in their own right. Janie is the fashion director at Esquire in Singapore. She is not afraid of colour, loves three piece suits, loves bow ties and ties and a good old fashioned club collar. It was just pot luck that I managed to get in contact with her and I asked her a few questions which she answered below.
Prior to spending 8 years in the media industry specializing in menswear, she studied art and design and jewellery design at Central St Martins in London. Currently based in Singapore, she sets the fashion direction for Esquire Singapore, working with a talented pool of stylists, creatives and photographers to develop the style-focused content of the magazine. Her personal style is a mix of old and new, interspersed with tailored influences. Bright colours, graphic pattern and unusual detailing are elements easily found in her wardrobe.
Janie, a while ago I saw a photo of you on StreetFSN and it was a pivotal moment for me when women had taken up the ‘dandy’ renaissance and were adding their own accent. Can you tell us a little about that suit /gloves/ vest/ tie/hat combination? Where it was made and how you went about choosing the fabrics, cut and accessories? Where exactly were you when that photo was taken?
That image was taken outside the Tokyo Palais in Paris on a freezing winter's day in January - I think it was just before the Neil Barrett show. The two-button windowpane suit was tailored for me by Chong Han San of Q Menswear, who with infinite patience and kindness went through the fitting process with me. In part because of my experience with menswear, I am particular when it comes to what I want for my suits. It usually starts with the fabric. I'll pour over the swatch books until I find one that inspires me and then I'll usually visualize the style of suit from there. I do go in with a rough idea of what kind of suit I might want but in the end it is really the fabric that finalizes the choice. That suit came about because I had gone to Han San intending to tailor a classic navy suit but then I saw the swatch and fell in love with it. I wore it in Paris with a pale blue herringbone vest and classic white shirt, both also tailored at Q Menswear, and a wool roll-neck to mitigate the cold. I'm very much into lapel pins and pocket squares. The tan leather gloves I borrowed from Jeri (my sister, who is also a fashion director). We share a lot of accessories but wear them differently. I think the photographer, Nam for Streetfsn, really caught us in a perfect moment when we were relaxed. When the street-style photographers first started shooting me it must have been challenging for them, I was so awkward in front of the lens! Now its better...from practice haha. In this picture I just felt a huge urge to be bright and colourful and to have fun - I mean I usually feel that way. It has to be enjoyable, you have to just have fun. Make mistakes. Smile.
|Janie Cai shot by Nam for Streetfsn|
|Janie Cai shot by StockholmStreetstyle.Com|
The suit you were wearing was perfect for the climate of Paris on a freezing day, but I gather Singapore is a different story. What do you look for when dressing for around town in Singapore in terms of fabrics and construction?
Definitely natural fibres. 100% cotton, linens etc. I'm now very keen on linens and I've just tailored a pale blue linen shirt at this place called Bulli & Sons run by a lady named Dewi. She has some beautiful Japanese cottons and linens for shirting. We used the selvedge edge of the blue linen to finish the placket, which I loved, as it showed a little bit of the origins of the fabric. I’m pretty obsessed with blue linen at the moment, I just did another shirt at ‘k’ by Kevin Seah. Clinton and Matthew who are based there are very meticulous and extremely good at making shirts. They had this incredible piece of blue striped linen that I had to have. I think it is really important to respect the fabric. When you tailor something, the fabric is really is the start of something potentially incredible. It becomes your second skin and you have to choose something you feel passionate about. Tailoring for women is very different as compared to tailoring for men. This is a fact. Our bodies are different and a good tailor understands that. There have been some tailors who won't tailor for women - which I can understand, it's a different approach altogether and they prefer to specialize in menswear. Fair enough. Even with my tailors it takes a fair amount of time and fittings to get it right but a good tailor doesn't give up.
It's not just the overwhelming heat and humidity in Singapore, once you get into an office or a mall, the air conditioning is on at full blast and you end up freezing. For the workweek I'm usually in a shirt and either jeans or trousers with a pair of loafers and I'll build on that. Nothing that's too tight or constrictive, I look for well-fitting pieces that also allow for movement, although I do like structural pieces over anything that’s too drapey. For accessories it's usually my Hypergrand watch which was designed by a friend of mine and has a white face with a gold casing and navy strap, simple and perfect for complementing much of what I wear. I keep a few blazers in the office, mainly linen ones, to throw on if I have a meeting or event, those are better for the tropics. I also like the vest look... and a hat - usually a light straw one . If I'm not working I'm usually in cotton shorts and either a plain polo tee or casual cotton or linen shirt, my Rivieras and a watch - that’s it. Occasionally I'll wear a skirt or a dress, it all depends on my mood really.
Can you tell us a little about your own style and what have been the pivotal moments in that journey over the last five years? For example, what was it that first got you into suiting?
I would say my personal style is pretty mixed. I like menswear and tailoring and to mix those elements with other pieces, especially vintage finds and unexpected accessories. I like things with a story, be it a tie handed down to me by my dad or a watch that is designed by a friend with its own story behind it. I've always been pretty androgynous in my dressing - preferring trousers to skirts. I used to go out with someone who was very much into sartorial wear and tailoring. He would make an effort to dress up, even in a three-piece suit in the Singapore heat. He also introduced me to Rubinacci and their gorgeous pocket squares, it was through him that I came away with a much greater appreciation for the fine art of tailoring and the details and heritage of menswear. I think it was my second year of working in menswear, at August Man magazine, that I started going into a more formal tailored look. It just seemed a natural progression. I also started collecting pocket squares and I realized that I could adapt a lot of those accessories to my own wardrobe.
|Janie Cai by StockholmStyle.Com|
The main lapels for a suit are notched, peaked, shawl and double breasted. Of all of these, which one do you most find handsome on a man? And for yourself?
The peaked lapel. You need character to carry off a peaked lapel, it's sharper and dressier than a notched lapel. Shawl collars are beautiful too but for me they should only be part of a dinner jacket or tuxedo. There is a certain glamour and elegance to the shawl collar that should not be diluted by everyday wear. I usually get a peaked lapel for my tailored suits.
|Janie Cai in a peaked lapel and club collar: Tommy Ton for Style.Com|
You seem to love your box check, which has been by far the most interesting fabric that has been developed over the last two years. But in terms of where the trends are going, do you see box check as having a long lasting trend?
Oh yes! I love the windowpane check. Especially in unusual colour combinations. It's so popular now because people are starting to realize how versatile it is. Most physiques can carry them off and it is patterned without being too much for work. Checks are such an iconic pattern in menswear and its firmly entrenched in the men’s style lexicon, the window pane check has been around for ages but it still feels very modern. I also think we'll be seeing more Herringbone and stronger check patterns coming in for the year ahead, not just on the runways but in terms of what men will be choosing for their suiting.
|Janie Cai by Tommy Ton for Style.Com|
About ties and bow ties – I gather you are fan – what do you look for when choosing your neckwear to relate to your suiting fabric? Are you looking for contrast? Something to complement? Patterns? Textures? Materials?
Both. I love interesting patterns and materials, textures, knits, embroidery even and embellishment. It's a balance between the suit, which is the canvas and the accessories, such as a tie or bow-tie, which form the elements that give the entire outfit its punctuation points. I have a soft spot for knit ties, they just look so great, especially the striped or polka-dot ones.
What blogs do you read regularly and who are the voices in fashion that you listen to?
Actually, I don't read any blogs regularly. Although for fashion sites I like Imran Amed's Business of Fashion site. Its tackles more than just a cursory glance at the fashion world and provides an interesting inside into the bricks and mortar side of the fashion business.
|Janie Cai: Refinery 29 Shot By Jeri Chua|
If you had carte blanche to work with a tailoring house to create your ultimate piece – firstly, who would you choose to work with, and secondly, what would you create?
There are so many great tailoring houses out there I wouldn't know where to start! They all have their own signature style as well and it would be very very difficult to decide. Maybe I could change the question a little and choose someone whom I would love to work with. I have a great admiration and respect for Alessandro Sartori and his work and what he has done for Berluti in terms of their RTW and the creative direction. He has a very strong, very clear vision as well as a thorough understanding of the art of tailoring. Ever since ZZegna, Sartori has been deeply innovative without being simply trendy and for me that is crucial. If I were given the opportunity to work with him to create something I would love to create 3 ensembles- a day look, an evening look and a uniform. The first two because his collections have a beautiful fluidity to them and it would be great to see how he would translate the transition between day to evening for the female form in particular. A uniform because it would be exciting to see Sartori's interpretation of what constitutes utilitarian workwear.