With a history that spans two decades, we spoke to local lingerie brand Chaloné's male founder to find out why Chaloné’s lingerie are as alluring as ever.
It was on a lazy afternoon in 1999 that Gary Lee had a facetious epiphany of sorts. Lee, who had graduated from university, had always toyed with the idea of building a brand. That afternoon, in between a casual banter with his two friends at a nondescript coffee shop, the 25-year-old figured out what he wanted to embark on in his next phase of life.
“Back then, there wasn’t anything like the Internet, things were different and simpler, and Singapore was undergoing recession. We were in our mid-twenties, we wanted to do something different,” Lee tells me. “That’s when I told my two friends, Vera Tay and Justine Ng, ‘Let’s start a lingerie brand.’.”
And so, they did and Chaloné was born.
In the months that followed, Lee travelled to Lyon in France, where he met French lingerie manufacturers and pitched the idea of introducing French lingerie to the Southeast Asian market. Prominent Parisian brands, like Aubade and Simone Perele, hopped on board and soon set up a shelf or two in major departmental stores in Singapore.
Asian bras then, Lee explains, were heavily padded and had features that encouraged push-up elements. French lingerie, on the other hand, was different. “The French did not believe in squeezing and having that ‘oomph’ effect. Its lingerie meant lift. And it also meant support. We wanted to educate women, especially for those accustomed with traditional Asian fitting, about bras that feel comfortable and make them look beautiful from the inside out too.”
Over the centuries, bras have evolved from functional and practical pieces meant to be concealed, to become style staples, with some purposefully designed to be layered openly too. This evolution came at a moment when women entered the workforce and demanded comfortable garments. The advent of cup sizes, bands and eye hooks in the lingerie lexicon in 1932 soon became an indicator of women’s pursuit for support and comfort for their intimate wear, while the utilisation of nylon tricot fabric from mid-1950s offered women with even more options in varying prints and colours.
It is thus imperative for lingerie brands and manufactures to craft their offerings with the modern women in mind. At Chaloné, the brand’s philosophy — “Be as you are. Find what fits you.” — is telling about the Lee and his partners’ determination to providing the best out in women. “The Chaloné women look at inner beauty as a complete package,” Lee says. “They work with their instincts and they are always ready to take on the challenges in the world. We encourage women to take this intuition, develop it further, and use it as a guide to their lives.”
Navigating about the unexplored realm of female intimate wear as a male, Lee had to approach the concerns of his female audience with finesse. He does so diligently and respectfully, consulting his female partners frequently and injecting objective opinions from a male’s perspective. But at the core of it all, he and his partners are strong advocates of embracing innovation to craft the perfect garment that complement the female frame.
Take for instance the BDL “Stay for Sure” Strapless Bra ($109.90 or $27.48/instalment with hoolah), which has since underwent multiple changes. The present version, the seventh generation in the family of Chaloné strapless offerings, proffers a snug-fit for women with its comfortable and all-so-subtle elastic bands and mesh. “A lot of strapless bra in the market don’t have these features. Which is why they slip off after numerous bouts of washing and wearing. A good strapless bra should not only be of a snug fit, it should also bring out your clothing without seeing the outline of the bra.”
A convertible strapless option is also available. Coined “Bra of the Year” or BOY ($109.90 or $27.48/instalment with hoolah), the BOY Strapless Bra arrives with a detachable strap and offers shaping and support with and without straps at the same time. With a gradual padding that emphasizes a natural push-up effect, its stretchable fabric and durable side bands offer a dandy aesthetic as well as a comfortable feel on the skin as well.
2019 marks the two-decade anniversary since the founding of the Singaporean brand. For Lee, past years have taught him and his team a myriad of lessons. Of which, they have learnt to embrace new changes with an open mind and the importance of diligence. “We have to always be on the lookout and constantly learn about new fabrics, or new demands from the market. We need to know what women are wearing today. We have to understand their lifestyle. Are they travelling a lot more? Are they doing more sports? If they do, do they like to change their bras?” Lee elaborates.
Recently, Lee and his partners unveiled a new outlet at Jewel Changi Airport, which reportedly drew close to 260,000 foot traffic on its official launch on the 17 April this year. The new outlet sports an eclectic selection of the brand’s bestsellers and of course, Singapore’s very first lingerie vending machine. Also catering to women who travel frequently, Lee and his team has also unveiled the Le Travel Panty, a pocket-size, anti-fray, no curls, emergency panty for all the uncomfortable and embarrassing “surprises” while on the go.
Many make the mistake of associating Chaloné as a superannuated brand with lingerie silhouettes that only befit the older generation. For the uninitiated, Chaloné is, arguably, more of a pioneer who orchestrates lingerie trends for women across generations in Singapore than its fast fashion counterparts. In other words, Chaloné exquisite offerings are at least a few notches above any other brands and with an exceptional consultation service, it’s not surprising to know that Chaloné’s clientele runs several generations deep.
“We don’t sell pictures. We don’t over-promise. We believe that every lady should experience Chaloné’s fitting service by our consultants. We believe that lingerie has to be tried on because the body is very complex. The bra must function. It must support and lift at the right place,” Lee says, firmly.
Chaloné’s line of lingerie has long captured the hearts of both local and international celebrities. A certain Queen of Mandopop or a certain Sing Girl are known to have don on Chaloné’s garments. While a certain group of F1 drivers would venture into the store to purchase lingerie for their wives. But Chaloné believes little in blatant celebrity endorsements, and this is telling of the brand’s humility and down-to-earth business strategy. “You want a store that knows you, knows your body, and then get the right fit for you, at any one time. We can help with that,” Lee says.