Buzz Tang, The Anthology, and the Legal Challenges of the Classic Menswear Industry
qLegal students Linus Chu and Dan Wheatley sat down and had a chat with Buzz Tang, the co-founder of The Anthology. The Anthology is a Hong Kong and Taipei-based bespoke tailoring house with an ongoing commitment to bring old-world tailoring a contemporary twist. Join the duo in their voyage exploring the backstory of Buzz Tang and The Anthology, the challenges the menswear proprietor faced during the pandemic, the legal challenges that are plaguing the classic menswear trade, alongside what is next for the tailoring house.
Who is Buzz Tang?
Buzz’s origin story, to say the least, is an adventurous one. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Buzz has always had a keen eye for the finer details, be it in the form of fine arts, music, and, of course, clothing. After taking the bold decision of turning down an offer from the London School of Economics, he embarked on a journey to study footwear at the London College of Fashion (LCF).
That said, the roller coaster-like experience did not end there. During his time mastering footwear making at LCF, Buzz came to realise that bespoke tailoring is instead his true passion. With this change of heart, our protagonist then went on working as a textile merchant on Savile Row (under Dugdale Bros and Fox Brothers), accumulating his knowledge of the trade, and developing his interpretation of classic menswear, before ultimately founding The Anthology in 2018 with tailor Andy Chong.
Who is The Anthology and what makes it special?
At first glance, The Anthology may appear identical to any bespoke tailors you know of, offering suits, sports jackets, trousers, and shirts that are made specifically for an individual. This is, nevertheless, far from the case.
Oftentimes, to layman’s eyes, classic menswear is associated with a (contestably) bygone concept of “the gentleman” serving as a reference of how men ought to behave. What sets The Anthology apart from its predecessors is its future-oriented attitude and, more importantly, its intent to remain relatable to today’s society while keeping up with old-world references.
Most notably, this ethos is manifested in the tailor’s house style, which not only features a softer silhouette and a laid-back aesthetic which are found in Italian tailoring, but also an in-house developed shoulder style and lapels proportion that altogether resonate better with the post-pandemic business casual environment.
What are the challenges The Anthology has faced during the pandemic?
Before the pandemic, The Anthology, like many top-notch bespoke tailors across the globe, would have international trunk shows at locations including, but not limited to, London, Tokyo, and Singapore. At these destinations, the team would measure up and/or offer in-person fitting sessions to their clients, thus ensuring the garment to be well-fitted. Unfortunately, with travel restrictions still in place for most countries, such human interactions are inevitably on hold for the foreseeable future.
Whereas some of The Anthology’s competitors and allies have since launched the so-called “virtual-fitting” sessions, the tailor has decided not to pursue this direction. “My business partner, Andy, ran a start-up focused on 3D scanning before,” Buzz explains, “but tailoring does not work this way.” He continues by saying, “we can have a 3D scan and go based off numbers, but when it comes to tailoring, it involves a lot of personal interaction — it is about fully understanding the client and how they live in their garment. If we want to live up to the integrity of offering handcrafted garments, we have to sacrifice certain things.”
The Anthology has been managing so far, however, as the team has since launched an advanced made-to-order shirt programme and offered products invented prior to the pandemic which happened to sport a more casual flair.
What are the legal uncertainties within the classic menswear trade?
From Buzz’s perspective, the predominant legal questions within the classic menswear trade concern intellectual property law (IP) and brand protection. Whereas stories of high-end fashion brands using IP as a business strategy is nothing out of the ordinary, the same cannot be said about the trade The Anthology belongs to. Undoubtedly, Buzz is all too aware of the incompatibility between the IP system and the classic menswear industry. “Nothing really exists to protect our designs,” Buzz remarks, “trade marks, designs and patents are complicated matters in our trade..”
While patents related to the fashion industry do exist, they typically serve to protect the use of new, innovative materials. Undeniably, patents bear less relevance to The Anthology’s and other classic menswear brands’ niche, given that there exists an unspoken preference for using traditional materials within the trade.
And what of trade marks, you may ask? Normally, trade marks to protect brand identity and trade dress could be obtained, but in practice, these are more likely to apply to mass-market brands as opposed to classic menswear businesses such as The Anthology, which place a greater emphasis on the minimalism of design.
Meanwhile, design rights could be a wildcard option. For most of the fashion world, registering a design may seem counter-intuitive given the limited lifespan of a style of clothing, especially considering the time and expense associated with the registration. That being said, seeing how classic menswear changes at a more glacial pace compared to other sections of the fashion world, obtaining protection through design law may still be a viable proposition.
Nevertheless, the difficulty here lies with distinguishing between different purveyors’ offerings. The simplicity of designs can often verge on genericity, precluding protection under design law. What’s worse is that the references considered by players within the classic menswear industry are “largely the same,” leading to accusations of plagiarism between brands on more than one occasion. Fundamentally, one could argue the knowledge available within the trade is limited. “Everyone is looking at the same books and magazines,” Buzz points out, “it really comes down to individual interpretation and trying to be creative where possible.”
Equally, a ‘homogenous culture’ is said to prevail — many brands do not strive to be overtly unique in their offerings, instead wishing to pay homage to the references they have studied. Ironically, this serves to perpetuate concerns surrounding potential plagiarism, as well as the difficulty in obtaining registered designs within the industry.
In all, Buzz summarises the interaction between classic menswear and intellectual property law by reflecting on the conflict between simplicity and individuality of design. “We must try to be creative with how we embellish our garments to seek protection,” Buzz suggests, “but it is also about being frugal in terms of these embellishments to stay true to our style.” In a nutshell, this is the quandary faced by bespoke tailors such as The Anthology, in terms of protecting their work.
And finally, what is next for The Anthology?
It is undeniable that classic menswear is a sunset trade. In the UK, a sizable amount of heritage menswear brands, especially those that are well-established on Savile Row and Jermyn Street, are meeting their ends, with or without the pandemic.
To Buzz, while it is unfortunate to witness these brands being shut down due to their cultural and historical legacy, it is also true that certain brands have been recycling the same set of stories regarding their heritage as their marketing strategies for decades. More importantly, businesses cannot keep appealing to the same audience and still expect the same results, given younger consumers nowadays demand brands to be more forward-looking and proactive.
For The Anthology, therefore, the way forward is to follow its heart and evolve from a “geeky menswear brand” while upholding its reputation, quality of delivery, and integrity. Going a notch further, this is how The Anthology aims to prolong the lifespan of the trade.
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