On our Nineth Suit Geek interview, we invited our friends & owners of The Refinery Mr. Santu & Mr. Kaho. With their profound understanding and modern interpretation on classical men’s jackets and coats, they have gained a strong following since they launched the brand in 2017. On their last Beijing trunk show at our shop, we had an opportunity to sit down and talk about their love and passion for tailored suits, as well as some of their lifestyle stores.
“I’m Santu. I opened a menswear shop with Kaho in Shanghai called The Refinery in 2017, right now it’s been more than three years.”
“I’m Kaho, mostly in charge of brand management and photography.”
/On the Very First Suit
Kaho: I bought my first tailored suit in 2012 or 2013. Couple of suit lover friends went to Hong Kong together for Gordon Yao. I did some research before that, knowing they are quite famous for making double-breasted suits, so I made a grey double-breasted suit using a fabric from Scabal.
Santu: I’ve been into suits for a long time, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I made my first tailored suit. I went to a famous tailored shop in Shanghai called W.W.Chan, and asked Mr. Bao to make a grey single-breasted suit for me.
/On the Journey to Tailoring
Santu: My interest in clothing started when I was in junior high school. At that age, your adolescent growth spurt, you start to develop interests in certain things, for me it was clothing. Then I started borrowing clothes from my father. I majored in fashion design in college, after graduation, I went to a clothing company, working as a style consultant.
At around 2011 or 2012, online BBS (online forums) were getting very popular, so I met a bunch of suit lovers and shoes lovers online, then I started getting to know more about tailored suits. Although I studied suit design in college, that was just part of my study program, right now it has become something that I love and have a passion for.
I appreciate tailored suits more, not only because it is a craft itself, something made by hand, it also represents an intellectual achievement of clothes making.
Kaho: I think suits for me is an “accessory” of my life, and it has to fit in my lifestyle. I don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard to dress up myself, or act like a perfectionist, for example, there are people who can’t tolerant any wrinkles on their clothing or ties.
Usually, I would wear suits separately, and wear a turtleneck sometimes instead of always wearing shirts, so that for most casual occasions, you won’t be too underdressed or overdressed, and it will leave a good impression, too.
How did you guys start this brand?
Santu: It all began with a random chat at a cafe with Kaho. As we were discussing about the brands that we normally buy clothes from, we realised that we couldn’t find a brand which would truly satisfy us. Then we thought, why not open a menswear shop of our own? I have worked at clothing companies for years for other people, but I also wanted to make something that I like and appreciate, so that’s how it began. From brand positioning to designing our logo, we were always on the same page, and were able to make decisions in a short period of time. In fact, we only knew each other for one or two years before open the store, but we have basically the same understanding and artistic judgement on clothing.
Kaho: Our brand’s name is The Refinery. Refinery means improve by pruning and polishing. Put it into our context, it means we select classic style and pattern from the archive, then make improvements, so as to fit into our modern life.
Our logo is a small Godzilla, which Santu and I both tattooed on our arms. Santu designed this logo, it was an adaptation from the original Godzilla. As we all know Godzilla is a fictional character, a prehistoric monster awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation. It’s extremely powerful and very destructive. We tone it down a little bit, come up with a cute, little Godzilla. I think what we are trying to say is, no matter how old you are, we should stay true to your heart, and don’t be boring; be humorous.
Through our brand’s name and our logo, what we really want to express is our philosophy of life.
/On Daily Dressing Style
Santu: For example, for the clothes that we design, we are not trying to create something new; we are only making small revisions and improvements on the previous classic styles, and make them fit into our modern life. For a lot of classic clothing style and designs, some of them have a hundred year, or two hundred years’ history, they have already evolved the best version of themselves. And for clothes that are classic, you can match it with a lot of different things, like sneakers or streetwear. You don’t have to follow the rule people made a hundred years ago.
For me, I normally wear classic menswear clothing, like suits, or create a basic look with a shirt, tie, and trousers. Then I can either throw on a jacket or a casual field coat, or something more functional, like a trench coat.
Kaho: I have two dressing philosophies. The first thing is the clothes you wear or buy have to fit into the context of your daily life. Secondly, I would like to create three different looks using one same piece of clothing. Most of the people, or guys, they wear jeans and chinos very often. So you wear your jacket with your different jeans and chinos, you will be able to do three different looks at least.
Santu: I have many hobbies. I used to like collecting antique furniture, sometimes I also like to make small leather accessories by hand. Basically every year I would go to learn some new skill, something interesting, either work-related or not. But my biggest passion is football, haha! I started playing football when I was at primary school, until now. I still go to play football once a week in Shanghai.
“Favourite team is Manchester United!”
Kaho: I like Photography. Sometimes I buy photography books and magazines to study others’ work. There’s a Japanese photographer I like a lot called Daido Moriyama, known for his realistic styles. He is great at capturing people’s movement and emotion. I would like to take a record of beautiful and interesting moments in life through photography, whether it’s rainy days, sunny days, or moments when we are working, and photos of our works.
Photos can bring back your memories. It can be happy, or sad, but that’s all fine; it’s all part of your life.
Kaho: I’d like to share some films that I like: the ‘Before Sunrise’ series. I also like thrillers, especially stories that are dealing with human nature. Recently I saw a film called The Hunt, which went very deep on that subject matter.
The Hunt: It is a story about a kindergarten teacher is wrongly accused of child molestation, then becomes the outcast of the town.
Any place in Shanghai that you would like to recommend to our readers?
Santu: I would like to recommend a coffee shop called O.P.S.Cafe, which is right next to our old shop. We used to go there all the time. There are actually a lot of coffee shops in Shanghai, but O.P.S. is more interesting and creative than others. They make coffee like it’s making cocktails. However, there’s always a queue.
Kaho: There’s a small noodle joint right across our shop. The noodles there are kind of different from what we normally have at those chain restaurants; the noodles are more chewy, and the sauce is homemade too. It’s a very small joint, and the owner is very charming, reminded me of the shop owner in the Hong Kong film New Dragon Gate Inn, haha.
Kaho: I used to go to a bar a lot called 南十字星 around 2011 or 2012, the bartender there has also won many awards before, he’s quite famous, but he later moved to Beijing. He was also a suit lover, because he has to wear vests and shirts at work, too. So, we have a lot of things to talk about; clothing and alcohol. I learned a lot from him about whisky. Then after a while, tried a lot of different things and eventually I found what I like to drink.
There’s a whisky shop in our neighbourhood called 麦坊, only five minutes away from our shop, sometimes I would go there after work, order a drink, sit for a while, alone. I think we all ought to take some ‘me time’, and that whisky shop is a nice stop for me, have a drink, then I walk home.