Armele Barbier – Shanghai Tang Men's Designer On Challenges of Designing for Men


Shanghai Tang is best known for its female attire but its chief menswear designer, Armele Barbier, is making the world’s men take out their wallets and dress a little better. We had a chat to find out more about the dynamics of working in menswear and what not to wear.

What do you enjoy most about working in menswear? 

The precision - you can’t cheat. The fabrics are very important as well: they must last and have a great hand. Similarly, the construction of the jacket and shoulders is essential; everything is about the shoulders.

How do you see your work at Shanghai Tang developing over the next few years? What areas/textiles do you want to explore? 

Besides the ready-to-wear collection, we have a small capsule collection called “Imperial Collection” that uses very high-end materials. I would like to develop it a bit more as it is the perfect wardrobe for a gentleman with Asian flair.

When you’re designing a collection do you typically start with a theme, or start with raw aesthetics and then make a theme fit the clothes?

I usually have three themes and try to link them with the themes in the ladies collection but I do adapt it for menswear. I also re-work the colours and I don’t follow Chinese history that much, but if I do, it’s usually in a very abstract way. For example if there is something ethnic I might use it on a scarf, or on the cuffs of a shirt, or as an inside lining - but certainly not on the whole piece. 


What is the greatest challenge that comes with working in fashion in Hong Kong?

I am very glad to work at Shanghai Tang because the head office is in Hong Kong. All the decisions are taken here and we are the retailers so I can go to the stores anytime, check how the collection is doing, see my customers etc. I can have my sales through every week so it is fun and dynamic but you must also travel to visit the textile fairs in Europe. I go to Première Vision twice a year, a textile show that travel round the world. I buy Italian materials; they have great colours and feel international.

Is the fashion industry a more interesting place to work than a decade ago?

Fashion is always interesting, every season you need to come up with something. But now with Asia waking up big time, this is even more interesting. We are in the right place and menswear is booming. Finally men are taking care of themselves.

During your career what has been the biggest change in the fashion industry?

The price of cashmere and the luxury market shifting to China.

What impact is the surge of wealth in Mainland China having on the fashion industry?

There’s good growth and a huge market for fashion in Mainland China but you need to surprise them and at the same time understand them.


What are your favourite things & why:

•    Book?  Sándor Márai “Embers” which is about friendship, love and betrayal. It’s very similar to “Brideshead” or “Atonement”. I love big story telling with classic nostalgia and passion
•    Drink? Bloody Mary then Champagne
•    Hotel? Les Fermes de Marie in Megeve (above)
•    Comfort Food? Robuchon’s potato puree

If you could have dinner with anyone throughout history, who would it be and why?

Coco Chanel for her modernity.

What product can you not do without? 

Denim pants, I love the variety of wash effects. I can easily buy two pairs in a day.

What annoys you most about living in this era?

Lack of specialism - everyone is becoming a generalist.

If you could pass on one characteristic to your children that you think you have, what would it be?

I have very high standards and am not afraid of hard work. I like people who feel the same.

What would you most like to change about Hong Kong (aside from pollution)?

Taxis, I get motion sickness, but Hong Kong is a success in itself - the people are great.

What trip do you take again & again in Hong Kong?

I love South Bay Beach and go every weekend when the weather permits.   

Worst dining experience in Hong Kong?

Never had one! Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world for food but they should make more of an effort with concepts too.

If you can take visitors to just one place in Hong Kong, where would it be?

China Club, you are transported.


1) It’s ok to go without socks. You simply roll up your pants to the level of your ankle bone but not any higher otherwise people will assume you are going fishing!!

2) Never wear a short sleeve shirt unless you want to look like a Cathay Pacific pilot. Instead, roll up the sleeves of a normal shirt in irregular small flips until you reach above your elbows.

3) When you wear a Shanghai Tang Blazer only do up the 3rd and 4th buttons (there are a total of 5 buttons). This will give you a waist line and allow you to show a bit more of your shirt, lending you a dashing elegance.


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