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In Eric Choong's recollections, fashion inspirations during the 1980s were largely focused on the fairer sex. It was presumed that only women liked to wear nice things, so the menfolk were inadvertently left out in the cold.

"You must remember there was no Internet. The only references were from foreign magazines with a limited readership. Branding strength in the local fashion industry was still in its infancy," says Choong, 49, the creative director of Freedom by Eric Choong, a men's ready-to-wear line.

A young Choong, then in his 20s, remembers how an elite group - the likes of Alvin Tang, Orson Wong and celebrities such as the late Sudirman Haji Arshad - got the ball rolling with their unique style.

"By rough estimates, they made up less than 20 per cent of the male population in Kuala Lumpur, but as a young designer, I was impressed. Back then, the leaders in male fashion were Japan, Hong Kong and Europe. To gain access to an Issey Miyake shirt or Yohji Yamamoto pants, you had to travel to these countries to shop for them. Only the wealthy enjoyed such privileges," recalls Choong.

To satisfy style cravings, male fashionistas in KL could only rely on two options. One was Metrojaya, whose office wear and Esprit Boys range were considered by Choong as being at the forefront of male fashion. Another was Scene One, a boutique in Sungei Wang Plaza, KL, owned by Christopher Choo, a wildly-popular outlet with offerings of Kansai, Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Tan Hai Hsin, managing director of Retail Group Malaysia, a retail consulting group, attributes male shopping habits to the less than robust men's fashion landscape then.

"Men disliked shopping. When it came to clothes, the buying was generally left to the women - mothers, girlfriends, wives," says Tan.

Beatrice Looi, another well-known name in local fashion, says the lack of style varieties in the men's department was another contributing factor.

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