Why shouldn't symphony musicians have high-tech apparel, just like athletes do? After all, playing the violin or any other instrument certainly requires a degree of sweat and athleticism.
The need for such gear is more acute for men, who usually have to wear restrictive tux shirts and jackets when playing a classical concert.
This is the issue that led violinist and businessman Kevin Yu to found a company called Coregami, with the stated mission of designing the perfect concertwear for musicians. In June they introduced their first product to the world: a tux shirt. I talked with Kevin about what inspired his company and about what makes this tux shirt different from others.
Laurie: What is your background, as a violinist?
Kevin: I have studied with Michael Selman (Joseph Silverstein student), Vincent Frittelli (Galamian student), and Emmanuel Borok (former concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony).
To my knowledge, I am the only person in the world who has declined music school on three separate occasions after gaining admissions (University of Michigan in undergrad, Northwestern University’s Masters Program, and SMU’s Artist Diploma program). Despite not having attended music school, I have served as the Principal of the Masters Sinfonia (in California) and have served as the Principal of the Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra (Irving, Texas).
We were immigrants from Singapore. Crushing it in the classroom, being a teacher’s pet, and playing an instrument were basic expectations. But then I fell in love. Music was the only thing that could calm me down. Accolades and medals were followed by big scholarships to all the universities. Doing what you love is like getting a high-five for eating ice cream.
My dual-focused career path started the moment I was accepted into the undergraduate business program. As soon as I had landed at University of Texas - Austin, I got a phone call from the violin professor who took me under his wings. I was a student by day and an intern at a tech startup by night. During my freshmen year, I became the concertmaster of the university orchestra and started getting calls to play with local symphonies. Although I didn’t attend music school, my professional resume was stacked before I turned legal.
Laurie: What inspired you to want to make the perfect tux shirt?
Kevin: There are three reasons: Personal frustration, lack of options in the formal wear category, and an abundance of options in other fashion categories.
It’s true what they say – frustration is the mother of invention. I got frustrated when I couldn’t find the right tuxedo shirt. For more room, I always had to buy a size too big. And then I felt robbed, each time I paid a tailor to rig a shirt that was never designed for mobility.
The idea of Coregami was conceived on the running trail. At the end of each run, I’m usually drenched from heat to toe. As I was cooling down one morning, I took a closer look at my Under Armour running shirt. It was stretchy, moisture-wicking, and light as air. I thought to myself, “Why can’t I be this comfortable while I’m on stage?” While backstage before a show, I began to float the idea of an athletic version of a tuxedo shirt. Just about every guy raised his eyebrow with a smile. Their response gave me the courage to take the next step.
Laurie: How, and who, did you find to design this?
Kevin: It was a long journey because I started at zero. I didn’t know the first thing about the fashion industry, much less how to design an article of clothing. But having worn formal wear for 30 years, I do have a clear understanding of what is comfortable and suitable to honor the occasion.
It was uphill from day one. Selecting the right type of fabric felt like playing the lottery. But through a lot of research and meetings in Los Angeles, we were able to procure some really special materials from a world leader in the sports wear category. They took an active interest in our mission and continue to serve as a great partner and advisor.
When we first started, everyone from the production team, pattern makers, and designers wanted to do things the old way. We came out with some really awful prototypes in the early days.
The one thing that really helped us was that we always included the music community into our development process. We iterated through many prototypes and failed our way to a solution. Before long, we had our first minimally viable product.
Laurie: What exactly have you come up with, in men’s concert wear?
Kevin: Coregami’s first product (The Gershwin) is the first tuxedo shirt in the world that is designed for musicians, by musicians using the principles of high performance athletic wear. It is made from advanced fabric that is moisture-wicking, four-way stretch, and anti-odor. With an ergonomic open shoulder pattern, seamless stitching, and lighter fabric, our testers call this “the best tuxedo shirt ever designed."
Laurie: What, very specifically, makes these shirts different from the typical tux shirts?
Kevin: Formal wear was conceived in the last century and was never intended for active movement. With the desire to incorporate modern athletic concepts, we knew we had to take a different approach. Through rounds of testing with some of the most elite musicians in the United States, we failed our way to a solution.
We are proud to say that these features have never been seen on any formal wear products in history:
Laurie: Have you tried playing in the new gear, and is it a different experience? In what way? Any surprises about how it feels?
Kevin: Yes – it is a drastically different experience. The comment that we hear the most is that it is extremely light and breathable because they no longer have to wear an undershirt. The trifecta of formality, comfort, and high performance has never come together – until now. We had addressed much of the performance issues before we released the product to the public in June 2015.
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