The Gen-Y Alt-Girls

From left: Marisse Caine (MC), Linda Hao (LH) and Genevieve Yip (GY)

Andy Warhol and his Factory family – a motley crew of models, musicians, artists and the like – exemplified that in the ’60s, his studio becoming the de facto site for cross-pollinating their avant-garde ideas. At press time, Helmut Lang had just revealed its relaunch campaign that immediately set the industry abuzz with its eclectic lineup that ranged from supermodel Alek Wek to Hood by Air designer Shayne Oliver to porn star-turned-actress Traci Lords. “What was crucial for me… was re-establishing the community around Helmut Lang again,” explained the brand’s editor-in-residence Isabella Burley. That collective, collaborative spirit has often been the backbone of some of the most original and exciting creative ventures, and in an age when connections can be made with just a click, its possibilities are even greater. Keng Yang Shuen meets four posses in Singapore from fashion, design, the arts and comedy, who prove that they are indeed stronger together.

Anyone vaguely into the local fashion and party scene will recognise Hao – DJ, designer, and a member of our very own Female Collective. The 27-year-old is the consummate multi-hyphenate, diversifying her interests more recently to include gardening, and pushing for a more sustainable approach towards fashion. Likewise, photographer and visual artist Caine is big on social issues such as feminism and independence, both key themes that run through her work that includes visual essays on “intriguing individuals” such as a taxi driver who moonlights as an opera star. Completing the group is Yip, who describes herself as a graphic designer by day and – as the most “emotionally balanced person” in the group – the creative fulcrum between Hao and Caine by night.

Since 2015, the trio have been working jointly as the multi-disciplinary collective Common Culture with the goal of “examining and embodying the culture of the common man”. Projects range from creating images for brands such as Charles & Keith and the chinoiserie-inspired Chi Chi Von Tang, to pop parties all lensed through their arty, ’90s club kid-influenced eye. For a taste, scroll through their Instagram feed (@common_culture), which throbs with a saturated Wong Kar-wai-esque colour palette and DIY party vibes.

The aesthetic is of little surprise considering that all three used to hang out at the underground joint Home Club – now better known as Canvas – as “teenage rebels”. It was also the venue of their first official showcase party held mid last month. In true indie spirit, Hao says of it during our interview: “We want our friends to come not expecting a big, successful event, but to simply experience our world, let loose and have fun.”

How the friendship first started

GY: “We’ve all pretty much known each other since we were kids. Linda and I met through common friends and haven’t looked back since. I met Marisse at a New Year’s party when we were 17. If I remember correctly, we clicked talking about a guy who was dancing shirtless at that party.”

MC: “I always thought Linda was cool, but never thought we’d have common interests even though we were in the same group of friends for almost seven years. But one day, at a friend’s birthday party, we bonded over fried chicken and a similar sense of humour. I approached her after that to photograph her for a Lomography campaign that celebrated stylish, rebellious women, and the rest is history.”

On their creative chemistry

GY: “I like to think of the three of us as being on a see-saw, with Linda and Marisse making up the kids on the two ends, constantly bouncing up and down (with different ideas) while I’m the calm fulcrum in the middle that keeps them from flying off… That’s turned out pretty well for our friendship and projects in general because, in both cases, you need a little bit of crazy and calm.”

Their creative vision

LH: “We produce things mostly for joy and the fun in the entire creative process, so our work tends to reflect that a lot… I also think what sets us apart is that we don’t create things for ourselves – we like to share it with people. Ultimately what we truly want to do is to create art, gather people and enjoy ourselves.”

MC: “We love to have fun and be happy.”

Dream collaboration

GY: “(Always) a good party because that’s where all our (individual) strengths lie – event planning and music.”

MC: “A festival.”

Photography Vee Chin Styling Imran Jalal Hair & Makeup Benedict Choo, using Make Up For Ever Clothes Their own

The Design Mob

From left: Leong Hon Kit, Joanna Dong (JD), Rafiq Mohamad (RM), Jovian Lim, and Zachary Ho (ZH)

Besides possessing the same eye for design (quirky, contemporary furniture by the likes of Antoine Lesur and Faye Toogood), the arts, and food (they share a Whatsapp chat group called “Hokkien Mee Posse”), these guys bond over their wardrobe tastes. It’s apparent in the way they turn up at industry events like the ultimate creative pack, often dressed in brands such as Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto – and lots of black and white. Each, however, comes from a different discipline.

Dong is, of course, the actress/TV presenter/jazz singer who at press time had just made headlines for getting selected into Jay Chou’s team on the second season of Sing! China, while Ho – Dong’s husband – is in theatre. Leong and Rafiq are the design gurus – the former in spatial and interiors (he’s behind the highly Instagrammed lobby of The Projector); the latter, branding and graphics. (Both also share an office at Golden Mile Complex, which was where this photo was taken.) Then there’s Lim, whose dreamy, abstract landscape images have caught the eye of some of Singapore’s top trendsetters – he’s the official lensman for The Lo & Behold Group’s Warehouse Hotel and Odette; as well as Gallery & Co. and Australian restaurant Whitegrass.

Such complementary diversity sure comes in handy. Rafiq has designed an album cover for Dong’s fun “alternative Christmas” band Naughty Noor Nice, while Leong was responsible for the Wes Anderson-hued decor of Dong and Ho’s home. The camaraderie extends to their work projects – when Leong’s studio Wynk Collaborative was designing the chic South Buona Vista cafe Paddy Hills, he roped Rafiq in to help do the branding. Meanwhile, Lim, as resident photographer, often gets asked to play documenter.

A genuine friendship, people say, can be a motivational force. Says Rafiq: “Seeing how passionate everyone in the posse is with their craft pushes me to improve my own practice.” (P.S. All swear by the Hokkien noodles at Whampoa Market.)

How the friendship started

JD: “We all met through the lifestyle and fashion forum called Superfuture, where we used to post daily WAYWT (What Are You Wearing Today) photos. Mind you, this was like a decade ago, when OOTDs weren’t even a thing.”

ZH: “I think it started in 2010 when we were all in freelance wonderland. Hokkien mee started becoming a thing, I think, because it was unilaterally loved by all and also available late at night – we all kept ungodly freelancer hours.”

On their creative chemistry

RM: “They’re my sounding board to bounce off ideas and concepts. It’s refreshing to hear comments from friends who aren’t from the same discipline – it prevents me from being in an echo chamber.”

JD: “We’ve been helping each other out in different ways, but mostly – rather than work directly with one another – we allow our social circles to cross-pollinate and end up introducing the others to collaborators from our own fields. We’re not possessive or needy, and there is never an obligation to involve each other in projects.”

ZH: “(Together) we’re able to do laundry that’s exclusively in black or white for a whole year.”

Dream collaboration

RM: “Producing a multi-sensory ensemble piece showcasing Joanna’s vocals, with Zach leading the theatre portion, Jovian’s artworks to create the visual landscape, and Kit creating the site-specific space.”

Photography Zaphs Zhang, assisted by Sherman See-Tho Art Direction Adeline Eng Styling Imran Jalal Hair & Makeup Jane Lau & Felicia Ng/Palette Inc Clothes & Furniture Their own

The Comedy Starlets

From left: Charlotte Tan (CT), Preeti Nair (PN) and Michelle Lee (ML)

It’s no secret that Nair is one of the most exciting and infectiously likeable local Youtube personalities of the moment. More popularly known by the alias Preetipls, Nair had one of her biggest breakthroughs last year with an irreverent video parodying an offensive “fashion police”-style reel by local influencer Saffron Sharpe. While Sharpe’s video was swiftly pulled after a social media backlash, Nair’s version created an overnight fan base demanding more of her witty, take-no-prisoners brand of humour on hot-button issues, and has since racked up more than 200,000 Facebook views.

Making an appearance in that video of Nair’s were Michelle Lee and Charlotte Tan of Youtiao666 – another Youtube sensation here that’s trading on cheeky – albeit more pop cultural-influenced – comedy (at last count, their viral 2015 Dubsmash clip in which the duo mimicked car sirens has clocked 100 million views). In fact, while Nair often ropes in local celebrity A-listers like Benjamin Kheng for cameos, it is the eyelash extension-loving duo (beauty brands have come to love them) who are her most consistent collaborators, also often acting as her video producers.

Coming across as the most reserved of the bunch in person, Nair’s online charisma, however, tunes up when in the company of Lee and Tan, who are as boisterous as they are in videos. Long-time BFFs, they reveal that they’ve always been working together, brainstorming and being each other’s sounding board, so much so that even a mealtime conversation could result into yet another hit idea. Says Tan: “Our ‘collaborations’ pretty much involve us going over to each other’s places and hanging out.” Good news for fans: They’re currently working on a joint channel. Says Tan: “Expect the unexpected.”

How the friendship started

PN: “I’ve been friends and neighbours with Michelle since 2001 as we were both from Raffles Girls’ Primary School. I was introduced to Charlotte through Michelle a few years back, and we then realised that we were from the same polytechnic and that she was my senior.” (Michelle and Charlotte met in 2014 as students at Lasalle College of the Arts.)

On how they complement one another

PN: “Our similar sense of humour obviously plays a big role… Sometimes, Charlotte also compliments me and calls me ‘cute’, which helps too.”

CT: “We keep each other on our toes by keeping each other jealous.”

Their hangout spot

PN: “When we’re not working or writing new content, we have company D&Ds at May Wong’s Cafe (on Neil Road).”

Dream collaboration

ML: “A music video with local singer-songwriter Inch Chua.”

PN: “We really want to work with (local comedians) Henry Thia, Chew Chor Meng and Marcus Chin.”

On Tan: Blazer, Dunhill. Sweater, H&M. Pants, her own. On Nair: Iris & Ink sweater, Pants, her own. On Lee: Iris & Ink shirt, Jeans, her own.

Photography Zaphs Zhang, assisted by Sherman See-Tho Art Direction Adeline Eng Styling Imran Jalal Hair Noel Harts Makeup Zann Thiang & Toh Xiao Hui/27A

The Art Collective

From left: Samantha Yap (SY), Jon Chan, Khairullah Rahim (KR), Melissa Tan (MT), Christiaan Haridas (CH),
Jodi Tan, Vanessa Ban (VB) and Luke Heng

Like the Bloomsbury Group in the early 20th century that comprised various intellectuals (think Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster), the folks here run along the same artistic lines. There’s the feminist writer Yap; the gallerists Jodi Tan (she works at the Ota Fine Arts gallery in Gillman Barracks) and Haridas (Gajah Gallery in Tanjong Pagar Distripark); and the curator Andrea Fam (who is assistant curator at the Singapore Art Museum and couldn’t make it to our shoot).

Of course, there are the artist artists, all rising stars in the local scene: painters Heng, Khairullah and Chan, and Melissa Tan, who traverses mediums. And rounding up the group: graphic designer Ban who staged “Click Candy”, an installation – and her first solo show – that explored desexualising the role of women in clickbait advertising last October.

It’s a rich and optimal mix to have. Yap, who founded the feminist art platform Bubble Gum & Death Metal with artist Stephanie Burt, regularly contributes exhibition essays for her artist pals, while Ban helps with the catalogue design. The group matriarch is Fam, whose skills have come in handy both in terms of advice and promotion – she curated Melissa’s paper and metal installation (“If you can dream a better world you can make a better world or perhaps travel between them”) for last year’s Singapore Biennale. Haridas, meanwhile, can be considered the group’s unofficial arts management consultant, giving his two cents on draft exhibition proposals and securing government grants.

How the friendship started

CH: “Most of us are Lasalle College of the Arts graduates from different faculties – Fine Arts, Arts Management etc – though we met through other circumstances beyond the school’s network.”

KR: “Luke and I did our degree together back in 2012 at Lasalle. For the past year, we have also been studio neighbours at Goodman Arts Centre along with Melissa. Since most of us already knew each other from college, it was almost natural that we bonded.”

VB: “Andrea basically put us all together and it took off from there.”

What ties them together

SY: “Always food and conversations – never one without the other.”

KR: “These are some of the people who understand my practice inside out… (Also) do not discount our more casual conversations – the gossip.”

On their creative chemistry

SY: “I’ve written pieces for Khairullah and Vanessa’s solo exhibitions. The process of writing is always prefaced by many conversations and questions. I think being close friends enables an easier exchange of ideas and concerns.”

MT: “I was very lucky to have been able to work with Andrea and the Singapore Art Museum team for the Singapore Biennale 2016. Andrea knows what I’m usually interested in, but at the same time, she pushed me with questions that led to shaping my work in a significant way.”

How they influence one another

VB: “It’s refreshing to see many different artistic practices, and ways of thinking, making and working. It breaks the monotony of work, which I feel is necessary for creative growth.”

Dream collaboration

VB: “Personally, I think it would be interesting to map all our individual practices in 10 years’ time, documenting the changes in perhaps a show, essay or publication.”

Yap’s sneakers, Dolce & Gabbana. Chan’s shirt, H&M. Melissa Tan’s jacket, H&M Studio, and loafers, Tod’s. Haridas’ pullover, COS. Jodi Tan’s dress, H&M Studio. Heng’s bomber jacket, H&M. All other clothes, their own

Photography Zaphs Zhang, assisted by Sherman See-Tho Art Direction Adeline Eng Styling Imran Jalal Hair & Makeup Zann Thiang & Toh Xiao Hui/27A

This story first appeared in Female’s September 2017 issue.

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