Breath: The Duo Melding Art And Fashion

by Keng Yang Shuen  /   May 5, 2022

There’s been a growing voice within local creative circles – one that talks about fashion not so much in terms of runway trends, aesthetic or GDP, but as a part of art, culture and the social fabric. Here, we’ve spotlight two multidisciplinary artists broadening how we see and understand fashion, and, in turn, helping to shape Singapore into a more pluralistic fashion space.

Over a series of February weekends this year, multidisciplinary artists and friends Sarah Isabelle Tan (above, left) and Josh Tirados Suarez presented a series of diaphanous, delicately embellished garments alongside experimental concrete objects in Tan’s studio in an industrial building in Tanah Merah.

Credit:Sarah Isabelle Tan and Josh Tirados Suarez

The Breath showcase fluidly combined elements of fashion, art, sound and abstract dance. Artist Sarah Isabelle Tan experimented with tableware and other pieces fashioned out of concrete, while Josh Tirados Suarez presented delicately embroidered garments and bags; the contrast in hard/soft textures and tactility being something they were interested in.

The set-up was cosy and tranquil with billowy curtains crafted from the same crinkled cotton viscose as the clothes – all the work of Suarez; Tan was behind the sculptures – enclosing a space in which the former would perform butoh (an avant-garde Japanese dance form) nightly. Providing the audio was electronic producer and sound artist Mervin Wong who created a live listening experience in response to the environment.

Electronic producer and sound artist Mervin Wong created a custom aural track for the Breath project.

It’s hard to categorise what the whole affair, dubbed Breath, was exactly. A fashion-meets-lifestyle showcase (all the pieces were for sale)? An art installation? Both? To attempt to though might be missing its point altogether.

The duo have a background in fashion – both Temasek Polytechnic alumni, Tan majored in retail and visual merchandising; Suarez design – but they’re not bound by any one medium, says Tan, who’s better known in the art circle for her photography work. Or as Suarez puts it: “Breath came about simply because we wanted a timestamp. This is us as artists at this point in time.”

A look at the objects created by Sarah Isabelle Tan and Josh Tirados Suarez for the Breath experience.

The idea to incorporate a fashion element into the self-funded initiative stemmed in part from Suarez’s frustration with it often being segregated from – and not getting the same support – as other artistic disciplines, particularly from major institutions.

“Fashion is kind of pigeonholed into this other thing and I don’t see as much support for independent designers as I’d like,” he says. “Platforms that give visibility and spotlight talents are all good, but finances are often the biggest struggle for young designers.”

Completing the circular dialogue with electronic producer and sound artist Mervin Wong (who created a custom soundtrack in response to the duo’s earlier showcase), Suarez designed a garment, and worked jointly with Tan to create the set design for Wong’s launch of his latest EP, Akasha.

More recently, the pair continued their cross-disciplinary dialogue with another tie-up with Wong – his latest EP Akasha was “born out of the experience of Breath” so besides customising clothes and objects inspired by it, they worked on the wardrobe and set design for its launch at Pasir Panjang Power Station end-March.

Next up? Who knows? The name Breath was inspired by how a breath of air is momentary, but even then can take on different inflections. We can only hold ours.

Photography Angela Guo Art Direction Imran Jalal Hair Ying Cui Makeup Beno Lim, using Make Up Forever 

A version of this article first appeared in the April 2022 Humans Of Fashion edition of FEMALE