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Fashion

Collective Minds: The Local Youth Collectives Rewriting The Rules Of Fashion

With an upcoming presentation at Paris Fashion Week and an all-encompassing creative showcase set to launch in 2020, Youths In Balaclava and Why Not? are the youth collectives shaking things up.

Photography Vee Chin Art Direction Jonathan Chia & Adeline Eng 

Grooming Sha Shamsi, Zoel Tee, Naz K & Benedict Choo 

Why Not?

independent designers singapore

(From left) Khairyna Mazin, Manfred Lu, Putri Adif, Izwan Abdullah (in leather jacket, Cos) Miyuki Tsuji and Sheree Toh are giving fashion design graduates a new avenue to showcase their work with Why Not?, their underground runway-meets-art show platform. All in their own clothes unless otherwise stated

Like some of the most pertinent inventions and initiatives, this group fronted by a sextet of recent fashion design graduates was born out of frustration with “the system”. In this case, it was the one-size-fits-all way in which local fashion design schools tend to structure their graduation shows, with students often having little say over the choice of models, music and choreography.

So what did Khairyna Mazin, Lydia Kok, Manfred Lu, Miyuki Tsuji, Putri Adif and Sheree Toh – aged 20 to 25 – do? They restaged their own show, their way. Supported by creative director Izwan Abdullah and PR consultant Racy Lim, the six – who have requested that they keep their alma mater anonymous – pulled together a one-night-only affair at The Substation in June. Part runway show, part art show, the three-hour-long event was divided into six segments, one for each designer so they could have full control and bring to life their visions for their respective collections.

Putri’s, for instance, featured models performing ceremonial Malay dances set to the classic tunes of P. Ramlee while dressed in her blood-red, all-over-mesh dresses. (They’re the designer’s way of addressing the testy issue of female genital mutilation with the result looking at once pretty and provocative.) It all made for a visceral experience and was a far cry from the standard graduation shows here, in which any controversial narratives behind students’ work tend to be muted.

The largely self-funded, self-run show drew a full house of 250 guests, made up mostly of friends, family and creative types, and ended with a riotous after-party at the independent techno club Tuff Club. Already there’s talk of similar endeavours in future with the hope of establishing Why Not? as a new platform for young designers to showcase their works.

Some sceptics might dismiss their efforts as nothing more than a student project founded on naivete, but that would be discounting the diversity and creativity it fosters. Anyway, what’s wrong with their grassroots, non-commercial approach? Says Lu: “Fashion is fun and always has been. It’s also meant to shock and excite, yet (along the way in our education process), I believe that many of us have forgotten that and how to make fashion truly dynamic.”

Youths In Balaclava

Independent designers singapore

Singapore fashion punks building an empire of cool with their egalitarian vision: (clockwise from far left) Delvin Teo, Long Yi Chen, Spencer Yeo, Michael Yip, Tay Kai Yang, Izz Bazil, Elsa Wong, Taufiq Iskandar, Kasyfi Hakeem and Mohamed Hanif – 10 of the 13-member Youths In Balaclava

“The concept of YIB (centres around) creative work and it doesn’t necessarily have to be fashion-related. Perhaps a better way to describe us is as free artists who can do whatever we want to do,” announces Taufiq Iskandar. YIB, of course, is the affectionate short form for the collective/fashion label that the 22-year-old started in 2015, growing it from a clan of six anti-trend-conscious friends to 13 part-time creatives with the same desire to use art, music and fashion to overturn convention.

In that time, the largely self-taught group has most famously gained a godfather of sorts in Comme des Garcons’ Adrian Joffe, who decided to stock its ’90s-heavy, tie-dye and graphics-embellished street wear at Dover Street Market. Soon came a photobook documenting their world by British lensman Ryan O’Toole Collett (Joffe’s idea), and features on Vogue.com and Dazed Digital.

Today this Gen Z punk rock Fluxus-style community has literally become a poster child for independent DIY cool in Singapore. Head to any Converse boutique and you’ll see them flanking the sneaker giant’s global Fall campaign – a picture of wild, youthful abandonment. (That they’ve been long-time fans of the brand who live in and often personalise their own Chucks was reportedly what got them onto Converse’s radar.) And no, they’re not selling out.

While each member oversees a particular area of operations (visuals, finance, logistics, you name it), they remain a non-hierarchical, egalitarian bunch. Says Taufiq: “It’s up to you what you want to do – as long as you can contribute to the group.”

That democratic ethos similarly shapes their creative output, which draws from a hotchpotch of street vignettes, musical references and Internet culture. In early July, they organised their first pop-up store/installation in conjunction with Flow, an independent hardcore rap and hip-hop event held at the Geylang punk rock arena Decline. As chaotic as that all might sound, the project saw YIB’s chromatic tees displayed beneath dramatic, chandelier-like streams of dried leaves that the group had personally scavenged, making for a poignantly romantic sight.

“We’re pretty much anything and everything,” says Taufiq. “There’s no specific movement per se (that we look to). We believe in creating our own culture, though of course adapting from what has
come before.”

What they’ve got lined up next might be even more unexpected: the collective is in Paris gearing up for a presentation of their latest collection, ‘Lost In Transit’ which will debut at Paris Fashion Week on Sept 29. If heading to the world’s most eminent fashion capital seems conformist to some, Taufiq puts things into perspective: “Things will never work 100 per cent the way you want them to. Sometimes you’ve to work with the system to break it from the inside.”