Cosplay – a portmanteau of costume and play – has a lot more in common with fashion than you might think. The parallels may not be immediately apparent, but both dabble in elements of fantasy and the power of dressing up.
Both trade in the idea of becoming somebody else: In fashion, we renew ourselves every season and year with the propositions and invitations from the runway; in cosplay, you step quite literally in the shoes of another character. Both achieve this through the transformative powers of how we look: our hair, makeup and outfits.
Rather than shoot a fashion story on models, we opted instead to look toward the exciting (although, frankly, foreign to us) world of cosplayers. In this story are four Singaporeans – aliases Yosuke, Kuroba, Maoru and Kai – each in their early 20s and cosplaying for an average of six years.
In fashion, we renew ourselves every season and year with the propositions and invitations from the runway; in cosplay, you step quite literally in the shoes of another character.
Cosplay is not, of course, a new phenomenon – nor is it a niche one. Singapore plays host annually to the Anime Festival Asia convention, a gathering of industry insiders, fans and enthusiasts that, if not for Covid, would have taken place this month.
It’s been held at the Suntec Convention Centre since 2008 and, to date, has an accumulated count of around 1.7 million attendees. Animators, musicians, and celebrity cosplayers from Japan regularly fly in for the event, and it’s been the flagship convention of its sort in the region. It’s even won a Singapore Tourism Award for Best Leisure Event.
The bulk of the attendees are naturally fans. And the cosplay community is one built by and for its fans – many start cosplaying in their teens out of passion.
If they keep at it, as the models in this story have, it’s similarly out of love for what they do. All of them are students, and while cosplay can be a full-time profession, it’s more often than not a side hustle of sorts. Yosuke and Maoru, for example, are represented by Geist Productions, one of a tiny handful of cosplay talent management companies that exist in Singapore.
In conceptualising this story, we looked to the commonalities between fashion and cosplay. The connection is, of course, the chameleonic effects of what you put on your back – the fantasies it can evoke and the emotions it can summon and convey.
The late style photographer Bill Cunningham once described fashion as an armour for the world and that perhaps is a well-cut pair of trousers or a flattering dress for most of us. Or it may be an actual piece of armour – a breastplate fashioned after a video game character’s.
Whatever it is, it’s all about the fantastic powers of dressing up and getting into our own dream costumes.
Photography Stefan Khoo, assisted by Alif Styling Damian Huang, assisted by Jamie Lee Hair Sean Ang Makeup Wee Ming