There are two ways to see the Singapore label Youths In Balaclava, otherwise more endearingly known as the YIBs. One is that they’re a bunch of Gen Z punks with starry-eyed dreams of being in the fashion business who lucked out when they caught the eye of the London-based photographer Ryan O’Toole Collett – known for his fashionable, rousing documentary of youth culture – with their non-conformist style and attitude three years ago.
It would be a friendship that would somehow lead to their very own zine-inspired coffee table book; a rack at Dover Street Market Singapore hawking their self-designed skate wear that often bear playfully derisive slogans that allude to local and popular culture (see the tee they designed specially for the Year Of The Rat); and a mentor/father figure of sorts in DSM president Adrian Joffe (it was him who had brought O’Toole Collet to our island state, though the main reason was to get him to photograph the opening of Dover Street Market on Dempsey Road). Who cares if most in the charismatic YIB crew have had no formal fashion training?
The other way of seeing the YIBs is that they’re a 13-strong band of young men and women who found comradeship in their rejection of – and being rejected by – the established order in fashion and society. So determined have they been to pursue their aspiration of having their own label though that they’ve made the brand (and each other) their everything, holding onto day jobs to help maintain their independence and fund their dream. Without O’Toole Collett, whom the group refers to as their “consigliere”, and DSM, they might be nowhere near as buzzy as they are today, but that wouldn’t change their vision or the way they work.
During Paris Fashion Week last September, the YIBs presented their latest collection “Lost In Transit” in Comme des Garcon’s showroom in Paris – a cosy space that was supposedly once part of Napoleon’s apartment overlooking ritzy Place Vendome. It marked the first time that they had showed their work to the global press and buyers. Besides tees and sweatshirts sporting their signature conceptual, graphic visuals (see gallery below), their repertoire includes their own clever play on traditional work wear and utilitarian separates. In addition to Dover Street Market branches around the world, they now count hip and influential institutions such as LN-CC and Galeries Lafayette as stockists.
However one chooses to see the Youths In Balaclava, it’s hard to deny how theirs is the proverbial underdog-made-good story and that they’re a Singapore label to be truly proud of. Our exclusive video above might also make you see them the latter way.
Videography Alicia Chong Editor Noelle Loh