Fashion

These Singaporean Fashion Students Are Starting A Revolution

Masturbation, genital mutilation and alienation were just some of the themes explored at 'whynot?’s alternative to a typical graduation show.

by Edoardo Liotta
27 June 2019, 7:50am

Photography by Aetll.

Working in media, you get invitations to events all the time. Usually, they don’t really catch your attention, unless they come in a pill bottle filled with some sketchy powdery substance and instructions to add water. That I did, and everything fizzled until a button, clothing tag and safety pin appeared in the foggy liquid: “If you’re sick of outworn structures and believe fashion should be as resourceful and dynamic as possible, join us at whynot?

It was a mysterious introduction to what sounded like an underground fashion revolution, but also a little reminiscent of art students bullshitting their way through their thesis. Intrigued, I had to say ‘why not!’.

make up backstage
Photography by Aetll.

On the day, I rocked up unfashionably late, and found myself backstage with the models at the venue entrance. Do we enter through backstage? Or was backstage now frontstage? #Deep. Flustered from nearly missing the show I was writing a story about, I was quickly ushered in. Packed body to body in a dark, stuffy box full of anticipation. I could not have prepared for what happened next.

Masturbation simulated with flowers. Schizophrenic music across segments ranging from heavy industrial to poppy PC music to droning religious chants. Models pausing their struts for selfies. Monk-like robes strung out on ropes. Sensual traditional dance across red paint smeared on the runway. Transporting humans in cage trolleys and super futuristic attire. Strobe lights, glitching televisions and all manner of epileptic visual projections.

What I saw what disorienting, dream-like and eerie. It was all the brainchild of six student designer renegades—Khairyna Mazin, Lydia Kok, Manfred Lu, Miyuki Tsuji, Putri Adif and Sheree Toh—along with creative director Izwan Abdullah and prolific PR manager Racy Lim.

fashion show singapore the substation
Photography by Aetll.

What intense emotions inspired what I just saw? Were they a little… disturbed? Turns out that wasn’t the case. They just needed an outlet for the pent up creative energy they didn’t get to release in their school’s graduation show.

“What in the universe was that,” I asked Manfred jokingly post-show.

“The show was a reaction to our school's graduation. It was unfulfilling, and we had no say on what happened,” he explained. A typical fashion degree graduation show is run en masse by faculty members, which gives little room for artistic expression. No choice of models, no unconventional choreography and no staging elements. Where’s the fun in that?

Taking the risk of running their own show gave these students the freedom to fully explore the ideas that inspired their collections, and even take on topics that would be too risque and controversial by Singaporean school standards.

deflowering fashion collection
Photography by Aetll.

“My segment was purely about male sexuality. I projected a video of me stroking a flower in the background. I just wanted to show the simple pleasure of self-pleasure. The models were mimicking that with their flowers. The clothes tie into it by reflecting the element of deflowering, and finding that part of yourself that you can't show everyone,” Manfred explained of his crowd-pleasing demonstration.

A standout collection was ‘Red Thread’ by Putri Adif which touched on religion and female circumcision. It was Asia’s Next Top Model meets American Horror Story, and it gave my brain as much to feast on as my eyes. Red and black outfits were layered and ruched, reminiscent of female genitalia. Ceremonial dance moves in a flood of red light were suggestive of the pain of mutilation. I became a helpless bystander to a creepy and gory ritual.

According to Manfred, Putri was the first to inject social commentary and a more performative element: “What started out as an intimate show turned into an adventurous and creative process. It started when Putri, one of the designers, initially wanted her models to dance around. Then she thought, 'why don't I cover them in red paint [and] make the lights bleed red' and the whole show evolved from that.”

red paint putri fashion design student nafa
Photography by Aetll.

It wasn’t all grim and dark though. The heavier scenes were interspersed with catchy music, zealous energy and poignant commentary on human connection in the modern world.

Inspired by the alien linguistics in the sci-fi flick Arrival, Sheree Toh’s collection DIS(ASSOCIATION) was a nerdy kids’ wet dream that explored facets of communication and alienation in modern society.

digital fashion
Photography by Aetll.

Sheree noted that, “As we progress in the current digital era, contemporary fashion appears more engineered and seems to lose its human quality. Using fashion as a medium to explore my personal interest in human behavioural studies, the collection projects the possibilities of a new universal language by leveraging on the idea of visual perception.”

And perhaps part of this humanising, unifying language is hope for the future. Sheree ended her segment with projection mapping on a white dress to signify endless possibility in what fashion could be.

whynot? was the raw, sincere result of young creatives coming together for art’s sake, with little care for commercial gain. In the world of fast consumerist fashion, we rarely stop to look at what story lies behind the fabric, but this was a strong reminder that fashion is just as effective as any other art form in being a tool for genuine self-expression and social commentary. And that makes us optimistic too.

malay culture dance mutilation fashion
Photography by Aetll.

When six recent graduates rise to the challenge to create their own platform to shake up the Singapore fashion scene, they ought to get the recognition they rightfully deserve. Anything controversial is bound to make people pay attention and spark necessary conversations - Female Singapore called whynot? “a new collective aiming to disrupt Singapore’s fashion ecosystem.”

Manfred’s mom, on the other hand, called him after the show and said, “I don't know what I just saw.”

We’re still trying to figure it out ourselves, but we can’t wait for more.

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