Alternative Song

Songzio G1

Among some female members of the audience at Songzio’s presentation this evening, “avant garde” was bandied with the same fervour as “cute” at the sight of a desirable model. When even the work of Rick Owens is no longer considered radical, designer Song Zio’s clothes can hardly be considered so. It is usually the puzzled that employs the term avant garde, which is no longer adequate in describing fashion today, however daring. In fact, avant garde has increasingly become a euphemism for bad taste or a dispassionate response for those incapable of comprehending design with an unconventional core.

Mr Song’s clothes, of course, push the boundaries of men’s wear. But he’s not the only one to do so. Japanese designers have challenged the three-piece suit since their arrival on the international stage some thirty years ago. The thought that men should not wear flaccid, draped, or diaphanous clothes should be put aside as quickly as last year’s trends.

(When Richard Gere appeared in the 1980 film American Gigolo dressed entirely in Giorgio Armani, men had not, till then, seen those limp jackets with weak shoulders. The Armani jacket came to characterise a new era for men’s wear, re-defining masculine looks with no threat to the existing machismo even if they astounded. The jackets were supple and fluid, qualities of clothes associated with women than men, yet they afforded guys a naturalness that is still preferred today.)

The stealthy rise of men’s wear that does not actively seek to differentiate itself from women’s wear—such as ‘skorts’ and even skirts—is not just an indication that times have changed, but gender aesthetics have shifted. In such a climate, is it reasonable to determine a collection’s merits by stacking them against those labels whose core business are shirts and suits for the boardroom types?

The truth is, there are male customers out there who like their daily existence unencumbered by formal or constricted clothes, as well as the not few who connect with attire closer to feminine form and silhouette, whether for practical reason or visual impact. Mr Song recognises them. His Spring/Summer 2014 collection, first shown during Paris Men’s Fashion Week four months ago, stayed away—just so—from what would be deemed regular: i.e., these are not bloke clothes.

Songzio G2

Shortened was the operative word. Sleeves of jackets grazed the elbow, jacket hems swung above the hip, the legs of pants ended just below the knee, and shorts, well, short! When hemlines are brought upwards, proportions need tweaking. The almost fifteen-year veteran cut his clothes fairly close to the body, but he had a propensity to include flared pieces as a counterpoint to the linear, so gauzy shirts were tunic-like and liquid shorts moved like very roomy silk boxers.

A recurrent motif was a print used on scarves, jackets, shirts, and pants. In red, it looked like streaked blood from afar, but was, apparently, based on an abstract painting called “Pine Forest”. This print, appearing on almost every article of clothing, could have benefited from more judicious use since it was not a pattern that was easy on the eye.

While Mr Song’s designs had a modernist sense, they, in fact, belied an Oriental aesthetic. The sleeveless jackets, for example, were cut so that the shoulders did not follow the natural slope of the top of the male trunk, instead, they were horizontal and extended, creating a silhouette with a whiff of the warrior armours of 5th Century Korea. Most of the shirts and tees were roomy and were worn un-tucked (slipping the top neatly into trousers is essentially a Western practice), thus, not allowing the viewer to see the waist of the pants. Given the hang of some of them, it would not be unreasonable to assume that a few were held by drawstrings, also very Eastern.

The almost pajamas-like ensembles (and, especially, the blousy tops) perhaps point to Mr Song’s training as a women’s wear designer. Dressmaking fundamentals do influence some Asian designers in their men’s wear, such as Thailand’s Nagara Sambandaraksa, who rarely shows men’s wear based on tailoring. The result: clothes that defy the conventions of what makes a man’s garment manly.

Fashion Week 2013 is staged at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre Hall F from now till 19 October