Kimono Kollab, the costume-rescue project, is back for a third installation. Conceived last year as an opportunity to breathe new life to blemished but still good kimonos, the ad hoc project was so successful that stockist Takashimaya Department Store has invited the participants to present a third season. As with the previous, a motley group of (ten, presently) ‘Kollaborators’ (recalling the Kardashians’ naming convention) were assembled to re-purpose the up-till-now abandoned kimonos. The current crop of designers reflects the Kollab’s plurality even when the sole fabric to work with is entirely Japanese. Among them, there is a knitter, an embroiderer, an architect, a bag maker, and a group of guys that hand-stitches small leather goods. As the source kimonos to be re-imagined are single garments, every design is reborn as one-of-a-kind. This, as the organiser pointed out to SOTD at the 1 October launch, “is an approach that’s not common in today’s market.”
Of the spirited mix, one to note is Nuboaix—a progressive label birthed five years ago by Singaporean designers Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee. Both alumni of the School of Fashion Studies at Nayang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), the duo has forged a rather distinctive aesthetic that is avant garde design built upon refined tailoring. In response to SOTD’s query about their style, Jessica Lee said, “We’ve always veered towards an industrial feel, delivering forward-looking and functional pieces that speak of modernity, yet express timelessness.”
That timelessness is, in essence, wearability—a characteristic that seems to contradict the duo’s penchant for complicated construction. Their ambidexterity on the cutting table shows technical finesse uncommon for their relatively young age (he 31, she 34). Apart from cutting the patterns, they sew the clothes too. It’s unsurprising that people would think that these garments were produced in a sampling room of an established house. It is refinement rarely encountered in the recent flurry of new local labels, mostly concerned with visual edge than design flair.
Perhaps Nuboaix’s polished products can be traced to the designers’ early exposure to the supply side of the business, having exhibited during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris, at RoomsLink in Tokyo, and, on home ground, at the annual trade show Blueprint. It has been grounding achieved alongside other designers that were determined to make an impact on the world stage (Nuboaix is represented by Lakic, a Tokyo-based agency that has under its wings indie-designers such as Satoko Ozawa and Belgium’s rising star Tim van Steenbergen). It is conceivable that an international audience has heightened the two designers’ sensitivity to what constitutes global appeal.
Take this sleeveless jacket that we’ve singled out. Keeping to the kimono silhouette, it has a neckline that traces the bodice in a traditional Japanese way, yet it is framed by a halter panel that cuts diagonally to the hem, with the upper portion sitting beneath a contrasting yoke, deliberately fashioned to follow the slope of the shoulder (a treatment that vaguely recalls John Galliano’s reinterpretation of Dior’s bar suit). At each ninety-degree point along the seam, the tip is rounded so as to diminish any sharp joint—a detail that tags on the organic shapes of traditional Japanese kimono-making (as exemplified by Visvim’s classic Lhamo shirt). The tented silhouette, too, has more than a whiff old Japan, yet the fall and swing of the garment are clearly 21st Century.
Nobuaix X Kimono Kollab, S$399, is available at level 3, Takashimaya Department Store until 13 October. Photo: Jim Sim