Joyfulness characterises the new space, bringing a bright spark in what is increasingly a bleak retail landscape
By Pearl Goh
Homegrown label Beyond the Vines (BTV), five years strong, is going big—and places. There are stores in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. And last month, the largest outlet—a “concept store” at Takashimaya Shopping Centre—was added to the two stores they already operate (other than a corner in Tangs). Not long after they opened their second pop-up (that became a permanent store) in Mandarin Gallery in 2016, I overheard the designer Thomas Wee, who, around that time had a boutique in the same complex, saying to someone, “Have you been to Beyond the Vines? They’re quite good.”
Owners, husband and wife Daniel Chew and Rebecca Ting, received considerable publicity in the early days, and members of the media were singing the praises of the brand’s calculated minimalism. I was not—and am still—unsure if Singaporean women really take to clothing stripped of visible details or those that may fall on the side of bland. My initial reaction to BTV was one of detachment: these were not challenging designs. Sure, the clothes had an ease about them, the slip-them-on-and-forget-about-them effortlessness, but aesthetically, they were somewhat one-track. Their steady growth, however, must mean they have been doing things right.
When their 2,000 sq ft “flagship” Funan store opened in 2019, Beyond the Vines had fine-tuned the clean aesthetics that continue to lure what one stylist called the “CBD crowd”. Prior to this, BTV was, to me, coasting: the familiar and the safe dominated. But by the time of the Funan store launch, they were more valiant with colours, sometimes offering unexpected pairings, all the while keeping to their familiar tented shapes. While, the Chews told the media they design for “women at large”, they imbued their brand with a clear aesthetic that seemed more distinct than those of their competitors aiming for the same huge slice of the pie, such as their immediate neighbour in Funan, Love, Bonito.
BTVs latest, opened quietly last month, is—at 2,216 sq ft—their largest to-date. This is a store I had not expected. I always remember my first visit to the Mandarin Gallery debut, which seemed like an oversized dressing room, girdled with the plushness women dreaming of a life of luxury would appreciate. This time, there’s a more youthful vibe and a faint edge to the store, one that could have been spotted in a hipster neighbourhood in Tokyo, such as Nakameguro. Described as a “Design Store”, this BTV immediately reminds me of Urban Research, with a touch of Beams (particularly the Shinjuku flagship). It’s retro-industrial-modern interior, with touches of painterly colour, makes neighbour Massimo Dutti look, well, yesteryear.
What is alluring is that from the store front, with its pale pistachio frames, you could see this is no regular clothing shop (at least not by a local clothier), or one packed to the rafters with thoughtless merchandise. Here is a well considered and appointed space: with fixtures that look cheekily transplanted from a warehouse; areas zoned to define those for bags; women’s wear and men’s in their respective, well spaced-out areas; clothing interspersed with accessories and other goods. The spaciousness of the store is in itself a lure. You sense, as the name suggests, you could actually go beyond the vines—which in informal American English also means clothing.
One bridal wear designer friend had told me earlier that the new BTV store is “nice to browse in”. And it’s true that “have a look” is encouraged, if not by the staff, certainly by the way the merchandise is displayed and not screened behind glass or acrylic showcases. Touching is inevitable, especially when you discover that, for example, the nylon “relaxed” shopping bags (S$69), are reversible, or that the face masks (S$20 each) come with optional lanyards (S$15 for a pack of three). The clothes are less curiosity-arousing because you have probably seen them before. I sometimes wonder if the designs are based on the same few blocks that have become the crux of what are deemed saleable. Here, the pinafore/apron dress, sack-like shifts (some with expected asymmetry), and the dolman sleeve are recurrent. Talking about Thomas Wee, one particular BTV detail, a draw-tape back that creates a gathered rear—just below what would have been the scapula when worn—is reminiscent of one of Mr Wee’s designs from the time both were neighbours at the Mandarin Gallery.
The men’s side of the store, with its own separate entrance, is possibly the more enticing part, mainly because it is a newer offering of the brand. For a generation of guys now preferring a more relaxed silhouette, the line of easy-to-understand separates has drawn considerable attention. Details set some of the pieces apart, such as one style of shirt’s right corner of the left pocket—it can be unbuttoned to reveal a contrast-colour underside. Yet, there, too, are details overlooked, such as the oddly short crotch for pants, and the woefully shallow pocket bags. I overheard a male shopper complaining to his girlfriend that he “can’t see” the prices on the hang tag. True enough, they are microscopic. As I take in the commendable men’s section, I notice that they sized up the colour-blocked “Crunch carrier” for a more suitable proportion (S$89 for the “Mega” and S$69 for the “Mini”) that guys might find manly enough to carry.
On the day I visited, which was a Thursday afternoon, the store was quiet. When I walked in, two sales attendants were chatting at a central island-cashier-cum-display unit for key rings (S$12) and pens (S$12), and such. I was not sure if they were aware of my presence. I like how quiet and not intrusive the service was; I like how they stinged on hi. Throughout my time in the Beyond the Vines Design Store, there was absolutely no communication between the staff and I. I was not asked if I needed help or if there was anything that I was looking for or attracted to. When I pulled out a wrap dress with a cord for the belt (S$139) to examine, I was not asked if I might have liked to try it on. I was left entirely to my own browsing. The dialogue-free session was bliss. I left as I entered—not bothered. And empty-handed.
Photos: Galerie Gombak