Let The Support Win

Two weeks ago, Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore presented the annual Singapore Fashion Awards. Despite news preceding the event that speculated on the Awards’ uncertain future, as well as the unexpected downgrade of the presentation to a “tea gala”, many attendees and industry stalwarts concurred: the show must go on


SFA 2017 P1The SFA presentation at the W Hotel, Sentosa Cove

It is heartening that Singapore Fashion Awards (SFA) isn’t leaving the stage. Two months before the sophomore presentation of the come-back SFA, rumours were afloat that organiser Textile and Fashion Federation (TAFF) Singapore may put SFA on a hiatus next year. Among designers and brand owners, this was disappointing news, especially when it was earlier reported that Singapore Fashion Week will likely be no more in 2018—one platform less, not that there are numerous to begin with, on which to trump home-grown fashion.

The initial talk was that TAFF was facing budgetary constraints in staging an increasingly expensive SFA. That this year’s event had to be put in the less glamorous, working-hour time slot of tea (inexplicably termed “gala”) in a place that’s far from the maddening crowd—the W Hotel in the hard-to-get-to Sentosa Cove—was suggestion that TAFF had too tight a purse string to pay for the venue and catering expense, and had to depend on whichever establishment willing to be the sponsor, putting them in a beggars-can’t-be-choosers position.

The sustainability of budding-again SFA was also called to question as the selection committee had a hard time coming up with names in the fashion categories that were not the usual suspects, or last year’s nominees, or winners. The names that were eventually shortlisted were so unexceptional that some of the judges felt this year’s SFA would be severely uninspired. It was heard that at the last minute, two labels were brought to the table and had delighted the judges so much that things started to look up. Nuboaix and Ametsubi were suggested for the Designer of the Year (Fashion) and Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion) categories respectively to the surprise of many as the co-designers of both labels were unknowns. The two nominations, too, surprised the respective designers as none of them had considered themselves to be part of a fashion circle framed by individuals of cultivated visibility.

SFA 2017 P2The always in-control Yasminne Cheng holding the show together

It is now said that SFA will be presented next year and, thereafter, many more years to come. This was encouraging and uplifting news to not only the fashion community, but also to those who think design awards are instrumental in the raising of industry-wide standards and the visibility of the work Singaporean fashion designers do. The limit in budget is understandable and may be improved by better fund-raising programs or by welcoming a title sponsor. The lack of credible names, unfortunately, is very real, and may not necessarily improve in the years to come.

Should TAFF then field those already nominated before, or have been awarded already? There seems to be the thought that each year, SFA should witness a new set of names and labels. The reality is that, despite new entrants in fashion retail yearly, there is still a very small pool of designers that TAFF can turn to. Except for the Emerging Designer category, which, by definition, is to honour the new, all other categories do not have to shy away from those previously considered for the SFA. As one marketing consultant said after the presentation, “Does Meryl Streep not qualify for the following year’s Academy Awards if she is nominated for the current year?”

SFA 2017 P3Designers Keita Ebihara and Elizabeth Soon of Ametsubi holding a pose with their Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion) award

Fashion needs a certain cycle, as it needs selling seasons. It also requires something that practitioners can look forward to. That TAFF was willing to resurrect the once thought to be forever departed Singapore Fashion Awards points to the Federation’s understanding of the value of an annual salute to those who have put their very creative best into their work. Fashion folks like the proverbial pat on the back regardless of how independent, how strong, how unaffected by the opinions of others they are. And nothing is more assuring than accolades from one’s peers and recognition from industry notables. A fashion award such as SFA may prompt designers to work harder, to embrace innovation more fervently, and to adopt originality more passionately. They may aim higher too, since winning once does not mean win no more.

The Singapore Fashion Awards should, therefore, be prized as support, as much as encouragement to designers steering their brand in an industry characteristically faced with unabated challenges. Many designers, even after passing the industry-standard five-year mark that makes them no longer ‘emerging’, continue to manage their brands like fledgling businesses, with profitability a constant inconstancy, so much so that some of them have to supplement their brand’s income by taking on an extra job, often—the heart-wrenching truth—employment that has nothing to do with the perceived allure of fashion. SFA recognition may, thus, make the hardships easier to bear, allowing designers to continue to struggle, as artists do, for their craft, rather than the glamour.

Support for young, up-coming designers is especially important. There is a general lament that our island nation is utterly lacking in talents that can be nutured to fly the Singapore flag. It is also a reality that many budding designers, however gifted and prolific, are not able to propel themselves to a bigger audience without a more established organisation such as TAFF to act as some kind of launch pad. Private sector and government initiatives, thus, often allow greenhorns to see and learn more, and may expose them to markets not previously thought reachable. Case in point: This past Thursday, Singapore saw for the first time ‘Finland’s Fashion Frontier’, a fashion show featuring five of Helsinki’s best fashion design graduates that was organised by Helsinki New, a private enterprise that pairs Finnish designers and brands with the international marketplace, in collaboration with Aalto University and Helsinki Marketing, a company backed by the city itself. Sure, we’d probably not see these designers’ work for a while to come, but the satisfaction from witnessing talents in action from the Nordic land is immeasurable. It is not improbable that some day we may wear some of these names on our back.

SFA 2017 P4State Property’s Lin Ruiyin and Afzal Imran with their Emerging Designer of the Year (Accessories) award

But our young designers can only dream of support that has such far-reaching consequence. Sure, TAFF has, for many brands, acted as link to overseas markets though consultations and trade missions abroad, even if the trips have not enjoyed the visibility of those co-organised with the then Trade Development Board in the ’80s, of which those particular excursions that launched the careers of “The Magnificent Seven”—among them Tan Yoong, Thomas Wee, and Bobby Chng—are still talked about today. But can the Federation alone offer consequential reach with their woefully inadequate resources without members of the media, for one, helping to bolster the small efforts put together to give those designers a leg up?

Shortly after the SFA presentation, The Straits Times ran a report of the event on their online edition that curiously omitted the names of the co-winners of the Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion). An update published a few hours later did not correct the irregularity; neither the follow-up the next day—save a mention in the caption that accompanied the main picture—or the version that appeared in the print edition two days later. It was not, curiously, an omission particular to ST. Other online reports, including those by the members of the Chinese media, published similar exclusion. This collective blank-out (in some cases, one-half of the duo was mentioned) prompted the whisper of conspiracy theories, including one that suggested that TAFF had wanted to play down the fact that the winning brand Ametsubi’s design studio is based in Japan, never mind that they’re a Singapore-registered company and label.

Carolyn KanCarolyn Kan of Carrie K won big this year, with three awards: Best Collaboration of the Year, Champion for Creatives and Designers, and Bespoke 

This was an odd development. It is not likely that TAFF would sanction such a reporting anomaly. Surely they would have ascertained all selected brands’ country of origin. As one creative director rightly pointed out, “In this connected world, where many of us do business from all corners of the globe, does it matter where the design studio is based? A designer can design in the middle of the Indian Ocean if he or she, or they wanted to.” Or, could the non-acknowledgement be the result of appeasing disgruntled nominees claiming unfair competition, as some attendees had later inferred? Even to that, it is possible that TAFF had anticipated such an unseemly expression of displeasure and planned a course of action to deal with it.

It is, therefore, possible, after a process of elimination, that the names of the winners of the Emerging Designer of the Year (Fashion)—Elizabeth Soon and Keita Ebihara—were excluded because these are monikers that do not arouse the interest of the respective editors, or will not ring even the lightest bell among the titles’ readers. If the suppositions are true, then some members of the media may be well served to be reminded that the biggest winner of this year’s SFA, Carolyn Kan, was a fashion nobody when she started Carrie K, even when she had made a name for herself in the advertising industry. The same can be said of the winner of Designer of the Year (Fashion), Dzojchen’s Chelsea Scott-Blackhall, who, by her admission, has been spending a lot of time in New York, presumably to design, and Vietnam, where she had acquired a factory to produce her collection. To not talk about those with a dream and the talent to make it big, even if that will happen in the distant future, is to deny them the hope with which many project their prospects.

Marilyn TanMarilyn Tan receiving the Designer of the Year (Accessories) award from Carolyn Kan

In tandem with the honours that they bestow, Singapore Fashion Awards should be produced to be worthy of Event of the Year. A “tea gala” in the resort hotel W on Sentosa is hardly the premise of something that would grab the attention of the industry or imbue the Awards with the prestige that would make a momentous difference to the honorees. While this year’s presentation enjoyed a significant improvement from last year’s, which was staged in the ill-suited space of the Supreme Court Terrace of the National Gallery, it could have been better appreciated and, indeed, attended if it had been held at a more accessible location. Nobody, it can be certain, expects the equivalent of the Royal Albert Hall, where the British version of the SFA, The Fashion Awards, also a sophomore outing, was held this past Monday. Nobody is going to pretend that the choice of the W, no doubt a lovely hotel, is an artistic decision.

In fact, SFA does not have to be a splashy event in a plush setting. As an industry occasion, it can be a little more intimate, with the atmosphere of a family gathering that generates a sense of belonging for all. It could, for instance, be staged at the main atrium of the National Design Centre, a fitting location for an event that celebrates design. The best fashion often takes inspiration from previously unthought-of places, and tells stories yet narrated. TAFF may put SFA in better standing by trekking that path.

Chelsea Scott BlackhallChelsea Scott-Blackhall receiving the Designer of the Year (Fashion) Award from guest-of-honour, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Ministry of Trade and Industry, Sim Ann

If more boxes are to be ticked, it should also include calling out those nominees and winners who have opted to give SFA a noticeable miss. Support for the fashion industry does not come from only those watching or cheering from the sides or below the stage. It ought to also come from those who have the talent and the good fortune to be nominated. Even if you are not the winner, it is always an appreciable act of grace to be present to applaud those who walk away with a trophy. The high number of no-shows of those whose names were announced and flashed on screen, therefore, left a somewhat unpleasant aftertaste at the end of the presentation, not because of the indifference suggested by those individuals’ absence, but because of their plain rudeness.

Among the winners of the Marketing Awards—Most Popular Brands and Best Marketing, only Trixie Khong of By Invite Only and Rebecca Ting of Beyond the Vines attended and went on stage to collect their trophy. No one from Love, Bonito was present; no one from Benjamin Barker showed up to collect the Best Marketing award. It was a now-show, too, for Contributor Awards winners—the Fashion Hairstylist of the Year, Fashion Make-Up (Artist) of the Year, Fashion Photographer of the Year. Jeremy Tan, who won Fashion Stylist of the Year, had at least sent a friend to collect the trophy on his behalf.

For as long as you’re a nominee, attendance is expected. To not be able to meet that expectation would be akin to letting your brand skip a fashion season. Buyers may overlook the professional mis-step, but consumers may think your playing hooky is ignoring the fact that they’re watching you. Bye for now may not beget hello tomorrow.

Singapore Fashion Award 2017: Full List of Winners

Emerging Designer of The Year (Fashion): Elizabeth Soon and Keita Ebihara for Ametsubi

Emerging Designer of the Year (Accessories): Lin Ruiyin and Afzal Imram of State Property

Top Three Most Popular Brands: Love, Bonito; By Invite Only; Beyond the Vines

Best Marketing: Benjamin Barker

Best Collaboration of the Year: Carrie K X Disney

Honorary Award: Tan Yoong

Bespoke Award: Carolyn Kan of Carrie K

Fashion Hairstylist of the Year: Marc Teng

Fashion Make-Up (Artist) of the Year: Elain Lim

Fashion Photographer of the Year: Stefan Khoo

Fashion Stylist of the Year: Jeremy Tan

Designer of the Year (Accessories): Marilyn Tan of Marilyn Tan Jewellery

Designer of the Year (Fashion): Chelsea Scott-Blackhall of Dzojchen

Photos: Chin Boh Kay and Zhao Xiangji

Two Kites And The Sky

Rare is the men’s wear label that offers a point of view at the point of its inception. Rarer still is the men’s wear label designed by a couple, who, despite the feeble market, creates clothes men actually want to wear. Nuboaix is that atypical men’s wear label, strong of voice and poised to soar

Jessica Lee & Yong Siyuan of NuboaixDesigning couple: Jessica Lee and Yong Siyuan of Nuboaix. Photo: Nuboaix

At tomorrow’s Singapore Fashion Awards (SFA), the nominees of Designer of the Year Danelle Woo of Aijek, Chelsea Scott-Blackhall of Dzojchen, and Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee of Nuboaix are vying for the recognition with traits, skills, and flair that vary immensely on the scale.

Ms Woo’s Aijek, while a commercial hit, is far from design-driven; it speaks less of the designer’s gift than a market keen on the non-challenging; i.e. ultra-feminine styles that are often described as “effortless” to a superlative degree. An “everyday woman”, as Ms Woo describes herself to the media, she has conceived Aijek to “create something that was a middle ground”. Intermediate positions do not often win awards.

Ms Blackhall’s co-ed brand Dzojchen (pronounced, as advised, “doh-jen”) has the sleekness of a fashion-aware easy-to-wear line, with the male-leaning aesthetic of the women’s collection seemingly built on Freudian ideas. Working in Ms Blackhall’s favour is how the compliment ‘cool’ is often associated with her, how the social aspect of her life is just as cool, and how numerous the cool girls, such as fellow ex-model and ardent supporter Rebecca Tan, she hangs out with are. Chelsea Scott-Blackhall, by cool alone, has many rooting for her to win the Designer of the Year. And she is likely to.

Nuboaix is a lot quieter as a brand, significantly quieter, so much so that one veteran designer was miffed that he had not heard of them prior to the nomination. “Designers must know how to market themselves,” he had exhorted. “You can’t just sit by yourself in the studio and not connect with the outside world.” The designers of Nuboaix were unknown to the judges of SFA, too, until their names were offered when the pre-judging had, again, arrived at the edge of a small and shallow pool of talents. If a fashion brand’s award-worthiness is invariably linked to its designer’s social standing, then Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee would be less accepted of what they have wrought since they are virtually unheard of.

Nuboaix AW2017 jacket 1A signature Nuboaix blouson with a cross-chest flap

Why should unknowns be awarded? Because these two not social-by-nature or social-for-reach unknowns have dedicated their lives to their craft, and spent many hours in their Northstar@Ang Mo Kio studio, patterning, perfecting, cutting, fitting, and sewing. Yes, sewing. From the brand’s first season until the current, every piece in the collections—15 seasons so far—has been stitched by both Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee, partners in business and in life. And every trim affixed by the two. Their studio, no bigger than the master bedroom of a HDB flat, doubles as production facility. Nothing is farmed out. In addition, and more importantly, because both designers have a clear, distinct, original voice.

Few designers think about DNA, let alone a signature than can immediately identify their brand. Mr Yong and Ms Lee do, and their approach is so un-tethered to palpable signals in men’s wear—especially the current obsession with volume, as well as streetwear—that their designs are oftentimes headwinds pushing against the currents of what is considered fashionably masculine. For sure, they do not design for those who populate the Singapore Exchange, yet it would be imprecise to say that they design for those who prefer a strictly casual mode of dress, such as that unconsciously adopted by photographers’ assistants. These are clothes for guys who care about how they look, be it at work or at play, and how judiciously employed details in garments can set them apart. And smartly too.

And it is in the details that fans of the brand are raving about. A Web content developer, who has been buying NBX for more than a year, said that “the clothes are unlike anything seen even in more edgy men’s wear collections such as those at L’Amoire. I like the pieces joined to form shapes on the garment—they look like configurations on a computer chip!” The Nuboaix signatures are, in fact, more than their much admired insets in which assorted geometric parts (sometimes including a functional pocket), often arranged diagonally, convene rather happily. As Ms Lee, “in charge of all communications”, elaborated to SOTD: “Our double rivets affixed on the left of the neck, as seen on our knitwear, serve as one of our signatures. Another would be our cut-and-sew details worked on our T-shirts in the form of a simple single, left-chest pocket. Not forgetting the cross-chest flap, on our bomber jackets, which has become a staple since S/S 2017. Our designs are discernibly NBX and we like it that way. One will not mistake our brand for another, or vice versa.”

What they can achieve is more remarkable considering the oft-cited resource scarcity designers here face. “To name a few,” Ms Lee shared, “fabric selection is severely limited; zippers are very standard, with no variations on teeth size/color/material, etc. Good sewers are scarce too. There isn’t existing textile technology either, which means there is a limit to how much we can achieve. We simply do not have access to a more sophisticated manufacturing industry.” Which explain why they keep almost all the work in-house even when the breadth and depth are tough to sustain. “Every day is hard work and not one process is a bed of roses. But this is the price to pay in order to maintain the quality of our products. The whole process, from conception to sewing to fitting, is too important to outsource.”

Nuboaix AW2017 pulloverA Nuboaix pullover with signature bib-front composite of geometric shapes

Nuboaix was conceived in 2008—“the seed was planted” then—and incorporated as a company a year later. Both Ms Lee and Mr Yong had met as students in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Fashion Studies and graduated with a diploma in fashion design in 2004. Mr Yong would later return to the school to complete a BA degree in fashion marketing, a joint program with the UK’s Northumbria University. The name Nuboaix—vaguely Japanese or evocative of the world of Star Wars, which would not be inconsistent with their love of anime and science fiction—intrigues the uninitiated enough to think that it is a foreign brand. Ms Lee, somewhat self-deprecatingly, said, “Apologies as there is nothing exciting here.” When pressed further, she let on: “It’s just a made-up word from the name of a pet. Still, it’s a name that has come to resonate with the way we are steering the brand—with a more futuristic and forward feel.” The name sets the tone for the collections, and, as she noted, “the clothes remain subtle, almost clinical.”

According to Ms Lee, co-designing a collection was not initially on the cards. “Definitely not. LOL at that time. We were both very different in terms of design elements, direction, and thought process. Our idiosyncrasies define us both to be almost opposites, but, of course, along the way we learned to compromise and complement each other when working together.” The eventual harmony of the ying and the yang meant that, apart from being able to collaborate, both of them could arrive at a design consensus without disastrous skirmishes, and this is reflected in their output: a pleasing synergy that does not betray their gender differences.

The first NBX collection came together in 2010, at a time when start-ups in Singapore were slowly beginning to show signs of a possible boom. It was a women’s wear collection for the spring/summer 2011 season called Walküre, alluding to the valkyrie, or females figures of Norse mythology, who decide who can live, or die in battle, so dramatically retold in the Richard Wagner opera Die Walküre. Correspondingly, the designs eschewed obvious prettiness and clichéd delicateness for an aesthetic that could be Amazonian in a parallel universe. A highlight of the debut was the convertibility of some of the pieces, such as a pair of below-the-knee pants that could intriguingly be transformed into a mini-dress—the waistband morphs into a halter neck! The unusual tailoring with technically-challenging details that are now evident in the men’s wear took shape at that time, and, together with subsequent collections—including Macht (another German word, this time meaning ‘might’), seen at the now-defunct Audi Fashion Festival 2010’s trade event Blueprint and their contributions to Kimono Kollab­ in 2015—appealed to so many men’s wear buyers that suggestions started coming in that the two should consider a men’s line as well.

The Nuboaix corner at Robinsons The Hereen’s men’s floor

The transition to men’s wear came rather swiftly. Buoyed by encouragement from industry folks and precipitated by the competitive nature of the women’s wear market and what they thought were “a tad too forward” for the time, Nuboaix switched to men’s clothing in 2015, and quickly drew attention with their masterful patterning, especially for outerwear. That year, at a Paris trade fair, buyers from Robinsons visited their stand and was impressed enough by what they saw that Nuboaix was immediately offered space in the department store. Impressively, the brand’s merchandise was, from the start, sited among imported labels, and presently, Nuboaix has Andrea Pompilio and Marc Jacobs as immediate neighbours. If that does not adequately say something about the brand’s standing or quality or perceived value, perhaps pilferage does. According to an internal source, a Nuboaix piece was once shoplifted and the perpetrator, emboldened by the initial success, returned for a second attempt only to be caught red handed!

The immediate attraction of Nuboaix at one look is understandable. As one product development manager told SOTD, “Their things always look polished. Even with Marc Jacobs beside them, they don’t look like a shadow of the former. In fact, the clothes look expensive; they make Mark Jacobs look cheap.” From a design standpoint, “the concept is strong. Technically, it’s not easy to do what they do. Just look at how many pieces go into making just one top. And the final product is a balanced composition that has hanger appeal.” More importantly, regardless of the multiple cut-and-sew parts within the garment, which to the die-hard minimalists are superfluous, what emerges is something that any man can identify as clothes, not gimmickry with cloth.

In this respect, there’s something old-school in their approach. Although they continually experiment with new ideas and techniques; reconstructing and modernizing—uncommon for designers of their relative youth, they still kept to certain design approaches and details, and everything in their output is interrelated. As fashion has lost much of this sense of continuity, what Nuboaix has maintained harks back to older times, and is, ironically, refreshing. While this could result in formulaic designs, the proverbial complacency trap can be circumvented if Mr Yong and Ms Lee constantly reinvent themselves, or re-conceptualise the aesthetics of their brand.

With an SFA nomination and stockists in the US, Japan, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the two designers feel a sense of achievement, if not success. But Ms Lee’s reaction was more subdued. “We’re very humbled to be even nominated, so we’re not letting ourselves get ahead thinking about the results. It’s enough being recognized for the efforts, through these many years, put in to pursue a dream, a passion and to build a career in fashion.” She added, “Because we transited from women’s to men’s, we’ve kinda seen both worlds. Our understanding of the two probably sets us apart from the other designers. Again, looking at the NBX DNA that we’ve created, it’s uniquely ours. That’s our success.”

We noted that she had not once not used the pronoun ‘we’. Ms Lee and Mr Yong are engaged to be married. “People say one can never work with one’s partner. Sure, we have our moments, but after so many years being together and knowing each other inside out, we feel it boils down to splitting the work and apportioning to who’s better at what. It’ll take time to get there though.” And cheekily she added, “One mountain can’t have two tigers, right?”

Photos (except where indicated): Zhao Xiangji

(2016) Winter Style 1: A Good Coat


It’s so uncommon for local labels to tackle winter wear that when you see a good cold-weather outer by any one of them, you think you have struck gold. This was how we felt when we stumbled upon this coat by Nuboaix, the quiet men’s wear label designed by the couple Jessica Lee and Yong Siyuan. The bi-coloured wool coat, with just the right heft and amount of details, beckoned also because it has that rare quality called hanger appeal.

Most young designers who go to design school here have not been taught to undertake winter wear, a category that requires different handling (and even equipment), as opposed to that comprising warm-weather clothes. In fact, those Singaporean brands that do offer winter wear mostly source from suppliers in China, where many coats and woolens can be purchased wholesale for re-branded re-sell.

Ms Lee and Mr Yong, both graduates of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Fashion Studies, too, went through a curriculum that skipped the design of clothing with heavy fabrics. Yet, they have been able to put out their winter collections, albeit small, that could sit comfortably alongside those by European bands. The devil, as it is often said, is in the details. And a sensitivity to the fabrics in the hand.

nuboaix-coat-details360 degrees: the subtle but alluring details of the coat

This hybrid of a racer-meets-parka (with a detachable hoodie) is at once enticing because of its softly structured form. Within it are Nuboaix signatures such as curved seams (and hem) and organically shaped inset for the sleeves. For decorative element, there are the strategically placed grommets, as well as zippers, both hinting at a biker sensibility. The zip-up front is slightly asymmetric, but only just so, and the barely off-centre zip positioning gives the coat a decidedly modern edge.

A mark of a beautiful coat is the fit. Here, there’s no question it sits supremely well on the body, with a smooth and comfortable hug of the shoulders that clearly suggests the designers’ skill with drafting the design. Unzipped, the coat swings out without the tented effect of one that’s cut too generously in the mid section. The curved hem—longer in the front than the back—provides a graphic counterpoint to those who like wearing their shirt-tails untucked.

What is most impressive to us is the fact that the Nuboaix designers produce their own samples and sew everything themselves. We were told that, Mr Yong is, in fact, especially dexterous at both the cutting table and on the sewing machine. Despite the odds and a tough retail market, the pair has, through sheer grit and ingenuity, been able to produce season after season pieces that respect the tradition of men’s tailoring and, at the same time, offer innovations that they can truly call their own.

With so much handwork involved, this, to us, is truly a crafted article of clothing. Therein lies its greatest appeal.

Nuboaix coat in navy or grey, SGD699, is available at Robinsons The Hereen. Photo: Jim Sim

Dress Watch: Construction Time

Nuboaix X Kimono Kollab

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