Cover Fashion Illustration by R.Song

Tatler shines a spotlight on the new guard of designers across the region, whose work is rooted in their heritage and culture, and who are striving for sustainability. Take a look at their stunning designs, illustrated by artist R.Song

YanYan—Hong Kong

Hong Kong received a love letter in 2019 in form of the launch of YanYan, a label that celebrates the city’s heritage. Founded by childhood friends Phyllis Chan—the former Rag & Bone director of knitwear—and Suzzie Chung, the brand explores knitwear, which is not often used in traditional Chinese clothing, with a playful, and modern twist.

YanYan means “everyone” in Cantonese, and reflects the essence of daily life in the city, which is itself a patchwork of influences. “Whenever we feel lost or need an idea, we go to Sham Shui Po or Prince Edward, or one of the many places in Hong Kong where old meets new, east meets west, culture meets technology,” Chan says. “It is a luxury to be able to live in the city that inspires you, and I think it is what makes our designs feel sincere.” 

With sustainability in mind, YanYan has been sourcing from speciality mills around the world, using deadstock and leftover yarn from knitwear factories. Cardigans, dresses and accessories are adorned with colours, patterns and subtle details that reference Chinese clothing, such as the pineapple button knots and slits seen on cheongsam. The brand is loved around the world, including by Hollywood A-lister Gemma Chan and Japanese actress and model Kiko Mizuhara.

“Customers or fans often reach out to us to let us know how connected they feel with our product. We’ve had people tell us it reminds them of home, or their family back in Hong Kong or Asia,” the duo tell us by email. “We also get questions from people overseas about some of our design elements and Hong Kong things we post on Instagram; it’s always fun to share with them.”

 

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Bagasáo—Philippines

Described as “a visceral translation of the everyday”, Philippine brand Bagasáo gives the word “basic” a whole new, desirable meaning. Designer Joseph Bagasao graduated from the Fashion Institute of the Philippines at the top of his class and was dubbed the school’s Designer of the Year. After working in the embellishment and embroidery department of New York-based designer Josie Natori, Bagasao launched his label in 2016. His dedication to sustainability gives the minimalist aesthetic of his wardrobe staples a subtle edge and durability.

Bagasáo’s creative process is deeply intuitive and sentimental: the inspiration for every design starts with an emotion, then he lets the idea unfold into silhouettes, colours, shapes and form. Even though the creations in his spring- summer 2022 collection were in clean, neutral colours, the streamlined cuts, thoughtful finishes and often unexpected silhouettes gave them a new perspective. The designer enjoys imbuing his works with a sense of mystery, combining unlikely fabrics or abandoning symmetry. “I don’t want anything too obvious, or too literal,” he says.

 

Behati—Malaysia

“Living in a culture is a blessing, and I want people to feel that blessing wearing Behati,” says Kel Wen, the creative mind behind the Malaysian label. Established in 2018, Behati aspires to preserve the crafts of Wen’s homeland through clothing that is reflective of today’s styles and trends yet which inspires people to learn about Malaysia’s diverse culture.

Drawing from his multicultural childhood, Wen wants to create looks that speak to Malaysia as a nation—his pieces feature distinctive traditional Malay, Indian, Chinese, Iban and Kadazan elements; the oversized Baju Melayu, which is a perfect example of that goal, went viral on social media. Behati’s “traditional futurewear” designs have achieved cult status thanks to their popularity among Malysian personalities, including songbird Siti Nurhaliza and actress Jihan Muse, who have sported the brand’s extravagant bespoke pieces.

Jenn Lee—Taiwan

Jenn Lee is something of a rebel on the sustainable fashion scene. The University of the Arts London graduate established her self-named label in 2017 to empower women to express their passion, creativity and independence, and unleash the wild woman within: something she reflects in her own personal style. Her designs are a mix of punk elements, subcultures, DIY and upcycling, heavily influenced by her homeland. “The streets of Taiwan are very chaotic. Styles are randomly collaged together; there is no logic and it’s quite organic,” says Lee, who is also influenced by her time in London and travels in Europe.

Lee has embraced the potential of the metaverse, releasing digital presentations of looks in previous seasons; her latest collection—Love Button Hunter, which was presented at autumn-winter 2022 London Fashion Week—involved a VR treasure hunt. Audiences were immersed in the virtual world and had to collect three “love buttons” while unlocking looks along the journey. Another passion is found in inter-disciplinary collaborations—she has worked with dancers, experimental motion graphics artists, and sound and visual artists.

Lee’s spirit of adventure extends to her practice in sustainable fashion; in addition to a “less quantity, more variety” approach, her speciality has always been to give fabrics new life. This includes making use of the unique biodegradable yarn from her collaboration with Taiwanese fabric supplier Tex Tile, waterproof fabrics certified sustainable by chemical auditor Bluesign, and second-hand materials.

Nong Rak—Thailand

Nong Rak means “young love” in Thai, a phrase that perfectly summarises the knitwear brand’s spirit. Work and life partners, Home Phuangfueang from Thailand and American Cherry W Rain- Phuangfueang, started Nong Rak in 2018 as a photography project amongst friends which developed into a vintage boutique. In 2020, the duo branched out and started focusing on creating “textile-centric, sensory- focused knitwear” which champions handcrafting and sustainability. Sourcing carefully from vintage, dead stock and second-hand natural-fibre yarns, they make use of small quantities of different- coloured threads, as well as hand-spun and minimally processed artisanal yarns from small, cruelty-free farms and artisan spinners.

Each unique accessory and item of clothing is crocheted by hand without patterns or knit on domestic machines. Their ethereal, brushed mohair pieces, described as “super organic wearable fibre art”, have gained an enormous following on social media, with the website showing that every piece they create sells. Through their label and creative studio, Nong Rak’s founders hope to continue to create “sentimental, heirloom quality pieces worth loving and sharing for years to come”.

Susan Fang—China

You may recognise the name from the surreal glass bead accessories seen on red carpets and in fashion editorials—but it’s Susan Fang’s focus on craftsmanship and sustainability that really deserves attention. Since launching her eponymous brand in 2017 following her graduation from Central Saint Martins, Fang has racked up a long list of achievements: LVMH Prize finalist, Lane Crawford’s Creative Callout Winner, and a cross-collaboration with Zara on this year’s Chinese New Year capsule collection—she is the first globally acclaimed Chinese designer the fast-fashion giant has ever worked with.

Fang’s multicultural upbringing—she grew up in China, Canada, the UK and the US—taught her “the challenges and beauty of perspective and perception”. Her label is defined by a love for nature and handicrafts, and a desire to convey beauty and a sense of healing in her work; every Susan Fang piece is produced in-house with her small artisan team, and she recently started involving charities, such as by employing mothers from the Yi ethnic minority.

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China’s design culture is young, relative to Europe, giving Fang the freedom to experiment. “It’s challenging but at the same time the best time to be an Asian designer; we can be extremely creative, and present our voice globally through the support of international and social media,” she says. “There’s not much historical restraint over how [design] should be, thus I feel a complete sense of freedom; I can define accessories, clothing, textile, shows in a completely new way.”

For example, Fang pushes to find new ways to work with textiles in every collection: she pioneered the “Air-weave” technique in 2018, a unique method of hand-weaving nine layers of fabric so a garment moulds to the wearer’s body, and which makes use of leftover materials. Her spring- summer 2022 collection, a huge hit at Shanghai Fashion Week, debuted a new technique of folding tulle called “Air flower” and is a continuation of her expression of positive emotions through design and textile innovations. “I truly hope people feel inspired, elevated and that something deep inside is comforted,” she says.

 

Toton—Indonesia

Toton Januar wants to “retell Indonesia’s inherent stories through fresh eyes and a new vision”. Founded in 2012 with business partner Haryo Balitar, the Jakarta-based womenswear label was a finalist for the 2017 International Woolmark Prize, a global award for rising talents—a first for an Indonesian designer. “Southeast Asia in particular is not known yet as the home of contemporary design; this is our chance to change that,” Januar says.

The dreamy silhouettes— reinterpretations of clothing from the country’s Aceh and Sulawesi Selatan provinces—of the spring- summer 2021 collection and sculpted corsets inspired by porcelain pieces from autumn-winter 2021 are just a few examples of the brand’s modern take on traditional artistry and celebration of the variety of techniques used in making folk and ceremonial costumes. Januar also finds creative ideas on the streets of his hometown. “The beautiful pattern of chaos [in Jarkarta] has become one of my constant inspirations,” he says. Like his designs, “I believe the future won’t look clean, empty, or sleek but, on the contrary, will be rich with the stories of how humanity survives.”

 

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Minor Miracles—Singapore

Singaporean designer Dawn Bey merged her loves for pattern-making and fashion into the 2019 launch of Minor Miracles, a print and textile studio that aims to bring happiness into every wardrobe and home. An alumna of fashion institute Scad Hong Kong and National University of Singapore, Bey uses joyful shades and exclusive prints for the clean, voluminous silhouettes of her creations.

“My cultural roots definitely make up part of who I am, yet also challenge me to push the boundaries and current norms, especially [when it comes to] the use of colour and print in Singapore,” she says. To encourage more people to embrace colour, the brand has extended to kidswear and lifestyle products such as the now essential face masks. The whole process, from the designing and pattern- making to sampling, is done in-house by Bey and her team.

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