Do people want to make ugly clothes? Or do some of them just want to make clothes ugly? I departed depressed from the Depression corner in Workshop Elements at Westgate Mall this afternoon, saddened by these conflicting thoughts.
Beautiful clothes bring about joy; they elate the viewer and the wearer. The innate sophistication of Yves Saint Laurent, for instance. Or the shapely forms of Azzedine Alaia, the kooky modernity of Muccia Prada, the moving historicism of Alexander McQueen. Or the technical superiority of set-in sleeves, the attractiveness of straight-hanging seams and flat hems, the tactile satisfaction of the best fabrics.
I wonder—often enough—how the young designers of today can do without these pleasures. Or in a vernacular they can understand: the artful drapes of Rick Owens, the conflicted classic/cutesy aesthetic of Christopher Kane. Or the unapologetic brashness of Supreme, the urban-tribal allure of Dope Chef. Or the irony-heavy assaults of Banksy. Or the proper drop of a drop crotch!
What have all these been replaced with?
At Depression, the answer is dismal. Try as you may, overlooking these is hard: graphic blouses with clumsy interplay of shapes, tops that are little more than two joined rectangular pieces, jackets with terribly fastened horizontal panels, shirts with poorly fashioned collars, plackets that do not sit smoothly, hems of armhole that warp, inconsistent stitches and those that are criss-cross traffic on the underside, men’s jackets with the button placement for women’s. I wondered—amazed by what were allowed on the racks—if the brand’s owners care about what they make and sell.
Or perhaps the clumsiness is deliberate, the warping intentional, the low-grade assemblage on purpose. It was hard to tell. Fashion has now allowed mediocrity to thrive sans hindrance to the point that the flawed and the lacking could be used as positives to mask the inadequate and conceal the unskilled. Some people called it a change in what is aesthetically acceptable. “It’s modern!” “It’s cutting-edge!” “It’s trending!” But so many of the Depression garments are finished to defy even good enough that you wonder if can’t-be-bothered switched place with well-executed.
In fact, the slapdash manufacture of the clothes leads you to think that the line is put together by a ragtag team. There are, however, designers behind Depression. Two, in fact: Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh. So, you’d want to uncover the design merit, but it’s hard to find. The influence of Japanese designers is so unmistakable that it is possibly due to their good luck that the referencing is not pointed out. Last season’s blouse on a blouse or tee on a tee—already conceived by Comme des Garcons. The scattered dangling tapes stitched on the bodice so that they can be tied at any point across the front panel to create a changeable relief for the surface—once explored by Issey Miyake. The circle pocket with a zip (and cord for the puller) in the middle—still in use by the label Visvim. There is the resistance of temptation in not going on.
Mr Lim and Mr Loh told online Surface SEA in 2011, “We’ve never had any formal training in fashion design, and that allows us to create from a very raw and honest place.” By raw, it could be assumed that they meant opposite of refined and honest, an uninformed approach to dressmaking. Could this provide the explanation to the atrocities I saw? They, too, said, “We’ve never intended to be different, and never tried to differentiate ourselves from other labels.” Quality (interestingly never pointed out when describing Depression in the media) in fashion traditionally varies. When you position yourself on the lower end of the quality scale, you have—even if inadvertently—set yourself apart.
Later, over at the main store in Cineleisure Orchard (above), Depression did not look more heartening. I thought that since the clothes were shown in its own brand environment, they could open me up to why the garments look the way they do. Traced to the mother ship, they appeared as “raw” as they did in another outpost. A corner shop of painted concrete with scaffolding on which the garments hung, the boutique befits the commonly held belief that Depression is a “cult brand”. The clothes—mostly black and white—inhabit a room that is crudely industrial, lacking in seductive VM, and unevenly illuminated. Why is it that an indie label—another tag oft-ascribed to them—must look like a struggling brand in order to win street cred and designer standing? Mr Lim has described Depression as “avant-garde”, even when he has stated that he does not go for differentiation. Avant-garde, interestingly, is often a euphemism for something that cannot be satisfactorily defined; it has the same effect as calling a hodgepodge interior “eclectic”!
The truth is, anyone can start a label these days. And many do. The route from concept to consumer is no longer like the one of yore. You can jump right in at any point between the two posts. You can dispense with pattern-makers and sample sewers and quality controllers. And many do. If your line offers something to see and the pieces are sharply priced, you’re in business. Just ask Love, Bonito. Depression was started 18 years ago, so it is not new, yet, from its early beginnings at Far East Plaza till the present, the aesthetic and the quality have not really changed. When you approach garment-making the only way you know, you’ll keep at it with the tenacity of a predator holding on to its prey. And many do.
Perhaps it is not entirely fair to single Depression out. Numerous local labels offer themselves in similar ways. Depression and the like, in the end, really go for looks rather than design, aiming for sum of parts with cursory regard for what really forms the total. The big picture without the small bits. Attention-to-detail deficit in order! After all, on Instagram (or your brand’s homepage), you can’t see unsuitable underlining, twisted in-seams, unintended puckering, sad-looking buttonholes, and such oversights that keep the mediocre apart from the good, the good from the great.
As I left the store, a twentysomething customer walked in. He wore an orange, racer-back singlet under a black pullover made of netting. This duo of tops was teamed with salmon-pink shorts printed to mimic the skin of some unknown campy snake. Not completely covering his feet were laced-up gladiator straps atop platforms that were at least 4 inches high. The aggregate of these parts: look at me. In an instance, I understood Depression.