Fashion editors love Max Tan. And Max Tan loves them back. He does that by consistently delivering the kind of clothes that are deemed ideal for photographic editorials. These garments have an affinity for the camera; their striking shapes lend fashion narratives the kind of drama many magazines consider eye-catching. For the creative heads with a penchant for something out of this world, Mr Tan’s clothes provide a punch to the stylistic senses. But peel away the journalistic overkill and the misguided rah-rah, the superfluous just stares right back at you.
For his latest collection, the closing show of Digital Fashion Week 2015 (DFW) last Sunday, Max Tan once again wouldn’t let up on his “experiments with quirk (sic) cuts” and “results that are sometimes blown out of proportion” (mantras repeated for a second year in the DFW booklet, possibly, for emphasis). You can’t say the guy isn’t sticking to his guns. He’s offering longer lengths when women want shorter. He’s keeping to the distended when they want close-to-the-body. He is using more cloth when they want less—a lot less. He’s piling the layers when they want to expose their bra straps. Max Tan’s strength is his dogged consistency.
For a young eponymous label, consistency is good. It allows the designer to drive home a message, even if oblique. Fashion, however, often acts as an incisive commentator of the present, as well as the environment in which the fashion is created. What does Max Tan wish to say with these clothes? We can only hazard a guess. Is it possible that he’s saying that overzealous design can surpass underwhelming craft? Is it possible that he is proposing that one track can lead to many roads? Is it possible that he’s indicating that, contrary to the one challenge that confronts Singaporean designers, he’s able to get fabrics in limitless yardage? Is it possible that he’s suggesting that local women are easy to dupe? There are no easy answers just as there are no easy ways to grasp the meaning of the clothes.
His themes, too, avoid deviation. He’s been largely inspired by the Scriptures—from spring/summer 2014’s ‘Genesis’ to the following season’s ‘Revelation’—and the world’s best selling book has tossed up more ideas for him as he exhorts, in spring/summer 2016, ‘Thou Shalt Not’. It’s hard to make out the implication of that. What kind of limitation is he imposing on his potential customer? Or is it directed at himself? Could this be a reference to Deuteronomy 22:11 (King James Version): “Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together”? If so, how odd, as there are “garments of divers sorts” in the collection. Or, is this, perhaps, a statement to discourage criticism?
The thing is, Max Tan’s designs do elicit reactions. Take his first look: oddly, a wrap-reefer. Extra-large, and droopy, it moves like a duster, but hangs like a bath robe. Mr Tan adores coats, and big characterises them. But it is not only in terms of size. He likes them to sport huge lapels and huge sleeves, so that the garment simply looks too big. This is not oversized, this is outsized. In an age when even fast fashion can offer near-perfect fit, this is puzzling. In addition, the overall effect is outerwear that seems weighted down. The notched lapels on this particular coat, at their widest points, are the width of the shoulder. The visual ponderousness is exacerbated by the wide sash employed in place of buttons to hold the front opening of the jacket together—it is positioned and tied at the hip, and allowed to hang loose, like a fascia of an untidy cleric. Perhaps lightness of touch wasn’t considered in the design process. When even a tall model can’t pull it off convincingly, it’s hard to imagine this coat on any woman not wanting to look as if she mostly shops at the Salvation Army thrift store.
The problem with fit has plagued Mr Tan’s collections in the past, and it continued to trouble the latest. By the third look, a sort of pinafore dress with a bodice that refuses to sit nicely on the body and a bare back that exposes the gaping sides, it is possible that in the collection, fit is secondary to form. This muddles the understanding of what the brand is about as Mr Tan is known to draft his own patterns. Compounding the confusion is the oft-mentioned, but not quite evidenced “tailoring”. Of the 40 looks presented (including a single incoherent men’s), not one is, strictly speaking, a tailored garment. Ironic, since the shapes Mr Tan loves would be better served by a deft hand in the art of the tallieur. In the end, if looks supersede design, then, perhaps, it does not matter. Let it all hang loose.
Photos: Jim Sim