Design+

Why Not? Works: Manfred Lu on Masculinity and Fashion Today

Rejections got nothing on him.

Words by
Dawn
Location
Singapore

Graduate menswear designer Manfred Lu will be showcasing his Deflower collection this Saturday at The Substation. Inviting viewers to reconsider the essence of male sexuality, Deflower is a surrealist take on masculinity through an Asian eye. Through textures and patterns, the collection is a wearable take on the hidden isolation and self-destruction that happens when ideas such as the masculine show no sign of modernisation.

With a go-to outfit that consists of a thrifted Lagerfeld Homme jacket that cost $10 from Kuala Lumpur (M: It’s been worn to death, but I really can’t part with it), Manfred tells us how Why Not? came about and his beliefs when designing.

Getting to know Manfred:

Favourite fashion brand: This is a tough one. Right now, it’s definitely Eckhaus Latta. But my all-time favourite will always be Raf Simons.

Fast fashion: yay or nay. Yay for accessible clothes that everyone can afford but a big nay. We all know it’s what’s killing the planet and with the terrible track records of mismanaged labour and inhumane labour environments, just no. Stick to thrifted clothes that will last you a lifetime.  

Psst. His fashion icon is Oliver Sim from The XX.

Why Not?

Talk us through the name, and is it the very belief that spurred the start of this collective and event?

The name ‘Why Not?’ was the result of lengthy conversations with Izwan Abdullah, the show’s creative director. The idea of creating a fashion show, one that focuses on giving designers full authorship of their crafts and vision, came from my own dissatisfaction with the way institutions carry out their graduation shows. It’s something I completely understand. The designers at Why Not?, myself included, are recent graduates.

It gets very underwhelming with how fashion shows are put together today. The opinions and ideas of students are usually considered invalid or unfit for industry standards. We’ve seen how fixated the industry is on simply producing shows that are more or less gentrified by the ‘visions’ of people who have been stuck in the industry for decades. Every time you try to voice something out, the replies are all “No, it won’t work. It’s too much.”

So naming it Why Not?, as suggested by Izwan, was simply our reaction to all the rejections. The name became a new opportunity for us to fulfil and direct the most honest and true to form version of our works in a self-directed environment. An opportunity we’ll never get unless we make it ourselves.

How did the team come together?

The team started with just Izwan and me. This was way back at the start of the year when we weren’t really sure if we could pull it off. We were seeking people who would believe in the show and its stance on changing the way we approach fashion in Singapore. Not many people bought it. But it didn’t take long for Racy to join us. She was the only one we approached who was really passionate about it.

In deciding whose works to showcase, we knew it would make more sense if it was a collaborative effort. Although the focus of the show is the fashion designers, we wanted to emphasise how collaborative putting together a show is. It will highlight how creatives of different mediums work to pull it off.

Tell us more about the designers for this event.

We have six fashion designers and two graphic designers, as well as an even larger team of make-up artists, visual artists and writers.

All six designers have their own unique voice and style of work. For example, Miyuki is an optimist and she enjoys quirky styles of work, whereas Khairyna indulges in more personal and confrontational pursuits in design. The distinctions between the designers make the show more interesting. At every new segment of the show, you’re brought into a different environment, one that the designers created themselves. It’s like watching six different short films, except on a larger scale.

Almost everyone who is working on this is our friend, or we eventually became friends. Although we all have specific roles, we’ve worked very closely to realise the very best in everyone. I mean, we came out with a crazy plan to do a show, even though we have little experience. It’s better when it’s done with people you love and trust.

Deflower

Share with us your moodboard for this collection. What were you looking out for?

I was looking for a feeling, more specifically, sexual arousal and consensual male sexuality — the beauty of the male body.

The collection is a surreal take on masculinity and a lot of its influences were drawn from orchids. In ancient Greek culture, orchids symbolise testicles. And in today’s context, orchids symbolise the female genitalia. I took the idea and juxtaposed it on the male genitalia instead. It’s the fragility and ambiguity that both masculinity and orchids share that were quite important for me.

The work is quite personal. It mirrors the conflicts I have with my own masculinity. I’ve always tried to appear tough and not seem gu niang (sissy), and I’ve always been shy about my sexuality. I took traditional menswear items and opened up (with cut outs) around the most intimate and sexual areas of the male body, as if a flower is blooming and deflowering.

Talk us through the textures you used and why you decided on them.

There was not a lot of play with textures for this collection, and that’s because I wanted to keep it simple and straight to the point. I made the prints myself. I bought the cheapest orchids on my way home one day and scanned them. I knew I had to make my own floral prints instead of buying pre-made ones. And in post, I blurred them out and made them appear softer.

Do you have beliefs or rules when it comes to designing?

Always design with something honest and true to who you are. That way, it translates in your work as well. I had my ups and downs in the beginning. The work started as a womenswear collection, and I had no idea why I was designing and who I was doing it for. I felt very distant from my work. So I started designing for myself. Instead of justifying designs with a muse in mind, I made myself that person. It was a silly and not a serious attempt at trying to get work done. It was only then I realised what it truly meant to design with meaning. I’m still very new at this, but I think that’s my go-to now.

In the future, do you think the distinction between menswear and womenswear will still exist? Actually, do you think this distinction is even necessary in the first place?

For economic reasons, it’ll stay. It’s easier for brands to work with such distinction. It’s hard for brands to part with two separate target groups. But yes, I’d like for the distinction to go away. I’d like fashion to be universal and accessible to all with no labels. It’s not just for me, or the other kid who wants to wear a dress as a top. It’s really just about making the industry accessible to everyone, especially minorities. Teenagers are extremely gender-fluid, but a lot of brands do a poor job of catering to them. I think a good example is Eckhaus Latta — beautiful, unisex clothes that all can wear. It’s young, fresh and quite affordable. More brands should follow that path, and again, with full honesty for genderless clothing to be successful.

What more do you want to see in Singapore’s fashion industry?

An open collaborative mind and fearlessness to try new things.

Fashion, at least in the context of Singapore, is repetitive. The industry is comfortable with that because it brings in money and is quite sustainable, but it’s unmotivated and restrictive. By refusing to try new things, you set an outdated template for all to follow.

And that’s why a lot of students and new designers don’t know where to start. So that’s what Why Not? aims to do. Drive young talents and help them realise what they’re capable of, beyond the institutional boundaries. It will be interesting to see how the industry will change with more underground initiatives.

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