A Singaporean designer creates clothes that are conversation pieces, but with the goal of righting a wrong in society.
One of fashion’s constant battles is fighting its public image of superficiality. And while that perception is not without a certain amount of justification, there are some within the industry who can surprise the style-aloof with their intellect and profundity. One is up-and-coming Singaporean designer Sunny Lim, with his nearly-namesake label Mils.
Established September of last year, Mils is a menswear brand that strays from the common path. Lim, a graduate of LaSalle College of the Arts, noticed a deficiency in the male fashion department: “There were many great labels that flatter men’s physique but we only have few local designer menswear labels which are alternative,” he points out. So he set out to resolve the problem, but not with a stop-gap measure. Lim designs clothes that are structured yet deconstructed, attention-grabbing yet worthy of more than a double take. “[Each piece] must have a story to tell,” he says.
His debut S/S 2012 collection for Mils recounts the tale of Hijras in India, a sector of society ostracised for their sexual ambiguity and purported notorious habit of harassing train passengers and wedding receptions to elicit money. “I felt that in a time and age where we are progressing, it is really sad,” says Lim. As a solution, he sought the solace of a sketchpad and showed the duality of the Hijras and their historic connection to the hermaphroditic god Ardhanarishvara with asymmetrical shirts, pants with a half-skirt layer, and by utilising a composite of two natural fabrics.
Further to this fusion of masculinity and femininity, he includes other subtleties in his suits and casualwear. There is the soft fluidity of the layered fabrics when in motion, or the quiet elegance of leather-bound collars and cuffs. As for his sombre colour choices, it was not a conscious decision on his part, he says. He attributes the detail to a photograph hanging on his inspiration wall taken by Dorothea Lange during the Great Depression – “a time of change for most societies,” he notes.
This social awareness is as much a staple element as his leather trimmings. It weaves its way into the narrative of his clothes. But it is perhaps not unexpected, once you learn that he looks up to Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo, Anrealage’s Kunihiko Morinaga and Maison Martin Margiela – all known for their unconventional ways of perceiving the world and consequent application in their creations. Lim says that his inspiration “comes from many places”, but none as moving as “certain anomalies in society that I feel need to be explored.” milsmanifesto.com
Published in the April/May issue of Surface Asia