Perpetually pushing the boundaries of womenswear, we’re completely absorbed by Max Tan and his past Fall/Winter 2016 collection. Moody and complex, Tan’s work easily find itself at the apex of the avant-garde fashion niche. Surprisingly, the Singaporean designer doesn’t identify himself as an avant-garde designer and instead, shares with us his thoughts on his past collection and personal approach to design.
Alex: Your A/W 2016-17 collection titled, “CLOISTERED,” seemed to take inspiration from religion. What was it about religion specifically that you found so captivating?
Max: The A/W 2016-17 collection takes inspiration from both religion as well as the military. I try to reflect and translate my thoughts and experiences over the last 6 months into the story of my collection. Numerous [instances of] social unrest and violent episodes have unfolded over the last few years. I guess these events subconsciously left an impression during the design process.
Religion is a double edge sword. With peace as an end goal, it can and has worked the opposite way. It goes the same for military forces. I am amused at how something that stems from peace can possibly have violent outcomes.
A. The collection was really beautiful and came off as very delicate and vulnerable. Did this collection reflect your own personal vulnerability at the time when you were designing it?
M. Coming from Singapore where I live in an environment of multi-cultural ethnicities, peace and harmony seems the norm of life here. Conflicts are often shunned or rarely discussed, as they are delicate and sensitive issues.
As a designer, I like how strength can be found in the most contradictory places [like within] fragility. In this instance, even though religious conflicts are delicate issues, strength arises in the form of unity and mutual respect.
A. Based off of your avant-garde aesthetics, what’s the difference between fashion design and costume design?
M. The collections are often styled [with] an avant-garde aesthetic. I do like to evoke emotions and reactions through the collection’s visuals. Therefore, these visuals are usually made up with more unusual styling, composition, or layout. [However] I do not think of myself as an avant-garde designer.
If I can sum up the difference between costume design and fashion design in one word, it is relevance. Fashion design has to be relevant to the wearer, where is it worn to, and how it makes the wearer feel. Costume design, on the other hand, has to convey the image of characterization.
A. As a designer, do you think wearability in fashion is something that should be compromised for the sake of expression?
M. No, I do not think wearability in fashion is something that should not be compromised… However, it is a subjective topic. As we push the limits of fashion design further, what seems unwearable to one may be something that another [person] feels totally comfortable in.
A. What fashion technologies have you used in the past, and what are some that you would be interested in experimenting with for future collections?
M. To be honest, I have not explored much with [fashion] technologies in my work. I would like to think of my clothes as poetry. To me, a written poem is better to read or be looked at than [one that is] typed out.
I am not adverse to technologies. However, like any good product design, technology should serve to make a better product or to improve they way we work. I haven’t seen much technology [that] improves or solves much of these problems or is accessible to most people. Rather than exploring technology, I would like to explore sustainability instead. I dedicate a small portion of the collection to using rectangular cutting techniques. [This way] I can achieve volume and reduce wastage at the same time.
A. How important to you is branding in establishing the MAX.TAN label?
M. To me, branding is important in establishing the label. I place a strong emphasis on the products as well as the key images that convey the brand to the general masses. Branding is like an unspoken introduction to consumers without even needing to speak a word.
A. In a hyper-saturated fashion world, how do you plan on breaking into the fashion market and distinguishing yourself from a sea of other designers?
M. Everything old is new and [everything] new is old. In this fickle fashion industry, it is tough to mind read and hit the jackpot with one collection. [All these things are] nothing without consistency. I would rather be recognized for my craft and [find success]…in a long running marathon, rather than coming out on top in a short sprint.
Here are some of our favorite looks from Max.Tan’s FW16 collection: