STATE your artistic leaning with apparel bearing work by painters, writes Nadia Badarudin.
“ONE should either be a work of art or wear a work of art,” says a signage above the entrance of Granny Takes A Trip, a fashion boutique in London in the 1960s where legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix shopped for his eccentric fashion pieces.
Hendrix took the words on the signage to heart and eventually became a work of art himself and set the trend for vintage chic, according to the book Room Full of Mirrors — A Biography of Jimi Hendrix.
To become a work of art with fashion is easy for a naturally larger-than-life personality like Hendrix. But wearing a work of art goes beyond a fashion statement. Be it a jacket with hand-painted roses or a T-shirt printed with an image from an original artwork, art-infused pieces give the wearer that extra pride especially if the art is of a matter close to heart.
The trend of infusing art into wearable items is not new, but it is mostly done on a small-scale basis and appeals to close-knit groups.
On the local scene, reputable batik artists or painters like Sharifah Maheran Barakbah of Barakaff Batik, Zanubah Hamzah and Emila Yusof, to name a few, are popular for turning their artwork into clothes and fashion accessories.
Sharifah Maheran also collaborated with a local kids’ clothing brand, Kooshboo, and rolled out a special batik collection last year.
Despite the trend being more appealing to a niche market, art-infused apparel is increasing in popularity. With its potential made broader due to social media, a few homegrown brands are taking fashion up a notch with their creative and artistic touch.
With the tagline Style to the People, clothing brand Sangat Style (very stylish) is a fusion of architectural lines and pop art minimalism.
The Kuala Lumpur-based brand has been in the local fashion circuit for the past four years and is popular among streetwear fans and individuals who love T-shirts and basic clothing inspired by modern artwork.
The brand was founded by architect Kamal Suzaidi Mohamad Kamal. Since his schooldays, Kamal has always wanted to be unique when it comes to outfit and style.
When he was in Standard Three, he wore a white belt (instead of black) as part of his school uniform just to stay out of the norm. He used the same principle when he laid the foundation for Sangat Style several years ago.
“I started toying with the idea of my own streetwear brand after I went to a hip-hop gig in Kuala Lumpur in 2012. I was impressed with several local clothing brands which set up their retail booths at that gig. One particular brand, GRBK (Gerobok), caught my attention with its fresh ideas and good quality. I was inspired by its concept,” says the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia graduate.
“I started visualising my own clothing brand, with a signature look revolving around my architectural background and modern fine art, which I love,” says Kamal, whose interest in art began from a subject on art and architecture history at university.
Kamal started a design business with Syed Nabil, the son of national art laureate the late Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal. The duo run their business from the painter’s home, and it was there that Kamal had the chance to see the artist working on one of the renowned Gunung Ledang series, which has made his interest in fine art grow.
INSPIRED BY PAINTINGS
Sangat Style boasts simple but pop ready-to-wear collections, ranging from T-shirts and tops to outerwear and hats. The collections are meant to reflect Malaysian essence and optimistic spirit.
The concept of unity is also in place, with the brand projecting it through several collaborations involving a local artist and streetwear labels, Attaque Ensemble from Singapore and Bounce Imprint from Johor.
“If Sangat Style is a person, he or she is always optimistic, independent and never afraid to be bold and different,” says Kamal.
“The design composition is always derived from a certain angle or order. It’s like creating an artwork using a ruler and protractor. On top of it all, it’s about the story behind each masterpiece or artwork featured on the ready-to-wear,” he adds.
Last year, Sangat Style rolled out Impermanent, a special art-inspired T-shirt collection featuring artwork by contemporary artist Saiful Razman Mohd Kassim. The brand also teamed up with actor Bront Palarae and actress Sharifah Amani.
Perfectly befits Sangat Style’s minimalist concept. The collection — a hit with art lovers — comprises five designs (titled Pandang Ringan and Pandang Berat) based on Saiful Razman’s original paintings.
“The designs are based on the paintings that he did to express his reaction to the demolition of Kuala Lumpur’s iconic sculpture, Puncak Purnama (Lunar Peaks), done by Syed Ahmad Jamal.
“The collection was launched at the Kuala Lumpur Biennale visual art exhibition at the National Art Gallery. Each piece comes with a special art box and a fanzine,” says Kamal.
What are the challenges of integrating art into ready-to-wear and making them trendy? And is art-infused fashion a big thing among Malaysians?
Kamal says: “In my opinion, art in Malaysia only appeals to a niche market. The same notion goes to art-inspired fashion pieces. Most people tend to buy the clothes or the products if they are familiar with the artist’s work or a fan. The situation is just the same for films and music.
“Art-infused fashion is not yet a big thing here but the potential is there. Art-infused fashion based on original artwork adds meaning. It goes beyond a fashion statement.”
MANCHIEN – ONE-OFF MASTERPIECES
Art-fused label ManChien is known for fashion fixed with texture painting handcrafted by its founder and designer, Chan Man Chien.
Chan tones down her passion for avant-garde work to give a balance between art and commercial value in her brand.
ManChien became the talk of the town following a breakthrough moment at the 2015 Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week when the award-winning designer projected the history of human enslavement with strange yet mesmerising wearable pieces.
The 2015 collection included a cropped top with crayon childlike doodling and a knee-length dress embellished with resin moulding. In the same year, the brand launched Charpente (which means “structure” in French), featuring a series of bags made from wood and assorted textiles.
The designer’s touch is apparent in the recent Fall/Winter collection, Chaser Runner. A sequel to its Spring 2017 release, Prelude.Halved, the romantic Chase Runner features Chan’s hand-painted pinafore and rubber paint strokes on faux fur, creating an interesting wet-fur-finish look.
A fun, quirky accessory — Fairy Wings — completes the collection and functions as a carrier to store mini gadgets.
PROJEK JAHAT – CUSTOM ART
Projek Jahat’s background and identity are quite underground in nature compared to common mainstream fashion.
Despite the low-key play, the brand is slowly blazing a trail in the scene, capturing the attention of streetwear fans and urban folks as well as celebrities who like fashion with anti-commercial and provocative elements and statements.
Projek Jahat’s specialty is custom-made leather and denim jackets with handmade paintings and doodlings. Tops and jeans with bold, fancy artwork as well as jackets constructed from military jackets of clashing prints are among the brand’s offerings.