It was in the late ’80s not too long after Theseus Chan graduated from art school that he first encountered the Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo — or, at least, her work. Kawakubo introduced menswear in 1978, nearly a decade after she launched her fashion label Comme des Garçons. It was instantly popular in both Japan and Paris, where she was (and still is) actively hosting fashion shows. But in Singapore, her name was still foreign, known only to those who paid attention to fashion’s undercurrents.
Chan’s encounter took place in a multi-label boutique at the former Paragon mall on Orchard Road. Instead of Kawakubo’s dark and off-kilter clothing, it was Six, her A3-sized bi-annual magazine tied to the label, that initially intrigued Chan. Furtively placed on a stand among the clothes racks, it was unlike anything he had ever seen before. The magazine championed artistic values — not a product-pushing agenda — and collaborated with artists and photographers to create visually driven narratives.
“The aesthetic is severe and austere, which appeals to me,” Chan recalls. Since then, the 59-year-old founder of Werk magazine — who’s often regarded as Singapore’s godfather of graphic design — has been a religious collector of Kawakubo-designed items, whether it’s a tchotchke or a deliberately ill-fitting suit. When asked if he could count the number of Comme des Garçons pieces he owns, he sheepishly admits, “Too many. Some of them I haven’t even worn,” he says, “I just look at them like they’re art pieces.”
Illustrations by Marisa Xin
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