Song For The Mute have just won the Designer Award at the L’oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, which provides an opportunity for labels in their first five years of business to become established in the industry. Past recipients include Romance Was Born, Josh Goot, Dion Lee and many more so we won’t be surprised if designers Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Ty see the same successes. With their directional and conceptual take on menswear, they make a fine addition to Australia’s small but important menswear landscape.
“We were not expecting it at all. We’re still pinching ourselves over it!” says the designers of their recent award. Their win was an anomaly in that it was their first ever runway presentation, and also that Song For The Mute is the first menswear label to take out the title. With the $10,000 prize money, half has been set aside for a new studio in the city and the other half for fabric. “We're in the beginning process of designing our SS12 range and this prize money gives us the opportunity to experiment with fabrics that require a certain minimum to produce. We’re so excited!”
Their concern for fabrications is integral to their design ethos, Melvin insists, “there are certain fabrics that evoke the deepest emotions out of us.” He recalls the first time they found the fabric that informs their current AW11 collection, Milieu: “I remembered touching the beautiful, soft virgin wool / mohair fabric against my skin and seeing Lyna's eyes tearing up.” The material enticed such an emotional response from Lyna because it reminded her of her grandmother, the only person in her family who encouraged her to be a designer. “Then and there we decided to create our latest collection as a dedication to our grandmothers - Lyna's in particular,” Melvin reflects. This can be seen most notably in the ‘Wo-ma Cardigan’, a replication of a cardigan Lyna’s grandmother wore. They caution however, that the ‘grandmother’ theme is not to be taken too literally. “Most of the AW11 outerwear pieces take the form of a cocoon or egg-shaped silhouette, which represents the feeling of losing someone close to you,” they tell us.
The connection between Lyna and Melvin is quite clear - they understand each other on an almost intrinsic level. It makes sense then that they have been friends since school, starting Song For The Mute as a side-project. Melvin had an idea of creating graphic t-shirts, and Lyna jumped on board. They released their debut collection entitled INK for AW10, despite not having a name for the label. “We knew what we wanted the label to be about but we had trouble finding the right name to represent it.” When they first started designing together back in 2008, Melvin himself played muse to the label, saying, “we started with me as a template, creating pieces that resembled how I felt, how I wanted to look and what I wanted to wear.” With a background in costume and couture, and by virtue of being a female, we wonder if Lyna ever struggles with creating clothes intended for the opposite sex. “Lyna is intrigued by the challenge and the constrictions that come with designing menswear. She thrives in that challenge, allowing her the freedom to experiment and push new ideas, and to keep collections fresh, impulsive and intelligent,” Melvin says of his partner.
This ‘fresh, impulsive and intelligent’ approach makes Song For The Mute an exciting prospect for the local menswear landscape. “Usually Australian boys tend to be quite conservative when it comes to clothes but we have noticed a change in recent times and this is very exciting for us,” the designers tell Side, Street, Sydney. We interject and ask them what they think is the biggest fashion faux pas committed by Australian men, as we can think of many. “Everyone is different. You can't be everything to everybody so who are we to judge?” they say in what is a very rational response, adding, “we're just glad that the fluro tees are gone!”
“There are more and more great menswear labels surfacing in the past year or two which resulted in the market's willingness to accept and implement changes in trend faster than ever before,” Song For The Mute explain. They identify Melbourne label From Britten as one example of this and look to overseas influences like Carol Christian Poell, Maurizio Amadei for MA+ and former label Carpe Diem, as well as a host of Japnese designers including Rei Kawakubo, Comme De Garcons, Junya Watanabe, Takahiro Miyashita, Yohji Yamamoto - “all of which create a unique aesthetic that’s inspired us when creating pieces for Song For The Mute.” They also find inspiration around them in local bands such as The Jezabels, The Sooners and Bricks of Berlin, their “soundtrack”.
The Designer Award marks the start of great things for this label. At the moment, Melvin and Lyna are preparing for their first solo show at Singapore Men’s Fashion Week, where they have been given the honour of closing the show and have also been nominated for Young Designer of The Year Award. In between their busy schedule, they still have time to dream, hoping that one day they will show at Paris Men’s Fashion Week, open up a flagship retail space and (luckily for us ladies) launch into womenswear.
words: Ingrid Kesa
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