In a market saturated with all things feminine, designer menswear is slowly but surely on the rise within the Australian fashion industry. From Britten, Chronicles of Never and Vanishing Elephant are just a few labels that have witnessed success for their conceptual men’s designs. Along the same sartorial lines is Sydney label Song for the Mute, whose success has been noted with a LMFF design award nomination.
Despite the praise from peers and national and international stockists, Song for the Mute is still a relative new comer to the scene. The label was established only two years ago when Melvin Tanaya had an idea to begin a graphic t-shirt label and contacted long-time friend Lyna Ty.
“Lyna was in Florence at the time, finishing her Masters degree. I waited until she came back and I told her what I had in mind for the label, in the hope that she would design the patterns for me,” says Melvin of the beginning stages. “She fell in love with the concept and decided to get on board.”
As a womenswear designer working in costumes, Lyna’s venture into menswear may seem like an unusual choice. But the inherent challenges of designing menswear intrigued her and she saw the appeal in striving to push new ideas and the challenge of keeping collections fresh, impulsive and intelligent.
“We started with me as a ‘muse’, creating pieces that resembled how I felt, how I wanted to look and what I wanted to wear,” recalls Melvin. Since then the two have developed the collections as co-creative directors while also taking part in different stages of the design process. As Design Director Lyna is hands on in developing designs, pattern making and creating samples, while Melvin has taken on the part of Art Director, fostering the label’s branding, visual communication and graphic design, as well as the business side of things.
Together the two have created a label known for its unusual proportions, unique fabrications, and intelligent and detailed design. At the core of Song for the Mute’s design DNA is fabric, which acts as the initial inspiration for a collection.
“We continually search for fabrics that are special, fabrics that talk to us in a certain way,” Melvin notes. “Lyna then tries to find the best way to use this fabric. We have to think about how the fabric will react to the design, the construction, and particularly the comfort. Ultimately, the different tactile sensations from the fabrics draw our design reactions.”
The resulting construction is based around these tactile sensations and quality design. In previous seasons Song for the Mute has focussed on natural fabrics such as silk, linen and modal but for their recent Autumn Winter 2011 collection, entitled Milieu, the label experimented with unique wool blends for the first time. “There are so many different types of wools and we can alter their appearance while maintaining their essential characteristics. These garments don't need to be pressed, and they all have a natural fall or drape on the body.”
Mixed with the dark colour palate and tailored pieces are Japanese cottons and denims, adding a sophisticated playfulness to the range. Milieu also encompasses an underlying femininity. Not necessarily the clichéd androgyny that has come to find itself in numerous modern-day menswear labels, but subtle feminine elements. When asked about who they have in mind when designing, Melvin paints a picture of a man who takes pride in individuality.
“He is a fashion design enthusiast living in the urban suburbs/inner city area, and has an interest in quality products that differ from the standard offerings in Australia. He is aware of trends but does not follow them. He enjoys the challenge of hunting for the items that he wants and he perceives exclusive products as one of his most important criteria in brand selection. For him, fashion stands at unique crossroads of artistic and individual expression, utility, and commerce.”
Sound like someone you know? Although the label is based in Sydney, it comes as no surprise that the Melbourne market is one that Melvin and Lyna greatly value.
“Melbourne is the most exciting market, thanks to a willingness to accept and implement changes in trends faster than most cities. We have received numerous enquiries from Melburnians requesting stockist information in Melbourne – the challenge for us is to find the right one.”
Melbourne is high on the agenda for the label – as is Paris. For the first time, Song for the Mute will be presenting their AW11 range in the French capital this January. The highly respected Showroom Romeo has taken the label on board and will be representing it in the region. In order to meet the requirements, Melvin and Lyna have had to extend the range to 85 pieces (double the original collection) and are planning to design their second winter range specifically for the international market.
It’s an exciting and yet daunting task ahead but Melvin and Lyna wouldn’t have it any other way. “There are days where we get really tired and wonder if all this stress is worth it but when we look at the finished product and think of our customers who will be wearing the piece, it makes us realise that we truly love what we do and we can’t imagine doing anything else, even for a second.”