Hamkah: Young Fashion Designers Spotlight (Part 1)

Last year, I interviewed Mazri Ismail and Samuel Xun, fashion designer friends. I was floored by their commitment to executing fantastical design ideas — Mazri sewed ~3,500 buttons onto an indigo-dyed aesthetically post-matter shawl/jacket, Samuel sculpted a not-Miley Cyrus tongue-out face on an imperial blood orange dress. As to-be final year students, I anticipated reaching out to them again to chat about their final year projects and plans moving forward.

To my surprise, their caveat for being interviewed again was: I had to interview their friend, Hamkah too. If I didn’t speak to one, I wouldn’t get to write about any of them. Of course, I was happy to not just oblige, but indulge in conversation with who I believe has a keen eye on reinventing the present.

HUMCARILEY; Courtesy: Hamkah

What’s happening?

We’re doing a 6-look collection. We’re given the whole year for this project, but only a month+ for production. My themes are:

  • Remix culture: society of copy and paste, collage of ideas
  • Renaissance era
  • Contemporary fashion
HUMCARILEY; Courtesy: Hamkah

I’ve always had a Pinterest board on Renaissance-era painting adapted to made contemporary, e.g. the Mona Lisa blowing bubble gum. It was also the birthplace of many masters [remember Jeff Koons for Louis Vuitton’s “Masters” bag line?] Wanted to look at eras I could compare, contrast, re-contextualise; almost a satire on fashion’s trend cycle. Florals for spring.

Wanted to showcase my love for black. It also helped eliminate obvious signs of either Renaissance or contemporary culture. Renaissance dress shapes were top-heavy (reverse triangle), matching streetwear today, emphasising oversized and baggy silhouettes.

HUMCARILEY; Courtesy: Hamkah

Renaissance vs contemporary.

Consumerism, extravagance, layering.

In traditional gathering called “slashing”, a tab would run through layers of fabric punched with small holes [it’s drawstring adjacent], pulled in opposite directions to create or loosen a ruffle.

With contemporary culture I focused on logomania as branding. Looked at Billie Eilish’s merchline, Blohsh, as inspiration for my monogram.

Courtesy: PublicTee

How has Covid-19 affected you?

At the start of the year, textile shipping was delayed. School ended up cutting our submissions from 6 to 4 looks. Before it closed, we were only allowed to stay till 6pm. After the circuit breaker announcement, we had one day to pack all our stuff (10 bags) from studio to home. Didn’t have machines at home to make bags and accessories. Ended up paying for a studio to shoot my lookbook. Our undergraduate fashion show has been shifted online.

Plans after school?

It might be difficult to find a job because of Covid-19. Hopefully I can find something fashion, design related; I used to be a merchandiser. I’ve nothing to say about Singapore’s fashion industry, I’d love to work overseas as designer for a brand.

Aftermath, afterthoughts

Admittedly, my interviews with the designers (you’ll notice with the other 2 too) have been fragmented because we chatted in the heat of their crunch time, and then again in Covid-19 quarantine. At ground zero, however, I was privileged to have felt the cacophony of secondhand anxiety that can only come from stressed designers who want to produce their best work. I tried to be sensitive to their (head)spaces, worth the care because I was so excited to share with you a brief look in to their processes.

While chatting with Hamkah, I couldn’t help but think of the 2020 MET Gala theme, About Time: Fashion and Duration. While celebrities did not gather for the to-be show on the ides of May this year because of Covid-19 quarantine, there seems to be a newfound reverence for reflection — the same proposition behind Hamkah’s collection, linking old dress and current fashion.

What’s the point of looking back? Escapism? On the back of one David Kramer collaboration for Hedi Slimane’s Celine bomber jacket is the slogan, “I Have Nostalgia For Things I Probably Have Never Known”. Inspiration? During a lecture Virgil Abloh made at Harvard several years ago, he shared his goal of changing existing design by “3%”.

In Hamkah’s collection, it seems like the moral of comparing two periods of dressing with a ~600 year difference is that, they’re more alike than maybe imagined. On one hand that aesthetic throughline reveals tenacity, on the other it suggests reluctance to change. Even if Covid-19 has not forced us to rethink big existential questions, perhaps Hamkah’s work can be a beacon of: we know the answers, we just need to look hard enough.

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