Why Not? Works: Manfred Lu on Masculinity and Fashion Today

Rejections got nothing on him.
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Graduate menswear designer Manfred Lu will be showcasing his Deflower collection this Saturday at The Substation. Inviting viewers to reconsider what male sexuality is about at its essence, Deflower is a surrealist take on masculinity through an Asian eye. Through textures and patterns, the collection is a wearable take on the hidden isolation and self-destruction that happens when ideas such as the masculine show no sign of modernisation.

With a go-to outfit that consists of a thrifted Lagerfeld Homme jacket that cost $10 from Kuala Lumpur (M: It’s been worn to death but I really can’t part with it), Manfred gives us a glimpse of how Why Not? came about and the beliefs he hold onto when designing.

Getting to know Manfred:

Favourite fashion brand: This is a tough one, uh, right now it’s definitely Eckhaus Latta, but my all time favourite will always be Raf Simons.

Fast fashion: yay or nay. Yay for accessible clothes that everyone can afford but a big nay, we all know it’s what’s killing the planet and with the terrible track records of mismanaged labour and inhumane labour environments...just no. Stick to thrifted clothes that will last you a lifetime.  

Psst. His fashion icon is Oliver Sim from The XX.

Why Not?

Talk us through the name, and perhaps it is the very belief that spurred the start of this collective and event?

The name ‘Why Not?’ was the result of lengthy conversations with the show’s creative director Izwan Abdullah. The idea of creating a fashion show, one that focuses on giving each participating designer full authorship of their crafts and vision, came from my own dissatisfaction with the way institutions carry out their graduation shows. It’s something I understand completely, I myself and the rest of the designer at Why Not? are recent graduates.

It gets very underwhelming with how fashion shows are put out today. The opinions and ideas of students are usually considered invalid or not fit for industry standards. We saw how fixated the industry was to simply produce shows that are more or less gentrified by the ‘visions’ of people who are stuck in the industry for decades. And every time you try to voice out on something, the replies are all ‘No, it won’t work. It’s too much’.

So naming it ‘Why Not?’, as suggested by Izwan, was simply just our reaction to all the rejections. The name became a new opportunity for us to fulfil and direct the most honest and true to form version of our works in a self directed environment environment. An opportunity we’ll never get unless we made them ourselves.

How did the team come together?

The team started with just Izwan and I. This was way back at the start of the year when we weren’t really sure if we could pull it off. We were looking out for people who would believe in the show, and its stance on changing the way we approach fashion in Singapore. Not a lot of people bought it. But it didn't take long for Racy to join us, she was the only one we approached who was really passionate about it.

In deciding whose works to showcase, we knew it would make more sense if it was a collaborative effort. Although the focus of the show is on the fashion designers, we wanted emphasis on how collaborative putting up a show is. The show will highlight how creatives of different mediums work to bring a show together.

Share with us the designers for this event.

We have six fashion designers and two graphic designers on the team, as well as an even larger team of makeup artists, visual artists and writers.

The six designers each have their own unique voice and style of work. For example, Miyuki is an optimist and enjoys quirky styles of work, whereas Khairyna indulges in more personal and confrontational pursuits in design.  It’s these distinctions between the designers that I believe make the show more interesting. At every new segment of the show, you’re brought into a different environment, one that the designers created themselves. It’s like watching six different short films, except on a larger scale.

Almost everyone who is working on this are our friends, or they eventually became friends after. Although each of us have specific roles in making the show possible, we always work very closeIy together to realise the very best in everyone. I mean we’re coming out of this with a crazy plan to do a show, and with we have very little experience even, it’s better when it’s done with people you love and trust.


Share with us your moodboard for this collection. What were you looking out for?

I was looking out for a feeling, more specifically, sexual arousal and consensual male sexuality - the beauty of the male body.

The collection is a surreal take on masculinity and a lot of its influences were drawn from orchids. In Greek, orchids were symbolisms of testicles. And in today’s context, orchids are quite commonly symbolished as the female genitalia. I took that and juxtaposed it on the male genitalia instead. It’s the fragility and ambiguity both masculinity and orchids share that were quite important for me.

The work is quite personal, it mirrors the conflicts I have with my own masculinity. I’ve always tried to appear tough so not to seem ‘Gu Niang’ (Sissy), and I’ve always been shy about my sexuality. The collection mirrors that. I took traditional menswear items and opened up (with cut outs) around the most intimate and sexual areas of the male body, as if a flower is blooming and deflowering.

Talk us through the textures you used and why you decided on them.

There was not a lot of play with textures for this collection, and that’s because I wanted to keep it simple and straight to the point. I made the prints myself, I bought the cheapest orchid on the way home on day and scanned them. I knew I had to make my own floral prints instead of buying an already made one. And in post, I blurred them out and made them appear softer.

Any beliefs/rules you have when it comes to designing?

Always design with something honest and true to who you are, that way it translates in your work as well. I had my ups and downs in the beginning. The work started as a womenswear collection and I had no idea why I was designing and who I was doing it for. I felt very distant from my work. So I started designing for myself instead. Instead of justifying designs with a muse in mind, I made myself that person. It was a silly and unserious attempt at trying to get work done. It was only then I realised what it truly meant to design with meaning. I’m still very new at this, but I think that’s my go-to now.

In the future, do you think the distinction between menswear and womenswear will still exist? Actually, do you think this distinction is even necessary in the first place?

Economically, it’ll stay. It’s easier for brands to work with such distinction. It’s hard for brands to part away with two separate target groups if it were to change now. But yes I’d like it to go away. I’d like fashion to be universal and accessible for all with no labels. It’s not just for me, or the other kid who wants to wear a dress as a top, it’s really just about making the industry as accessible to everyone, especially minorities in society. Teenagers are extremely gender-fluid, but a lot of brands do a poor job at executing all of this. I think a good example is Eckhaus Latta, beautiful, unisex clothes that all can wear. It’s young, it’s fresh, it’s quite affordable too. More brands should follow that path, and again, with full honesty for it to make genderless clothing successful.

What more do you want to see in Singapore’s fashion industry?

An open collaborative mind and fearlessness to try new things.

Fashion, at least in the context of Singapore, is repetitive. The industry is comfortable with that because it brings in money and is quite sustainable, but it's unmotivated and restrictive. By refusing to try new things, you set an outdated template for all to follow.

And that's why a lot of students and new designers don't know where to start. So that's what Why Not aims to do. To drive young talents and help them realise what they're capable of beyond the institutional boundaries. It will be interesting to see how the industry will change with more underground initiatives.

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