Just before the festive break our inbox was treated to a look book that instantly captured our attention and captivated our imagination. Song for the Mute's Milieu left us reaching out at our computer screen in the hope of touching the tactile rich collection. This three season old, Australian label evolved from a desire to innovate menswear and construct a new twenty first century silhouette with extraordinary fabrics. In Milieu the label has undoubtedly achieved that desire. Fabric is at the core of Song for the Mute’s design DNA and acts as the initial inspiration for this collection. The different tactile sensations provided from the fabrics provoke the design reactions for each piece. Here the pair constructed unique blends of wool and experimented with the cut and drape of pieces. There is an intriguing interplay between the masculine and the feminine at all times. The design duo behind the label, Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Ty, are well regarded designers in their own rights and here their talents have melded to create something truly special and covetable.
Earlier this week, Dapper Kid beat us to the punch and wrote an excellent piece on the collection but we were keen to learn more about the design duo behind the label and decided to conduct an interview across the ocean. Here we talk to Melvin Tanaya about the synergy of the brand, hear of the importance of fabric to each collection and reveal his hopes for the future...
SS: What were your inspirations, your dreams and the driving catalyst behind launching your label?
Melvin Tanaya: It all started as a side project. During my studies I've always wanted to do something for myself and I had this rough concept for a clothing label. Initially I envisioned it to be a graphic t-shirt label but I wanted to use an original pattern to create the tees. Lyna was in Florence at the time finishing her masters degree, I waited until she came back and I've told her what I had in mind for the label in the hope that she would design the pattern for me but instead, she fell in love with the concept and decided to get on board.
We designed the entire first collection 'INK' for A/W2010 without having the 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. The core idea of the label has always been about self-empowerment. There are a lot of people, who through peer pressure, past difficulties or just unfairly high expectations from those around them, are pushed to do things they dislike. Some don’t have a choice at all. We want our garments to be a catalyst for them. Song for the Mute originated from our desire to create something that could communicate to a customer more deeply and represent something meaningful.
SS: What does Song for the Mute mean to you?
Melvin Tanaya: It means everything to us. We put our all into this label. Because we are an extremely small team - we work seven days a week and around the clock. We are so deeply connected to the work itself, that we take even the smallest things very personally and very seriously. All of these emotions become infused in our work.
Lyna and I might have different interpretations when it comes to the label, but there is always a huge synergy between us when it comes to designing our collections. I think this is one of the major reasons why we decided to start this project together – we both strongly believe in the core concept behind this label – the fact that people can come to their own conclusions, see their own stories or be moved for their own reasons. It’s personal, yet universal at the same time.
SS: The label is a unique marriage of imagination and creativity between the two of you? An intriguing interplay between the masculine and the feminine. How did this exciting coming together evolve in to the label we see today?
Melvin Tanaya: Lyna was originally a womenswear designer who specialises in costume design and couture. However, when Lyna and I began working on the label in 2008, 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. Since then, Lyna has been intrigued by the challenge and the constrictions that come with designing menswear. She thrives on that challenge, it allows her the freedom to experiment and push new ideas, and to keep collections fresh, impulsive, and intelligent.
Since then, we have developed the collections as co-creative directors while also taking part in different stages of the design process. Lyna is the Design Director and spends most of her time working on the collection. She develops all the designs, pattern-make all the pieces and then creates toiles/samples. I'm the Art Director and I take care of the positioning, branding, visual communication and graphic design, as well as the business side of things. We both then oversee the production stages together.
SS: What were the first and last items that you recall designing?
Melvin Tanaya: The very first item we ever designed as a team was a pair of pants called the 'Grandpa Pant'. It literally took us six months to get the fit the way we wanted it. Up until this day I still wear the very first sample that Lyna made with her home machine and they still serve as my favourite everyday-go-to pants. We're actually bringing this style back for FW11 for the Northern Hemisphere in a black-coated-black Japanese denim sourced directly from a mill in Okayama.
In regards to the last item we designed - this is a little hard to pin point. When we received the news that Showroom ROMEO in Paris is taking us on board for FW11, in order to meet the requirements, we had to extend the range to eight five pieces (double the original collection). We have been working closely with AWI (Australian Wool Innovation) along with some key suppliers that we have acquired during our trip to Premiere Vision last September to create our '2nd' winter range made specifically for the international market.
SS: Fabric and concept are obviously integral to each collection. For AW11, you have constructed garments with unique blends of Australian wool. Could you talk us through your design process and how you two have work together to create Milieu?
Melvin Tanaya: The design process begins with fabric selection. It is always our first step and Lyna and I stay in very close contact with our fabric suppliers. Inspiration for any new collection almost always comes from the fabrics sourced.
Lyna draws her designs with the cloth already in mind. That’s essential if we want to give our customers the highest quality possible; we continually search for fabrics that are special, fabrics that talk to us in a certain way. 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.
As always, there is a major focus on all natural fabrics like silk, linen and modal. However, this FW11 season marks our first serious foray into constructing with unique blends of wool. The vast majority of our AW11 pieces are made from specialized wool. The nature of the products are not like any other fabrics we have worked with. There are so many different types of wool and we can alter their appearance while maintaining their essential characteristics. These garments don't need to be pressed, they all have a natural fall or drape on the body and it is truly beautiful.
SS: How would you describe the collection in your own words?
Melvin Tanaya: Modern proportions, continuous re-interpretation of traditional fabrics as well as constant research for perfection and an exhaustive attention to detail - and above all, the process of merging pure construction and new shapes to heightened the natural qualities of the fabric within the collection.
SS: I recently came across a quote from Yohji Yamamoto and I was reminded of it as I looked through the look book. "I know. It's just a fabric. But it speaks to us like a world. If it were a desert, and you a traveler, you would talk about its winds, its stars, its sun. You probably will". For you, what do your fabrics communicate?
Melvin Tanaya: There are certain fabrics that evoke the deepest emotions out of us. I can remember vividly the first time Lyna found the fabric that influenced/stemmed the basis for the whole FW11 collection. I remembered touching the beautiful, soft virgin wool/mohair fabric against my skin and seeing Lyna's eyes tearing up. Fabrics are able to evoke emotions and personal experiences that we never thought about before.
At the core of Song for the Mute’s design DNA is fabric, which acts as the initial inspiration for a collection.
SS: Why have you dedicated the collection to your grandmothers?
Melvin Tanaya: The soft virgin wool/mohair fabric I speak of in the previous question reminded Lyna of her late grandmother who was the only one in her family who supported and encouraged her to continue to pursue her passion in designing. Up to this day, her family still disapproves to the idea of this label. In the end - we used that virgin wool/mohair fabric to create a piece called 'Wo-ma Cardigan' which is an exact replicate of Lyna's grandmother's cardigan.
'Milieu' which means the 'middle' or the 'core' is Lyna's attempt to communicate her voice and feelings. How she feels, her mood and what she is experiencing and/or experienced, all adds significantly to the development of our concepts. To be able to portray these emotions through the form of clothing, it requires her to develop new shapes, develop new styles and develop new ways of making garments.
The 'grandmothers' theme is not supposed to be taken too literally - most of the FW11 outerwear pieces take the form of a 'cocoon' or an 'egg-shaped' silhouette. Somewhat representing that feeling of losing someone close to you.
SS: This season is something of a landmark for the label as you will be presenting the collection in Pairs later this month. What can you tell us about the presentation?
Melvin Tanaya: We are one of the thirteen labels that will be represented by the highly respected SHOWROOM ROMEO located in 18 Rue Ferdinand duval 75004, Paris. Most of the pieces from the '2nd' winter range will be exclusive for the Northern Hemisphere market and the presentation will feature completely new designs and fabrics that were not included in the official campaign look book.
SS: Finally, congratulations on being named a finalist for the LMFF designer award (top Australian Fashion Design award) 2011. 2011 looks to be a huge year for you both! How would you like to see the label develop in the coming seasons and beyond?
Melvin Tanaya: Thank you! We are so honoured to be in the company of so many big names.
In regards to the coming seasons - Lyna originated as a womenswear and costume designer so developing a unisex/womenswear collection is something that is definitely on the cards. However, for now we would like to establish ourselves as a menswear focused label.
With Spring/Summer 2011-12 collection on the horizon, we are excited to showcase the fabrics we have acquired during our Paris trip just a few months ago. We are hoping to present an individual show at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week in May 2011 in Sydney. Hopefully we can reach out to people who love design as much as we do, offering them and any potential customer quality materials, top notch construction and unique design.
AW11 is something of a landmark season for Song for the Mute and we will be keeping a close eye on the labels development. Here's to their continued success.