If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times. Time flies. Just last year, we made our runway debut at Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) 2015 with the Derecho collection by Sher by Twenty3. This year round, we showcased two (yes, TWO!) collections, consisting of 12 looks each from our sub-brands, Sher and Lin. In commemorating the success of the show and the months of hard work our designers have put in, we sat down for a talk with them to find out more about what got these young and talented souls into designing the clothes we love, and their inspirations behind this year’s collections.
Our designers with Twenty3 Founder & CEO, Sherlyn TanFrom left: Vivien, Hoi Cheng, Sherlyn, Yen Yon, Sobu
Q. How did you get started in fashion?
SoBu: Sketching has always been my medium of self-expression. I would literally vandalize all the tables in school with my pencil, sketching human proportions and garments. However, social expectations hindered me from doing what I liked. My grades improved tremendously in high school and from there, my parents, teachers and friends had this expectation of me that I felt I needed to conform to. I started studying Chemical Engineering in college under a generous scholarship. It felt good that I wasn’t burdening my parents with the cost of my education. It was until I did not secure a Public Service Department (JPA) scholarship that got me really thinking about my major. I thought, if I were to spend money on education, then I might as well invest in something that I like, which is fashion. I did not give any more thought and got myself a place in an art school. And that’s where the journey began.After graduation, I started as a Visual Merchandiser with Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge. Then, I moved to Khoon Hooi as an assistant designer. And later, I found myself here, at Twenty3!
Hoi Cheng: I have always been attracted to all things art. I remember when I was young, I would draw, paint and dabble in Chinese calligraphy whenever I got the chance. As I grew older, I somehow started to pay more attention to fashion.When I left high school with my SPM certificate, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had thought about the safe and popular choice of studying Nutrition, but I was really hoping to be able to ply my trade in the fashion industry in the future, something that I knew I would enjoy doing instead of you know, working in some other profession with the sole purpose of making an income. So with encouragement from friends and family, I took up a fashion design course in KL, which many might think is a risky choice given that I had scored straight A’s for my SPM. I completed the final year of my degree on a 1-year twinning programme at the Paris American Academy in well, Paris, during which time I was lucky enough to have worked alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Elie Saab and Rick Owens. After my degree, I worked as an intern under the renowned Malaysian designer Jonathan Liang at his studio in Paris and at the end of my internship, I came back to Malaysia to launch my career in the local fashion design industry.
Vivien: Well, it kind of just started right after high school with me getting a place in the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design course in London. At 17, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do in life so I figured, "Why not?". After all, I've always leaned towards the Arts compared to Maths and Science (which I'm terrible at). During the duration of that diploma course, I got to explore different forms of art, from sculpture, to photography and, fashion. This helped fortify my desire to pursue fashion design. I then got accepted into the Fashion Print degree course at Central Saint Martins. It was so liberating to have the freedom to create whatever you want at my time at CSM. I later had the opportunity to intern with Mary Katrantzou in London, and that really reinforced my love of prints. Artsy and creative has always been my 'thing' so I really can't imagine doing anything else.
Yen Yon: I have always had a passion for fashion since I was little. My parents would buy me dolls and I would be curious about how, and what, their pretty little dresses were made of. That's how my interest in fashion slowly grew. I followed my passions and continued to learn more about fashion by pursuing a fashion design degree in Sydney, where I had the chance to train with Leonardo Salinas. After all that I have learned and experienced in my years in the fashion industry, I must say that fashion is so much more than just making clothes.Q. Tell us more about this year’s KLFW collection. Let’s start with Under One Small Star, the collection by Sher?
Sher by Twenty3 on the KLFW '16 runway
SoBu: So this year, I worked with Hoi Cheng on the collection. Our inspiration behind it is the idea of evolution. Specifically, evolution from the stress and issues women face in our hypermasculine society. For example, being insecure about the way you look, or feeling like you are not enough, worthless. The collection consists of 12 looks, all representing this persona of an evolved and empowered woman. For example, the deconstructive way the fabric is worn conveys destruction. It is about being destroyed before finding strength to rebuild yourself, coming out stronger than before. The colour palette is subtle and faded, and the collection starts from white and slowly turns darker to grey, black and navy. All of this gives the idea of the transition into a darker, stronger entity.
Q. What about for the Lin collection?
Lin by Twenty3 on the KLFW '16 runway
Vivien: For our Where The Wild Things Are collection, Yen Yon and I found inspiration in the organic movements from the Art Nouveau period. Characteristic of this time was silhouettes of teapots, vases and teacups and scenes of birds and flowers. With this inspiration, each look from the collection features hand-illustrated flowers, birds and insects, swirling together in harmony with a fun, cheerful and romantic colour palette of pastels. I personally love working with printed textiles so it was really fun getting to design the prints that goes along with each outfit.
Q. Who is the Sher and Lin woman?The Sher woman is a "fighter"
SoBu and Hoi Cheng: A Sher woman is a "fighter". She has strength but never lets it cloud her femininity. She is fit, not just to look good, but because she understands the value of self-improvement and self-empowerment through fitness. She values herself, her life, her work, her aesthetic and her philosophy. She owns her life, her goals, her dreams and herself. She believes that every individual is solely responsible for giving meaning to her life and living it passionately.
The Lin woman walks down the street with a 'devil may care' attitude
Vivien and Yen Yon: Everything, from the colour palette, embroidery, the fabric, the silhouettes and prints, is made to fit the Lin woman. Picture this. A woman walks down the street in a fabulous printed dress, smile on her lips and rolls through life with a ‘devil may care’ attitude. That’s the Lin woman. She knows she has strength and confidence. She knows she's invincible.
So do you fancy yourself a Sher or Lin woman? Maybe a combination of the two?
In conjunction with November being ‘Depression Awareness Month’ here at Twenty3, we had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the lovely Terrena. Here she shares her moving story about gender identity, struggling with depression, and learning to love herself.
“The name my parents gave me was Terrence. For as long as I could remember, I always felt like I was a little girl trapped inside a boy’s body. I loved playing with dolls and always wanted to dress myself up in beautiful dresses instead of wearing t-shirts and pants like boys do. When I turned 5 years old, my family began thinking that it was strange I was still playing with dolls instead of toy cars. This led to some of my relatives accusing my sisters of influencing me to be a girl, instead of a normal boy.
Gender identity is a funny thing; you think you know who you are, but everyone else tells you you’re supposed to be someone else. Primary school was a very difficult time for me, because kids can be so cruel to anyone they see as “different”. I was the subject of constant verbal and physical bullying. Not only was I certainly attracted to boys, but my body language and the way I spoke had femininity written all over it. Boys would purposely walk past me and hit me in the chest. Even at that age, I felt sexually harassed, but because I was a “boy”, no one cared. Once, a girl told me that she wished I would stop behaving like a girl and act more like a boy. It hurt me, and confused me even further.
Home wasn’t a place where I could seek refuge. My mother’s friends would comment openly with disdain that I was turning into a girl. I knew that this bothered my mother, but she would just laugh with them and shrug it off. But I knew it was eating her up inside.
I vividly remember the first time my family turned their backs on me. When I was 8 or 9 years old, I innocently asked to play with Barbie Dolls and discovered the dolls went missing the next day. They threw them all away and refused to speak a word to me. It scared me – I loved my family, and I was terrified of being alone. Everyone hated me in school, I couldn’t bear to lose my family too. From then on, I tried my best to be a normal male, even though it was far from who I was.
I’d told lies before, but to actually live a lie made me question my own identity. Who am I? What defines me? Do I exist if nobody will recognize the real me? Do I exist if I don’t even have any sense of my self? It’s a heavy burden for anyone to bear; for a child, it was crushing.
Growing up, my mind was constantly filled with suicidal thoughts. It started when I was in Primary 6. I would constantly ponder on the quickest, most painless way to die. I began harming myself by hitting my head against the wall, but never cut myself because I was afraid of blood. Several times I tied a rope to the windowpane, but never mustered enough courage to put it around my neck.
College came and went and yet, I did not find the courage to embrace my feminine side. I wasn’t ready both financially and emotionally to face the consequences of coming out to my family. You only have one family.
After graduating, I found a job and moved to the city. Away from the environment in which I grew up, I finally began to open up – KL is a much freer and much bigger place where I could grow and learn to rediscover my own self and self-worth. Back in my hometown, I was the weird child under scrutiny from friends and neighbours, but here, I was free to start over. Most importantly, I found a group of friends who have never judged me, and who have been incredibly supportive of my rediscovered gender identity.
Two weeks ago, with their constant encouragement, I stepped out in public in a dress for the first time. It was terrifying at first, but I had their unwavering support. They weren't embarrassed to be seen around me – in fact, they were thrilled for me!
As for my family, I eventually came out to my eldest sister about who I truly am. Her first reaction was shock but she quickly learned to accept it. She even offered to research for the right doctors for me to consult in order for me to receive the right treatments!
I now own several dresses of my own, but I still have a soft spot for that first dress – it was a Shanon Dress from Twenty3. They contacted me, and convinced me to share my story with the world.
For anyone reading this who’s going through the same situation as I did, please know that you are not alone. I promise it gets better.
This is me, coming out of my closet. Having lived a lie for so many years, it feels absolutely wonderful to finally accept myself for who I am.
And who am I? I am Terrena.”
We were asked by some customers if we offered modest wear in our store. While we don't at present - at least, not in the strict definition of modest wear - we challenged ourselves to put together some outfits from our current collections for the modern ladies who embrace modest fashion.
And we are pretty excited with the results! We carefully curated these outfits with an emphasis on comfort and chic. Each individual piece creates endless possibilities for effortless mixing, matching and layering for the modern woman to express her own individuality, regardless of whether she's more comfortable covered or more confident exposed.
Our friend Alyssa (ig: @alyssaaishahshahrir) agreed to play dress-up, and Bean Brothers kindly agreed to lend us their gorgeous space for our shoot.
Shop the Modest Wear outfits here.
Jalan PJU 3/50, Sunway Damansara, 47810 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.
We first noticed Natasha Capol while having an evening drink at Mr. Brooks, a hidden bar that serves up stylish concoctions in a quiet nook of Bangsar Shopping Center. Natasha, a master mixologist and brand/area manager for a number of household names such as Mr. Brook’s and Tate under The BIG Group, turned out to be much more than meets the eye. Her story is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Here, she shares with us snippets from her time dancing Salsa in Spain, to overcoming a difficult part of her life following an accident by reminding herself on ‘The Theory of Awesomeness’, to her present career in the Food & Beverage industry.
Please give us a little introduction of yourself?
I grew up in Malaysia before moving abroad to Europe at a very young age. I learned dance in Spain before pursuing a degree in acting in Singapore, followed by working with a design company in Switzerland. I currently live in Malaysia now.
Natasha in the Achille Dress from Sher By Twenty3.
That’s quite a life! Having lived in so many locations, was it difficult moving from one place to another?
Well, I moved to Spain without knowing any Spanish. At that time, hardly anyone in Spain spoke English. I had no relatives in Spain and I think I had about 100 Euros in my pocket. My parents asked me, “Why did you want to go to Spain?” I said, “I don’t know? I just feel like it!” I was at a very young age when I decided to move abroad alone. I remember when I first arrived; I took a train into the center of Madrid. They have these telephone booths with little tags on it that have a number you can call to rent a room or whatever. Armed with a little translation book in my hand, I called the first number. The first one didn’t speak English nor understood my ‘try-hard’ Spanish, however, on the next call, there was this lady who spoke a little bit of English. She ended up taking me in and I was fine. I managed to get a job as a waitress as well.
Were you not afraid as you were alone and moving to a country where you didn’t know the language?
I guess at that age, I was fearless, I felt like I could conquer the world. Growing up in Malaysia, you are constantly faced with so many challenges. You come out not as a normal, ordinary person, but one that’s toughened. I had a tough time fitting into school despite achieving good results. It was difficult for me to get accepted into college but eventually I was accepted with a partial scholarship as well. When you go through things like that, you have a different focus, energy and drive. I live by the mantra of “accomplish or do not begin”. You just go out there and do whatever you want to do.
You mentioned you danced in Spain; tell us a little about that?
My passion has always been dance so I started going to Salsa clubs to dance the night away. One guy invited me to join his Salsa group. I was like “sure, why not?”. They were mostly Colombians and Venezuelans. Old ladies taught us how to dance; they tap on your chest so you learn to feel the beat that way. The men would lead you around the dance floor. When I used to dance in competitions, nothing was choreographed, you just danced to whatever music they were playing. Dance is about living in the moment and having the freedom to move and the freedom of expression.
Natasha in the Achille Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
So why did you decide to move back home after living abroad for so many years?
While I was in Switzerland, I was in a really bad car accident that left me hospitalized for a long time. On top of that, someone close to me had passed away from that accident. I went back to Spain for another 5 years to get away from that situation. I went back into dancing after my broken bones recovered and, having regained my joy for life, I decided to move back home to be closer to my family.
How did you manage to recover emotionally from that period of pain?
My family deals with situations like these by just getting over it, without time to grieve or mourn. I grieved alone during those 8 months in the hospital. You just tend to deal with the consequences as they come and there were many. I didn’t let anyone talk to me even the psychologists and therapists. I had so much rage and anger inside me for a very long time but after a while you realize that hey, I am still alive.
What kept you going?
It required a lot of self-endurance for the first couple of months because it was such a difficult period in my life. For a lot of it, I tried to stay as positive as I could. I have this theory called the “Theory of Awesomeness”. It’s people trying to be the best they can (thus being awesome) and that applies to me as well. It’s the same as always trying to be the best version of myself. When you go through things like this, you realize how strong the human mind and body is. You then realize how strong someone can be. Also, I used to do a lot of charity work and see kids go through a whole lot worse. Finding motivation and inspiration from people who have nothing but manage to survive due to the world working this or that way, pulls me through.
Natasha in the Savannah Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
So why did you decide to path a career in the Food & Beverage industry?
The reason I’m in F&B right now working for The BIG Group is that it’s the only thing I know other than acting and dancing. I was working in bars as a dishwasher when I was 12 years old. I’ve climbed that ladder to get to where I am. I’ve been a dishwasher, a waitress, a bartender, and I’ve worked my way up. I didn’t get to where I am because daddy gave it all to me. I worked at the age of 12 to buy toothpaste for my family. That’s my upbringing.
So how long have you been with the BIG Group?
I’ve been with them for two years. I’m in charge of Mr. Brook’s, Tate, and Barlai to name a few. I’m in charge of many brands under The BIG Group.
Is it difficult to manage so many brands as well as your staff at the same time?
I’ve realized that people don’t need to be managed. It’s the process that needs to be managed. I have this thing I call “Brules”, which is short for “bullshit rules”. If you give me a rule, I’m going to break it. There are so many rules and regulations for everything, especially in Malaysia. Giving my staff a say and an opportunity to take ownership at what they do is a better option, as long as they don’t step over boundaries and work according to their responsibilities. You tend to realize that many people won’t overstep their boundaries when they’re given freedom.
However there are a few that do, and it breaks my heart, as I treat them like my family. Someone really crossed a line once so I asked him to pack his bags because I gave him a chance that was his key to an opportunity, but he let me down.
Do you usually give second chances to people?
They all end up asking for a second chance, whether I give it or not is a different question. It’s never final but it’s the way they approach the situation, the severity of it, as well as if they’re apologetic. I gave someone a second chance once and that person turned out to be pretty amazing. Everyone makes mistakes; I made so many mistakes myself.
Natasha in the Savannah Dress from Sher by Twenty3.
What is the best advice that you could possibly give your staff, or anyone at all?
Many people tend to set realistic goals. I ask myself, “...Why?”. I think people should set unrealistic goals because that’s what you should be trying to achieve, like the saying, “aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”. However, I do feel that there is so much Malaysian talent and stories to tell but there’s a lack of opportunity.
Have you ever thought of going back into acting?
I do want to use the skills I learned from acting but maybe to host documentaries or travel shows. I’ve acted in a few shows in Singapore but I didn’t really enjoy it. I would love to host documentaries on controversial topics and things people aren’t aware of, like child prostitution, human trafficking, and things like that. My ultimate goal is to help children.
Any other hidden talents we should know about?
I did Kung Fu for 10 years in Penang, and I was the only non-Chinese there, and I can also speak Hokkien!
Seems like you are an avid traveller, what’s the next destination on your bucket list?
If I ever go to Cuba I’ll never come back, so that’s for last. South America is also last because I’ll never want to leave. Maybe somewhere close to home since I’ve travelled all of Europe; somewhere like Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam. I guess places like Papua New Guinea, Kazakhstan, Bhutan, places like those. Anywhere that inspires the mind.
Derecho – a Spanish word meaning “straight” or “direct.” As its name suggests, it describes a type of fast-moving, linear stormcloud that can produce powerful tornadoes that are both damaging and dramatic in nature. It is ethereal yet powerful at the same time. For the Sher by Twenty3 runway debut collection, we wanted to leave a similarly compelling yet celestial impression through the juxtaposition of soft and hard, embodying our mantra: Strength in Femininity.
The collection opened with structural pieces in dusky hues slashed with hints of black mesh, suggesting a brewing storm. Some elements from the Razor Collection are evident here, such as the stand-collar from the Malvina Dress. The storm intensifies through the use of large geometric sequins that evoke flashes of lightning against deep blacks before morphing into clean, structured lines of burgundy, conjuring the effect of the first rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds. Finally, the storm calms into ephemeral shapeless clouds of blue.
The collection also draws inspiration from our founder, Sherlyn – it is an interpretation of her triumph over depression earlier this year, during which she found herself embarking on a journey to discover the Sher persona within.
Sherlyn and I.