Everything You Need To Know About Youths In Balaclava

Introducing the bold Youths In Balaclava, a Singapore fashion collective that represents the underground culture of the Lion City and presented their Fall/Winter 2022 at Paris Fashion Week.

You would’ve heard of this talented group of creatives through the grapevine, or seen their loud and individualistic work on social media. Something that started out as a hobby through capsules manifested into something disruptively ingenious.

Enters Youths In Balaclava (YIB), an underground fashion commune currently consisting of 9 members. This group of unique thinkers come from all walks of life — twentysomething men and women who are designers, musicians, financial advisors and military guards amongst other professions — but they all speak the same language of design and fashion.

Courtesy of Ryan O’Toole Collett

Touted as rebels with a cause, these spirited Singapore youths cultivate one-off projects and fashion collections. And since its inception in 2015, YIB has been pushing the envelope in all forms of creativity, demonstrating that you don’t need to go to fashion college or be refrained from financial reasons to thrive in the scene.

Fast forward to 2022 and in recent years, YIB has made its mark on the global scale and has been featured in the highly acclaimed magazine Vogue. Its pieces can be found at multiple international e-tailers such as END. Clothing, Nordstrom, Hypebeast, Antonioli, Farfetch, Ssense and more.

The Origin

In the beginning, there were just six made up of team leader Taufyq Iskandar, his brother and like-minded school peers. He and his friend Spencer Yeo bonded over their common interest in fashion and were working in different retail stores at the time — learning and picking up skills of store management and those needed in seasonal launches. Taufyq was also learning basic Photoshop and creating graphics too.

London-based photographer Ryan O’Toole Collett, who has worked with the likes of Carhartt, Burberry, Alex Mullins and Off-White, was introduced to YIB while documenting the launch of Dover Street Market Singapore.

Courtesy of Ryan O’Toole Collett

The organic meeting turned into a shoot for YIB and a photo documentary book, which garnered the attention of Adrian Joffe, the president of Comme des Garçons International and Dover Street Market (DSM). Joffe saw the potential and offered to consign YIB’s line at DSM without compromising on the creative freedom. With all the hard work and driven passion, coupled with high-quality work, YIB’s big break came and it’s been uphill ever since.]

In 2017, YIB presented the ‘Honey Memory’ collection on the rooftop of a run-down Ubi building with borrowed chairs from a downstairs coffee shop. As a nod to the grunge music scene of the late ‘80s and ‘90s , all 20 looks were hand-stitched within a month as well as deconstructed and remade from pieces of past collections.

‘Honey Memory’ fashion show. Courtesy of Ryan O’Toole Collett

It can be said that the fashion collective’s roots come from suppressed frustration, channelled brilliantly into an outburst of satire and creativity. “We live in such a tight system in terms of laws, what you can say, what you cannot say. So we make clothes in reflection of certain ideas we want to express. At the end of the day, that’s what we want to project out to the people,” Taufyq said to Lifestyle Asia.

Courtesy of Ryan O’Toole Collett

The Bold Style, Rightfully So

As English singer and television personality Rachel Stevens would say, it’s not what you wear but how you wear it.

Photographer Collett spoke on the group and said each member’s individual style is embraced. And each style is translated into the original concept of the collective, which is to represent the unseen or unexpected parts of Singapore.

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“The reality is that while there are a lot of young people there who can afford the luxury clothes, there’s also a large percentage of the population who aren’t able to. YIB’s style reflects this disparity — they embrace what they love and create their own look,” explained Collett in Vogue.

YIB’s style is also predominantly influenced by the music they delve into, whether it be grunge, punk, electropunk, normcore, pop, rap or rock. Collett further adds that “the diversity of the music they listen to is characteristic of their approach to fashion, which is experimental, chaotic, and customised”.

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A Deeper Meaning

“TRAITORS 2 $OCIETY”, the first collection, was a tribute to the youth unions and the Hock Lee bus riots in 1955. At that time, most of the members were still in tertiary education. The clothing was graphic T-shirts that were manufactured with the members’ own savings.

Meanwhile, ‘Lost in Transit’ references and captures the stages that Singaporean men go through in National Service. In the collection, which was presented in Paris Fashion Week in 2019, inkblot prints could be seen on garments. According to Spencer on Esquire, the inkblots change colours under UV light — referencing the Rorschach test and coming-of-age males going from teenage years to serving the nation and then back to civilisation. The collection received positive responses and YIB acquired deals with 52 retailers worldwide.

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Most if not all of YIB’s works are based on life in Singapore and comments on growing up in a city filled with strict regulations. Of course, not to mention, the adversary and cynical setting where creative pathways don’t provide well. After all of the striking pieces fashioned from this group of innovators, the main and loudest message to convey is for the dreamers and creatives. You don’t need the advantages of privilege to soar high; set your sights on it, put the time and effort in and you can also see the fruits of your labour.

Courtesy of Ryan O’Toole Collett

Fall/Winter 2022 “PSYCHO HIGHWAY” At Paris Fashion Week

Earlier this year in January, the group presented their sixth showing at Paris Fashion Week and their most extensive capsule collection yet. In the collection notes, the homegrown brand referred to the clothes as a metaphor within a narrative. “The story of Psycho Highway is a reflection of our country and the different subcultures.”

Courtesy of Ryan O’Toole Collett

The 22-look collection of androgynous looks depicted a post-apocalyptic wardrobe, inspired by custom automobile culture. We see a variety of meticulously detailed pieces: leather jackets, mesh veils, quilted Bermuda shorts, patchwork bike pants, khakis with corset lacing or straps and more.

The creatives also premiered a seven-minute sci-fi film that showcases its fall collection “Psycho Highway”. With ‘Mad Max’ references, the video records 29,167 views to date on YouTube.

Courtesy of Ryan O’Toole Collett

YIB stands as the first Singaporean fashion collective to show on that scale in Paris, representing a fresh perspective on local creatives as a whole. Their original collection proves to be groundbreaking for the evolving fashion community in Singapore and definitely allows for consumers to fully indulge in the art of layering and wardrobe building.

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