In our June His and Hers Issue, we profile one of the rising stars in the fashion world: designer Silas Liew. After winning accolades for his designs and with a new label Regnum Lapideum hitting the masses, Silas shares his journey of being a designer.
“I once watched a Wim Wenders documentary about Yohji Yamamoto entitled A Notebook on Cities and Clothes,” says Silas Liew. “In the documentary, Yohji states that making clothes for men is like making clothes for a brother; it comes naturally. And I’ve always believed that.” And taking that advice as inspiration, the 28-year-old launched his own menswear label to any that wanted to share in his sartorial path, brother or not.
According to Liew, a designer is a tastemaker, part of the proverbial soup that is KL but with greater ties to the larger community of creatives and intellectuals. “I like to design for people who put thought into what they wear. I don't stress an aesthetic designation so much as an intellectual one because there are no rules in fashion now—not after the minimalist avant garde of the ’80s and everything that happened after that. If you look at the bigger picture, fashion is never a yes/no situation; it’s rather perhaps/maybe,” Liew explains.
To Liew, people in Malaysia buy fashion because of trends: they want to fit into a certain style or cliché rather than create personal aesthetics. The lack of admiration for and confidence in local designers is the main reason why the industry is a slow ship. “In France, there are people who are obsessed with Rick Owens; they buy everything Rick Owens creates and have Rick Owens tattoos,” Liew states with a smile that recognises both the absurdity and the logic behind these devotees. “But in Malaysia, it’s hard to find someone who is crazy over, say, Bernard Chandran and wants to live just in his designs.”
Even though Liew has always liked to design, his epiphany only came later in life when he was studying Marine Biology at the University of Melbourne. Much of his artistic inclinations emerged during the five years he spent there. He learnt to sew and craft jewellery, wrote short stories and poems, which ended up published in an Australian magazine.
When he returned home, he decided to enroll in a fashion designing course. Even after his formal education in Raffles Design Institute in Kuala Lumpur, it took winning the Best Promising Designer at Malaysia International Fashion Week 2010 to make a real fashion designer of Liew. Last year, with the help of Malaysia International Fashion Alliance (MIFA) and Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade), he showcased his eponymous menswear label in Paris.
The name of Liew’s fledging label "Regnum Lapideum" is a term he borrowed from Carl Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae in reference to the science of taxonomy, the practice of classification and nomenclature. It’s so named because the collection revolves around the idea of examining evolution and natural selection. With his impeccable traditional tailoring techniques, the clothes exude a sense of ease and balance which look refined yet minimal. “I am very much inspired by Asian textiles; they have a look and feel that is very unique,” Liew explains, having sourced lightweight fabrics from Vietnam and China for his collection.
Currently, Liew is working with an NGO to improve the welfare of Cambodian refugees. He trains the community how to sew and handle the machines, and educates them about fair trade and fair wage. At the same time, he is designing t-shirts for the community to produce. These t-shirts will be sold online this month.
The next stop on Liew’s itinerary is Islamabad, Pakistan, to look for inspiration, source fabrics and conduct some humanitarian work. He is also restructuring his business and trying to push his label to a larger Asian market with a more solid marketing plan. “Fashion can take all angles, so to market well is to take an honest, insightful approach and tell people the real story,” says Liew. Rick Owens, watch out.
Words by Ian Loh. Photograph by Shawn Lor.