If gender-bending is truly the thing in men’s fashion right now, than Edmund Ooi is winning. Or, maybe not. Ooi’s aesthetic is almost extra-gender, bordering on sexless. The models that came down his runway at his Spring Summer 2016 show at NYFWM looked something like over-grown babies in outer space, or male fetish hookers in Battlestar Galactica’s Red Light District. If Gaius Baltar was Bi, maybe these are the dudes he’d be going for?
Edmund Ooi is an extremely experimental designer, even by today’s standards. He seems to have little to no care for making clothes that will sell, and that makes his shows nothing less than thrilling. The Maylasia-born designer is a graduate of the storied Royal Academy of Fine Art. That is the same school that educated the legendary (and my personal favorite all-time designer) Martin Margiela as well as the Antwerp Six: Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Bierendock, Dirk Van Saene, Marina Yee, and Dirk Bikkembergs. These designers were utterly boundary pushing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the first three have been able to build massive brands that have persisted to this day. Is Edmund Ooi even interested in building a brand that will last? If the Antwerp Six was like post-punk, filtering avant-garde influences into ultimately digestible rock and pop songs, Ooi is almost full-on noise. It’s very hard to imagine even the most ostentatious of dressers wanting to wear this stuff, and even harder to imagine myself and other boring guys adorned in diaper-looking shorts and cut-off vests.
But Ooi’s sheer moxie and lack of filter is endearing. He’s been building his brand slowly and picking up design accolades as he goes along. He won ‘Best Avant-Garde Designer’ at age 19 after graduating from Kuala Lumpur. He worked with Thierry Mugler in Paris. He was handpicked by Giorgio Armani to show at Armani Teatro at Milan Fashion Week in January. And now, New York X, a creative organization that supports emerging talent all over the globe, has brought Edmund over to New York to show his Spring-Summer 2016 collection.
The space, a huge room where a ladder set below a podium that leads to a catwalk floor separated with white Adirondack architectural sculptures, looked precise and futuristic. Ambient music lulled through the speakers as people took their seats. And once the bass-throbbing house music kicked in, it all made sense.
Edmund Ooi claims to want to infuse sportswear with a flamboyant attitude. But, “flamboyant” really doesn’t do this collection justice. The first model came down the stairs wrapped in what looked like white sheets and a diaper (white bandeau, belt, and underwear) and the models that followed weren’t covering much up either.
Ooi researched the technical materials that are used in spacesuits for this collection. That, combined with his overtly feminine aesthetic, made for a collection full of sly winking humor. These clothes looked like they could have been costumes from the set of a gay porn set in outer space. Dare I say, Deep Space 69?
There were still quite a few pieces that looked righteously cool, however. A blazer with architecturally patterned black, grey, and red stripes would surely be perfect for driving a convertible in the streets of Florence. A beige jacket with cream-colored sleeves would also seamlessly fit into the wardrobe of a less-adventurous dresser.
Edmund Ooi is sure to make a name for himself in the extremity of his presentations. He does however need to focus more on making clothes that men, or women, will actually wear. Raf Simons is a name that often comes up in comparison with Edmund. Like Ooi is doing now, Raf made a name for himself with his emotionally charged and art leaning shows. But Raf also became a retail giant because creative guys; rappers, rockers, painters, straights, gays, DJs, etc, all wanted the look that he was creating. Ooi’s vision is there, but he needs to channel it just a bit narrower to turn his label into a brand.
Adam Lehrer is a writer, journalist, and art and fashion critic based in New York City. On top of being Autre’s fashion and art correspondent, he is also a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine. His unique interests in punk, hip hop, skateboarding and subculture have given him a distinctive, discerning eye and voice in the world of culture, et al. Oh, and he also loves The Sopranos. Follow him on Instagram: @adam102287
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