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Thursday November 22, 2012

Boutique looks beyond the ordinary

Calvin Cheong, founder of Seethrough Concept Store, Bangsar. Calvin Cheong, founder of Seethrough Concept Store, Bangsar.

There’s a dearth of boutiques that cater to indie fashion labels but a new store has been born to fix this.

CALVIN Cheong may sometimes come across as a space cadet, but he is truly passionate about his business. This business is bringing edgy, creative and fashionable indie labels to the Malaysian market.

Case in point was a conversation regarding his official designation − initially he couldn’t quite fathom that this reporter wanted to know his position within the store.

“My position ... hmmm ... the boring word is founder. The actual word, perhaps, should be kuli (manual labourer), and the edgy name would be co-ordinator, I dunno (sic), what do you suggest?”

I suggested space cadet which prompted a big laugh from him. To be fair, perhaps it should be spaced-out as his Seethrough Concept Store in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur is run by Cheong alone.

This includes organising the media preview to the grand opening of the store, and dealing with all and sundry, and now the day-to-day operations too. So yes, it makes sense why he’s spaced-out from all the work and stress.

Cheong loves to talk about the store but not much about himself. The 30-year-old was a stylist for 10 years, doing commercials and editorials.

“I had intended to open either a cafe or boutique, but KL is short of really cool fashion boutiques, so I thought it’d be nice to have a cool place to shop here. Something not too commercial; something really fashionable and stylish.”

But before Seethrough was established, he started an experimental label called avantGOD in 2009 with a few friends that occupied a hole in a wall smack in the heart of Bukit Bintang in KL. That was an experiment that lasted a year. There was also another venture which saw Cheong and two others starting up another underground-style store called Never Follow Suit last year, but Cheong pulled out to concentrate on seeing Seethrough through (pun intended).

Seethrough itself was founded in Oct 2010 and it occupied a lot in a suburban area outside the city centre. It has managed to draw a curious crowd of fans who seem to have now followed it to its new location.

Designers (from left) Jason
Yek, Pearly Wong, Zakwan Anuar,
Yasmin Ramli and Yiing. Designers (from left) Jason Yek, Pearly Wong, Zakwan Anuar, Yasmin Ramli and Yiing.

“It’s time KL has a multi-label concept store that houses creative indie designers. Our mission is to bring in the coolest styles and update current fashion trends by looking at the elements and details hot off the runways, and interpreting them into our range of clothing,” enthuses Cheong.

His vision of his “dream boutique” which is how he calls his “baby”, is to have a shopping hotspot in town. A one-stop centre where you can get clothes, accessories and also fashion tips on styling, and mixing and matching.

Cheong sees his customers as those who want some exclusivity; those who want to be decked out in an outfit knowing that it is not duplicated elsewhere.

They were certainly there in droves for the opening. The store might be small, but the interior is innovative and edgy as reflected in the use of plastic wrappers made into “columns cum wall hangings” as well as stand-out “cushions”.

As for the clothes − words like stylish, fashionable, cool, edgy, unique, fresh and fun all spring to mind.

Besides indie local labels like When Our Eyes Met, Zakwan Anuar, Pearly Wong, Jason Yek and Seethrough by Yiing, there are a couple of other local labels and brands from overseas. The first five designers put on a mini fashion show on the day of the launch.

The labels mainly cater to women, but there are a few that have both men’s and women’s clothes.

Look out for names like Max Tan (and Liquid by Max Tan), Depression (despite the name, it is anything but), Sundays, ForInsaneHuman and Possi-Tilly-Ty from Singapore, Absurd Laboratory from Hong Kong, La Douche Vita from Indonesia, Philippine’s Proudrace, Thailand’s Jinomo and Northern Land, Japan’s Yuki Mitsuyasu and Komono from Belgium.

The store kuli also gets brands he would wear himself. So, don’t be too surprised if you see Cheong decked out “Opa Seethrough Style”, if I may borrow the current catchphrase.

He managed to get the local indie designers to agree to be available exclusively in Seethrough. “Most of the designers feel happy to have their own place especially at a great location in Bangsar itself! They are glad to share the floorspace with other designers, be they local or international.”

How did he discover them though?

A duchess sateen top with highwaisted
pencil skirt from Zakwan Anuar. A duchess sateen top with highwaisted pencil skirt from Zakwan Anuar.

“Facebook is a very good platform for all the updates on the fashion scene in KL. Browsing through that and also through the photographers’ work became one of my major sources. I usually approach them from there,” he explains.

He adds that he also asks the designers directly if he knows them personally. Sometimes, he finds them through graduation shows and other fashion shows or events.

As for the international designers, he searches via the Facebook and trade shows route, or gets recommendations from friends and designers.

“Firstly, I look at their range and request for a lookbook and ad campaign. Then, I go for a price range that is within RM500, if possible, to make it affordable locally.”

Most of the clothes are not so far from the RM1,000 mark, but there are quite a number of pieces that also hover around RM100 to RM200.

There’s also a rack that seems out of place for an indie store, carrying labels like MMM, Alexander Wang, Helmut Lang, RAD and Yigal Azrouel.

But here’s the deal – Cheong gets them at a steal from a model friend who travels around the world whom he feels has good taste. He has the foresight to envision working with her beyond just reselling labels, perhaps even collaborating on a capsule collection.

At the end of the day, Seethrough is his platform to collaborate with other artists − be they photographers, deejays or musicians (the band that was playing for the launch, Musica Popular Brasileira, certainly gave the party a Copacabana buzz).

As a store that serves to give different artists a leg up, Cheong is certainly hoping that when it comes to Seethrough, resistance is futile.

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