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A Menswear Designer Finds Kindred Spirits

By Guan Tan

Peir Wu Spring Summer 2017 photographed on men having a chat in a Beijing hutong.
 
Peir Wu & Sirui Ma
Peir Wu Spring Summer 2017 photographed on men having a chat in a Beijing hutong.

 

Speaking to Peir Wu, she names many faces and the ethereal conversations she’s had with them. But one thing comes through over and again – the fortuitous kindred spirit amongst them.

One of them is Sweetu Patel, founder of menswear store CHCM in New York City. Wu was in New York visiting friends and by recommendation, popped into said store. “I went and ended up for a really long chat. The way he understood clothes,” was so seasoned and refined. The 32 year-old Wu casually brought up that she has a menswear label based in London. Patel took her offer up. “We’ve been working together ever since”.

The Singaporean was trained in London, and started her eponymous label in 2011 there. What struck her, was Patel’s “very thought through taste – very developed.”

“Acute!” Wu exclaimed. A matured sense of style comes from many years of questioning and honing. “Like if I think about when I first came to London, and the things that I looked at and liked, versus the things that I now like, a lot of questioning [was involved]. You trim off the fat.”

How does one trim off the stylistic fat? “You question what makes this good? Why is this good? What makes this bad? Why is this bad? What makes this special? Why is this different?” And Wu distilled her answer from clean to pure. It’s an exercise of one’s gut feeling. People are attracted to things that they aren't familiar with, instead by a moment's intuition. And over time they find out if they made the right decision.

Honing one’s taste is “gut feeling. You can’t rationalise it. It makes itself more apparent over time,” Wu explains. You may know that you like something, but right in that moment you might not know why. It takes time for that intuition to simmer, and mature. And Wu herself got better with practice.

“Now if I like something it’s very certain. When I was young I had to question. Now I’m faster, it sharpens over time.”

Peir WuPeir Wu worked as a design apprentice in Belgian-designer Raf Simons' studio for a year in 2007.
Peir Wu worked as a design apprentice in Belgian-designer Raf Simons' studio for a year in 2007.

 

It comes through in her clients as well. Like-minded men are drawn to her studio. “I once had this client, he works in finance. He comes from a PhD in Applied Math. He walked into the studio, and picked out a shirt. He didn’t have technical knowledge of clothing as we have in fashion, but he could use another example to describe, and it was really accurate.”

The discerning man took a handful of Wu’s white shirt, studied it and really liked it. ‘I like this, the poplin feels really crisp and unsual. I have a lot of white shirts, and they are all very special to me,’ the man said. When this man buys, even if it’s merely a white shirt, the material and detail has to feel right. It’s special to him only because something excited him to buy it. Architects, furniture, product designers, and mathematicians often make good fashion designers. The eye for proportion and in turn, good fashion isn’t in-born but trained.

Another serendipitous creative occurrence was a 21 year-old Chinese photographer Sirui Ma. Their creative chemistry is not found in words. Both ladies worked on a shoot in Cuba recently, for Wu’s fall winter 2017 collection. “She first suggested shooting her high school classmate. I was like, ‘Oh he looks interesting, but he’s young. And it’s a different look to what I’m used to.” But it is exactly this I-can’t-put-a-finger-to-it feeling that Wu is constantly after.

Peir Wu & Sirui MaPeir Wu's upcoming fall winter 2017 collection, photographed by Sirui Ma in Cuba.
Peir Wu's upcoming fall winter 2017 collection, photographed by Sirui Ma in Cuba.
Peir Wu & Sirui MaSirui Ma relocates frequently as she follows her mother,  journalist for a Chinese broadsheet. She is living in New York at the moment.
Sirui Ma relocates frequently as she follows her mother, journalist for a Chinese broadsheet. She is living in New York at the moment.
Peir Wu & Sirui MaPeir then collates Sirui's local documentary into a book. Her fall winter 2017 Cuba photo book will be available in the second half of this year.
Peir then collates Sirui's local documentary into a book. Her fall winter 2017 Cuba photo book will be available in the second half of this year.

 

It stems from her year-long training at Raf Simons’ studio as a design intern. Between 2007 and 2008, Wu stationed in Antwerp, working on Simons’ fall winter 2007 and spring summer 2008 collections. She recounted how Simons and his right-hand man Pieter Mulier rejected ‘perfect’ looks. They were relentlessly searching for the awkward sweet spot of ‘strange’.

Straungeee, they said it in their Belgian accents,” Wu laughed endearingly as she mimicked. “I think that’s why when I started looking at fashion in the early 2000s, I saw his collection and a few other designers like Margiela for example, in the Gap Press…that really excited me and got me interested in fashion...I really liked the work. There was something different and that was something I was instinctively attracted to in the beginning.”

“And for me now, it's even more important...that element of 'strange'. When you've worked in the industry for a while, and you’ve seen a lot of things, you do get quite jaded. So you want something that surprises you, but not in a cheap pow-wow way. You’re looking for that.”

Peir Wu & Sirui MaWu's spring summer 2017 Beijing photo book is available in stores now.
Wu's spring summer 2017 Beijing photo book is available in stores now.

 

Wu’s providential run-ins with kindred spirits is documented in her new photo-book – a series of grinning old men clad in her current spring summer 2017 collection. It’s a thin bound book of 28 pages, printed on 130grams silk paper. Photographed by a nomadic Sirui Ma, whom Wu thinks does the best street style photography, for she seems to have an affinity with the thousand of faces she meets in every city. But to Wu herself, “it feels as if we were sisters in our past lives." She adds, “Yes, familiar strangers.”

Peir Wu Spring Summer 17 x Sirui Ma in Beijing is available at CHCM New York