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Designer Profile: Jon Max Goh

Progression is moving forward but for Jon Max Goh, it’s a retreat into the past that feels alien and familiar all at once.

BY WAYNE CHEONG | Apr 20, 2016 | Fashion

Early January. Jon Max Goh’s thesis collection entitled, Menswear Through Memory, was exhibited at the National Design Centre. With a title like Menswear Through Memory, you’d be forgiven to think that the exhibition is about the history of men’s fashion but it’s actually Goh trying to make sense of his own identity.

That question of identity came about for Goh when he was racking his brain about what his final Fashion Design thesis at Parsons School of Design would be. Predictably, it circles back to his displacement as a Singaporean in another country. What is being Singaporean like? If fashion as we know it, is mostly derived from a Western vocabulary, how would it look like without Western regulations? What would it look like through the lens of a Singaporean? Goh felt the answers he needed lay in the bedrock of his past, the past.

Those memories, fractured by time, had to be jigsawed together. “The first three months were just image collecting, researching and reading.” Goh says as he points to the outfits in his collection. “The white florals came from my grandmother’s curtain, the blue fabric was recreated digitally from a couch I used to have. I looked at the heritage on my dad’s side, the Peranakan side, and took the beading elements to see how I can bring it back to menswear.”

Goh expanded his research into Singapore’s past. He found himself relating to the images even though he wasn’t present during that period. “Part of me was hoping that this is my interpretation of memory of growing up in Singapore,” Goh says, “if others were to see it and it conjures up something familiar in them then it’s a possibility of what it could look like.”

A key image of his grandparents on their wedding day kickstarted his thesis. Dressed in a white-laced bridal gown, she’s kneeling in front of the altar with Goh’s great grandparents standing next to her. His grandfather, attired in a white tunic and black wrapped pants. That contrast of Western and Eastern aesthetics was interesting to Goh and he wanted to capture that duality.

Goh admits his thesis does not “necessarily answer these questions directly” but it’s clear to see different motifs speaks of memory building upon itself, layer by layer, a fashion kueh lapis, to forge a new identity over time. His project must have struck a chord as it garnered him a 2015 Parsons Menswear Designer of the Year Award. The local menswear scene could use Goh’s contribution.

But for now, he is working full-time as a menswear designer at Joe Fresh. He’s trying to learn much about the industry but Goh will return to fulfil his bond as a DesignSingapore scholar.

It’s human nature to question our station in life. Goh’s jaunt into discovering his identity will lead him to carve out a spot in the fashion landscape; an uncharted territory that looks daunting but it just means there’s a place out there for anyone who is willing to travel into.

From: Esquire Singapore's April 2016 issue.