Conversations // Larry Peh

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I really think Kinetic are on to something with their pop-up project K+ at Scotts Square. Unlike some other pop-ups that each feature the same brands and retailers, K+ succeeds at being original with their line up. Currently showing on the third storey of the shopping mall until 2 Aug is Faculty. The new menswear brand is conceived by designer Larry Peh, who heads local design studio &Larry. I met Larry through an interview session for his work done at Bynd Artisan after he won the 2014 President’s Design Award—very nice guy, very genuine.

There have been several womenswear brands in Singapore of late whose dedication to technique and experiment to form have produced good work to rival international labels. I think Larry is on to something for the other gender. Faculty, is both clear and mysterious: clear in its expression of detail and material; mysterious in that every collection is dedicated to, and inspired by an unnamed subject. The first set of products is called ‘Subject 01: S.R’. Maybe if you try to pry from Larry he’ll let you know who S.R. is. There are classic oxford shirts, Japanese cotton shirts, chino trousers, Japanese selvedge denim jeans, T-shirts and accessories, alongside a curated range of bespoke lifestyle products including Sueki Ceramics and shoelaces, scarves and bracelets from Japanese indigo dye artisan Buaisou. A unique piece is a mug with a crackled, tactile surface in a shade of charcoal grey—grey because it is the shade that guides the collection.

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photo credit: Playground

photo credit: Playground

photo credit: Playground

photo credit: Playground

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Photographer John Clang’s haunting images line the walls of the exhibition, providing the tone of introspection and grit. In the corner of the gallery, like a museum exhibit, stands metal bins, a showcase of raw materials on metal foil plates, tools—’artefacts’ of an indigo-dye or (or aizome) workshop held by Japan and Brooklyn-based studio Buaisou. Buaisou was founded in 2012 by Kenta Watanabe and Kakuo Kaji who have decided to place their roots in Tokushima in order to carry on the aizome tradition and create new modern products in this way. The team grew to include tailor Yuya Miura and Yuki Ken—a banker who left his profession to join Buaisou’s ‘farm-to-closet’ project. The name of the studio is inspired by the house of 20th century Japanese businessman, Jiro Shirasu, whom is thought to be the first Japanese person to ever wear jeans (such is the tradition that such a detail got recorded).

Looking through the collection, we wish there was a women’s line too (hint hint). We speak with Larry about the brand, and about his role as a father to two young children. In both his roles, clearly there is dedication and a clear sense of focus in the ‘craft’.

How did the brand Faculty come about? Can you share a little about the journey from ideation to the pop-up store at K+?

Fabien Baron, the ex-creative director of Harper’s Bazaar, has always been an inspiration to me and I’ve got more fashion magazines than design books! I was always into fashion and coming up with a fashion line was a natural transition. The opportunity came by and my partners and I have a common vision of producing clothing that men are comfortable in, and products that reflect a sense of style, intelligence and sophistication.

I’m already a huge fan of damaged denim and have had over 100 pairs but with each piece that I own, I always feel that it can be better and at last, I’ve decided to come up with my very own piece. The Denim 15 Damaged has undergone a long list of treatments, from dying to sandblasting, tagging, ripping and eventually patching and repairing to achieve the final look and feel. I was obsessed with trying to create a certain patina on the denim that can only happen with long wear and age, and I am happy that our factory in Okayama managed to fulfill such a tough request.

From Okayama, the haven of denim, we work backwards and found other partners who could fulfil our other designs like chinos, shirts etc. It’s more economical to travel to one place and get things done. Similarly for shipping it’ll save [on cost].

Lastly, K+ Faculty came about when Carolyn (Kinetic & K+) called me and asked if I know of a new cool fashion label to take over the gallery space. Of course I recommended ourselves—simple as that.

Why the name ‘Faculty’ for the brand?

1. An inherent power or ability: the faculty of speech

2. A talent or natural ability for something: has a wonderful faculty for storytelling

3. Any ability or power, whether acquired or inherent

4. A department within a university or college devoted to a particular branch of knowledge

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Can you share some interesting observations about your visits to Japan to visit the craftsmen and factories?

Together with my partner Lenz Fan, we’ve made a handful of trips together. It’s interesting as the main bulk of the trips were made trying to establish relationships. Okayama manufacturers are a closely knitted group who respect one other, especially the seniors. And once I get the buy in of the seniors, the rest of the doors open.

Most importantly, they were touched by our passion and sincerity despite our inability to speak proper Japanese. Passion can be infectious and knows no boundaries.

“Enclosed in grey, each item reflects the strength of ideas from the use of grey matter in its creation.” Why grey as the theme for this collection?

Grey is the colour of Faculty, “S.R.”—our first collection, which we prefer to call “Subject”—and is based on someone I respect a lot. Every Subject will change and so will its colours, but grey will always be Faculty’s mainstay.

Grey is a nod to the grey matter. The power of mind over matter. While it’s also known as a neutral colour that sits well with other hues comfortably, it takes on a different identity when associated with the “grey area”—“an ill-defined situation or area of activity not readily conforming to a category or set of rules.” It’s both a democratic and yet rebellious colour in my opinion.

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photo credit: Playground

photo credit: Playground

photo credit: Playground

photo credit: Playground

photo credit: Playground

Accessories by Buaisou; photo credit: Playground

How does Faculty/ fashion design come into play with your day job as a designer at your own studio &Larry?

All things by Faculty are designed with functionality in mind and are often inspired by those purchases that I was unsatisfied with. I believe those who appreciate good quality and functional apparels would find something that meet their daily needs. My design practice, regardless of discipline or medium, is based on pragmatism, attention to details, understanding the audience and above all, adhering to budgets, timeline and expectations.

You’re also a father to an eight-year-old daughter and six-year-old son. What is the biggest challenge, and also the most precious thing, about being a father for you?

I am still trying to figure out how to be a father to a child despite having two now. One of the biggest challenge is to pretend that I care a lot about their academic performance. Luckily my wife is a school teacher and I can conveniently leave that aspect to her. But honestly, I struggle a lot with all the ‘right things’ in life when I am very much a rebel at heart. I teach them how to be do the right things while subtly infusing the ‘street’ into them. I always believe that they need to be more street savvy than scoring straight As.

 It’s amazing to witness that so much of me went into both of them and it’s not just some weird DNA science. I often seek their advice whenever I am stressed and they never fail to surprise me with the simplest solution.

The most precious thing is learning how to stop their inner child from growing up.

How would you describe your parenting style?

I think I’ve covered some in the previous question. I am generally a very very strict and traditional father. But yet at the same time I allow them to go crazy at play and we watch the scariest films together, i.e., Chucky, Prometheus, Alien, Attack on Titans, to name a few.

What are your passions and how do you wish to share them with your children?

I love all sort of music, which I try to expose them to. Similarly, I try my utmost best to appreciate Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and the stuff they want me to hear.

But it’s nice to be able to sing RUN DMC’s ‘You talk too much’ or Misfit’s ‘Come back’ together to annoy my wife.

Please continue this sentence: Play to me is:

When I can leave my cares behind.

+ all photographs by Marc Tan unless otherwise stated, courtesy of Larry Peh

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