The boys of Emotionally Unavailable get candid about fashion, art and hip-hop culture
It was a Friday night. There were about 100 people in line outside Dover Street Market Singapore, anxious and excited to get their hands on the exclusive Emotionally Unavailable x DSM capsule collection. Cameras were whipped out when founders Edison Chen and Kybum Lee (affectionately called KB) made their way past the crowd and into a cosy room, where just a minute before, an equally nervous journalist wondered aloud: "I hope Edison is in a good mood. I've seen him with media." I assured him that it would be fine; besides, we're not paparazzis about to question him about his love life. We're here to chat about controversies of another kind.
The actor turned fashion collaborator and one-half of lifestyle label CLOT, with fellow hypebeast and designer of UNDEFEATED in tow, was on time. At 7.30pm sharp, precursory introductions out of the way, we got down to the first order of business; talking the origins, drivers and methods of fresh-off-the-fashion-underbelly contemporary label, Emotionally Unavailable.
Scroll down to learn, through Chen and Lee's narratives, about the launch of Emotionally Unavailable's first commercial collaboration with Dover Street Market, and then proceed to discuss their unfiltered (read: nearing contentious) thoughts on hip-hop, classical art and the NSFW exchange behind the brand logo.
Translating bromance to fashion brand
Edison Chen (EC): We grew up to be really good friends when I moved to L.A., always talking about stupid stuff and joking around. I remember when I broke up with my girlfriend...
KB Lee (KL): I broke up with my girlfriend too. Actually, she broke up with me.
EC: [Laughs] It was a time when we were both single and I told him, "Man, I'm feeling really emotionally unavailable right now... but I'm physically present, so come talk to me." Then for some reason, two weeks later he called me going, "Hey I really like what you said the other day." I don't even remember until he brought it up. We decided to do a quick collaboration, and ever since then it's just been a hobby for us until about four months ago. We didn't have a bank account; we didn't have anything, but we're working on the brand for real now.
What it means to be "emotionally unavailable"
EC: The name "Emotionally Unavailable" itself speaks to a lot of youth now. I can't say we're lost, but we're definitely looking for our way, and along that path even though we have a lot of good friends, it's a lot of alone time. The phrase is also a reflection of relationships — how people jump in and out of relationships or they're in a relationship but they're not really in it. That's where the meaning of Emotionally Unavailable came from.
Guilty until proven innocent
EC: Emotionally Unavailable is a narrative on culture so it's directed by how we feel. For instance, I had a friend who got into a little bit of trouble. And it's supposed to be that you're innocent until proven guilty, but people think he was guilty until he's proven innocent. That's how we came up with this T-shirt. Emotionally Unavailable is fun for us because there's no pressure. The inspiration comes daily; it's a feeling. We get a feeling, I share a photo of it with KB and he'll tell me, "That's our next T-shirt, our next thing." It's fun, it's organic; that might change in two or three years when it's a big business — hopefully — but at this moment it's fresh and young and spontaneous.
Ditching hip-hop for classical art
EC: It's not just about fashion or a T-shirt or a jacket. It's actually really artsy for us. Emotionally Unavailable is super art-inspired and it's a representation of an on-going conversation we have on art. We worked with André before this and we intend to continue collaborating with contemporary artists to produce capsule collections.
KL: I guess you can call it our personal art project.
EC: Hip-hop dominated our lives from an early age and now, art is the dominant inspiration for us. We go to art museums, we go to gallery shows, studio visits and that's actually where we drive most of our creative energy. It's a different perspective from hip hop. Hip hop is low, grimy and desperate while art is refined, "bougee" and classy. But of course, we're not going to be like, "Oh this shirt is going to be $500 because it's art."
They don't call it "divine intervention" for nothing
EC: I was flipping through an art book during a meeting and I saw the painting [The Creation of Adam in The Sistine Chapel] which many people say is about the divine intervention when God gave man knowledge. If you see the painting closely, you notice that God is wrapped by a shape, which is supposedly a brain. Through my interpretation, the meaning is that your inner self already has an "upper being", which is in your own brain. Everyone was like, "Yo that's cool, let's put it on the jacket." And that's how this jacket was made. From that, we're planning on making a whole series of jackets printed with classical artworks with deeper meanings, so not only do they look good, hopefully they can entice people to think more about art. I want youth to not just be influenced by the club life or hip-hop, rap lyrics. There has to be a moment when we break out of that and I think art can do that for us.
A message for the purists
EC: To me, having artwork printed on a postcard is low and it devaluates the piece. What we do puts a creative mind, a creative force behind it; by doing that, we are respecting the art a lot. If gift shops can have keychains or pencils with art on them, why can't we do the same? We're paying an ode to the art; we're not trying to defile it. We're actually trying to push the art and help them promote it. They should be thanking us.
A different kind of logomania
EC: If you ask me, my favourite item from the collection has to be the logo T-shirt. It speaks volumes because everyone has different interpretations. Girls are like, "Oh this is so cute, this is amazing" and some guys are like, "Yeah I feel that, the pain from the heart." And then some people told me that it looks like a ballsac.
KL: It is a ballsac!
[Laughter all around]
EC: When a logo can give emotions, it can be very strong and powerful.
KL: Yeah same for me; the logo, the melting heart, the bleeding heart, it speaks for itself.
EC: I like that it can mean anything. Whatever you like it to mean.
Jolene Khor: So it could be bleeding heart, it could be melting heart, or a ballsac. Got it.
Another interviewer: Or a bleeding ballsac.
KL: That's a horrible thought! Just horrible!
When the timing is right
KL: We're really good friends with Dover Street Market and we were offered to be a part of the Dover Street Singapore Market opening but we couldn't make it in time.
EC: Dover Street Market is one of the best curated retailers in the world, especially in the last 5 years when they've become more youth orientated whereas before, it was more focused on runway pieces, and so I think we fit into that in-between classification because we're definitely not a street brand but we're definitely not a high fashion label either. And Dover Street Market is the best contemporary retail store in the world right now.
KL: Yeah definitely.
EC: This is our first real push and we're really lucky to be in such a great location. I've always liked Singapore so it's good to be back.
KB: This isn't just a one-time thing. We'll be back.
See all the Emotionally Unavailable x Dover Street Market pieces below:
Limited pieces of the Emotionally Unavailable capsule collection are still available at the Dover Street Market Singapore store and online. The Emotionally Unavailable jacket with The Creation of Adam print will be restocked on 1 November.