An 'art gallery' of clothes

From left: Executive director of Surrender Jozette Ho, artist Cali Thornhill DeWitt and designer Darren Romanelli at the store at 268 Orchard Road.
From left: Executive director of Surrender Jozette Ho, artist Cali Thornhill DeWitt and designer Darren Romanelli at the store at 268 Orchard Road.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Streetwear store Surrender displays its latest capsule collection like pieces of art

At hip streetwear store Surrender in Orchard Road, clothes are displayed like art pieces in a gallery.

Shoes and accessories sit on pristine white shelves. At the front of the store, against a white wall, jackets from the latest capsule collection, the DRx Romanelli x Cali Thornhill DeWitt Exclusive Capsule Collection for Surrender, hang on headless and limbless mannequins.

The reversible jackets, which have a strong American flavour on the outside and Asian-inspired fabrics on the reverse side, are works of art.

Each of the nine one-of-a-kind jackets is made from multiple pieces of clothing that are carefully deconstructed and put back together to form one piece. Each jacket is painted with a letter and when all nine pieces are placed in a row, the word "surrender" is spelt.

Done in collaboration with Los Angeles-based designer DRx Romanelli (whose real name is Darren Romanelli) and artist Cali Thornhill DeWitt, the capsule collection, which launched on March 9, also includes T-shirts with graphic prints ($280) as well as fabric patches and a zine (indie art magazine) ($120).

Romanelli, 40, says of the concept behind the jackets, which cost $4,750 each: "I had this idea of East meets West - Asian robes and lightweight American jumpers - and then Cali painted the letters on them."

When asked if the jackets were designed with the Singaporean consumer in mind, DeWitt, 43, adds: "The rule is to make something you like, wherever it's going. If I was making a collection that was going to be only in the Bahamas, of course I wouldn't make wool clothing, but the work itself is for the people who like it. It's not necessarily for everybody."

Surrender declined to confirm how many jackets have been reserved. A spokesman for the store said: "The jackets are art pieces that we would love to archive for Surrender, but as there has been customer interest, we will consider allowing some for retail selectively."

For now, the jackets will be on display at the store.

Romanelli, who co-owns marketing agency StreetVirus and counts brands such as Coca-Cola, Disney and Apple as clients, is known for his one-off reconstructed clothing.

DeWitt is the designer behind American rapper Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo T-shirts. Last August, a three-day pop-up store in Suntec City selling the T-shirts drew hundreds of fans.

Ms Jozette Ho, executive director of Surrender, says she seized the opportunity to work with Romanelli as she saw a synergy between his creations and her artistic vision for the new store at 268 Orchard Road.

Romanelli, who is friends with DeWitt, brought him on board for the collaboration.

The launch of the capsule collection coincided with the official opening of the Surrender store. Two previous stores - at Raffles Hotel Arcade and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands - have closed.

Ms Ho, who is in her 30s, says of the new store: "Everybody shops online and everyone's on their mobile phones and we've lost the connection, so it was a good opportunity for us to bring back the experience (of shopping in stores). For me, I wanted to do that through art."

Pointing to one of the jackets on display, she says: "You have to look at the details and see how Romanelli chooses the combination of fabrics. This is such an art piece and we're just trying to do something different and beautiful for the store."

For Romanelli, the feeling was mutual. Says the married father of two: "Stores like Colette (in Paris) take a lot of pride in their space and art and, in my opinion, that was where Jozette was going with Surrender. Creating a relationship with art on the walls helps to energise the store and the merchandise."

It is not just the careful curation of art and products that makes Surrender feel like a shop that is also a gallery. The store, designed by Chris Lee of design agency Asylum, has a sculptural and windowless facade meant to draw in shoppers.

The outer walls comprise multiple curved dark grey concrete slabs which overlap one another. The interior, with white walls and cement flooring, is inspired by art galleries.

The design of the new store is a departure from that of its predecessors. The store at Raffles Hotel Arcade had wooden floors with vintage sewing tables, while the one at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, called Salon by Surrender, had slick black-and-white marble floors and moulded walls.

Surrender is owned by Singapore company D'League and is known for bringing in cult streetwear brands such as Undercover and Public School NYC.

D'League, which also owns Japanese brand Christian Dada and is the distributor for luxury watch brand Richard Mille, is a franchisee of high-end streetwear brand Off-White.

Despite the weak retail market, Ms Ho says Off-White and Christian Dada, which also have stores at 268 Orchard Road, are performing 30 and 50 per cent above expectations respectively. She declines to reveal how Surrender is doing.

However, she did tease about a new project, which will be launched in the same building.

She says: "It's also about doing something new and different from the rest of the market."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'An 'art gallery' of clothes'. Print Edition | Subscribe