Voon is the type that, upon spotting him, makes one utter a French word, or two, such as chic garcon, which isn’t the same flavor in an English translation or pronunciation.
There is about him—a boyishness, an androgyny, an ineffable impish contagion all the more interesting because without malice. In his sartorial practice, his palette belongs to the Matisse school of color: in his voracious appetite and intense passion for colors—in his love for improbable but winning color combinations, making him a sartorial Fauvist, say.
His fit, lanky teen frame allows him to cross the gender aisle, appropriate and re-contextualize certain clothes found, transforming them into a new kind of unisex style. And this sartorial intervention of his appears seamless, not forced or shrill—just perfect, garcon chic!
Voon was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he attended St. Johns Institution. Later, he would leave for the United States to attend college at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After college, he landed in New York 1998.
When he first graduated high school, thanks to Mary Chandipillai, he scored the coolest gig as a stringer (freelance reporter) for New Straits Times in the City Extra edition covering a gamut of articles including serious news, health/life topics, fashion and society pages and have been privileged to shake hands with political figures, royalty, celebrities and really interesting people and gained access to incredible events normally only afforded to the Press and attendees.
He currently works for Turkel Forman & de la Vega, an exceptional law firm that practices in important areas of non-traditional and unrecognized family law (incl. adoptions, family agreements and relationship dissolutions), litigation, commercial and residential real estate, wills and estate planning.
Beyond law, he attends and finds outlet to his creative disposition by planning weddings and private events from conception to fruition; DJ-ing swing and hot jazz music at dances, provide tips on fashion/style and interior design and experiments with fashion/style and portraiture photography.
His hobbies include costuming. For creative examples, he made an outfit mostly out of paper for the Dances of Vice: Dada Revue; whimsical hat with miniature ships and vintage lace for the Dances of Vice Shipwreck Ball; a Mad Hatter-inspired top hat with a framed image of Alice and flying cards and he also made miniature 3-D cards fly out of the frame onto a vest made out of cards for the Dances of Vice: Wonderland event). And of course wild and colorful creations for Coney Island Mermaid Parade
It was only in recent years that he developed a serious interest in vintage fashions from 1920s to 1950s stemming from his relatively recent love of vintage dances like east coast Swing, Lindy Hop and Charleston (they both go hand in hand, so why not dress the part?) That said, Voon, informed by his garcon irreverence, is not extremist or Talibanesque about all this, so he is not afraid of mixing up clothes from different decades—the old and the new. Watch him in the next twelve days do his thing most exquisitely and refreshingly!
Iké Udé /March 9th.
interviews/photographs: iké udé
The trick to answering this question is always go older, and then follow-up with, “Don’t I look good for…….?”
Legal assistant by day. Dabbling in event planner, photography, styling/personal shopping. Fashion/Style Blog is in the works.
New York City
I love color combinations: navy and cream; maroon and grey; etc.
Favorite Fashion Designers:
Peter Som (noted for beautifully mixing fabrics, patterns and textures – his Spring 2010 30s-inspired cruisewear (GUSH!) Mr. Som is an American sportswear designer that focuses on feminine, modern and chic designs. I’ve followed his career for over a decade now and he continues to impress me.
Gareth Pugh. His point of view is unlike my personal aesthetics but I can’t stop admiring his dark, artful creations, which evoke an element of danger. Witnessed a few of his avant garde pieces up close at the Daphne Guiness exhibit in the FIT Museum with my friend Amy Winn. Completely in awe of how the sculptural pieces, which utilize unconventional materials, still adopt feminine wearable silhouettes.
Maki J. Obara of Maison Murasaki. She just had her Fall/Winter 2012/2013 debut at Fashion Week. Glamorous, feminine and just beautifully made clothes inspired from Victorian era with intermix of western and Japanese culture of that period. To excerpt from her press release “whimsical galloping horse print on cotton shirting and carousel horse embroidery infused with traditional Japanese elements such as Asanoha motifs, a geometric pattern worn to the fairgrounds. I’m really excited for her and really impressed with her sophisticated tailoring and pleating work especially.
Favorite Accessories Designer:
For shoes: Cole Haan, Salvatore Ferragamo and Prada.
For hats: Hey Sailor! Hats by Katlyn Mercedes (especially the Flirty Ruffles And Pleats Hand Sculpted Sinamay Cocktail Hat), Behida Dolic Millinery and Brianna Kenyon’s pookaqueen (etsy store) – the felt creations are whimsical and showstoppers).
For jewelry: I have to shamelessly plug my pals Terriely Jewelry (floral earrings and hammered bubbles pendant) and Wren Britton’s Pure Vile line of handmade oddities and curiosities beautifully assembled/crafted from doll parts, antiques, keys, lace, heirloom gems.
Gucci Homme II, YSL pour homme
Favorite Stylish Films:
Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love. Talented Mr. Ripley. Cheri. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. The Fall. (And though not films, I have to commend the wardrobe/costuming on HBO’s miniseries Mildred Pearce and Masterpiece Classic’s Downton Abbey).
Cafes/bars with rustic charm that boasts live hot jazz (such as Harefield Road and Radegast Biergarten). Flea Markets/antique stores. Beautiful parks/secret gardens.
Frenchmen Street in New Orleans. Dry Tortugas off of Key West. Hawaii.
Concoctions with fresh ingredients like ginger, watermelon puree, herbs, lychee (not necessarily together); a hot toddy on a cold winter night; Mango Mojitos in summer.
Who is your style icon(s)?
My mom. It has to stem from somewhere right? She used to run a menswear factory and as a kid it was fascinating to watch her workers roll fabric back and forth as if to make layered cake, but instead they were then cutting them into interesting shapes to make the shirts. It was like an assembly line of people who were on the sewing machines, ironing/steaming and packaging.
Shien Lee, creator of Dances of Vice and all the decadent and creatively-dressed attendees of her magical events (Candice Guttmann, Sara Bender, Anna Boman, The Minsky Sisters (Gin & Kristen), Medianoche and Jeri Lynn Herbert just to name a few).
My favorite stylish couple is Heidi Rosenau and Joe McGlynn who share my affinity for vintage dress and dances. I have much to learn from them, and great admiration.
Heartfelt mention to Diane Naegel who was such a divine flapper girl, sweetheart and stylish individual—we all miss her dearly.
What item of clothing would you rather starve for?
One of the pieces from Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche collections during Tom Ford’s reign
The perfect Thom Browne suit
Really just about anything designed by Alexander McQueen
What is your overall impression of how people dress in general?
Blending in with the scenery too much. On occasion when I see a stylish dresser with a unique point of view cross my path, it puts a smile to my face. I even applaud the pluck of people who are daring to be different however outlandish or zany, especially if they do it with commitment and confidence.
And what do you recommend that they do otherwise?
Don’t immediately rule out something you normally wouldn’t wear or think it may not be your style. Definitely mix things up, but definitely have solid staples that you can pull looks from. On occasion, do a purge, if it’s something you haven’t worn for a long time (notwithstanding unique pieces) probably best to replace and replenish with fresh new pieces that could revive old looks. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Fashion is merely a form of ugliness so unbearable that we are compelled to alter it every six months”. I also don’t believe that clothing should be entirely gender-specific.
PICTURE: #1 INTWELVE ACTS
SPECIAL GUEST INTERVIEW:
VOON CHEW TALKS ABOUT HIS 1ST OUTFIT
What items did you use to compose this particular outfit?
Belted back peak lapel jacket, shirt collar pin and boater hat (all from 1920s)
Vintage GAP linen pants with built-in suspender buttons.
Floral print tie by Arrow, Swank tie bar and rayon print scarf with fringe (all from 1940s)
Magnolia fabric flower pin as boutonniere.
Club Monaco dress shirt.
How did you find the various items that you are wearing?
Antique clothing fairs, flea markets, consignment/thrift stores, retail stores.
How did you arrive at the decision to compose such an outfit?
It must be Sunday. But there’s only a flower on the lapel, so it’s probably not quite Easter yet. Maybe I’m off to Governor’s Island for the Jazz Age Lawn Party. Gotta Gatsby it up! Time to put on my dandy shoes and take a stroll on the streets. I feel one step closer to mimicking Fred Astaire’s incomparable suave and debonair. 500 more baby steps to go.
Where do you normally shop for clothes and accessories?
Vintage stores that benefit charities like Cure, Housing Works and City Opera. I love the randomness of things you might find. It’s green shopping! Reminiscence is costume-oriented but also carries amazing vintage on occasion. I recently scored 1940s rayon scarves and a pair of vintage Parisian 1920s suspenders there. I also recommend Beacon’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange, Odd Twin and Family Jewels. Pippin is great for vintage accessories.
How much role does money or the lack thereof play in one’s endeavor to dress very smart or beautifully?
Huge. I am a bit of a clotheshorse. If I shopped at Bergdorf’s or Bendels on a regular basis I would have to start constructing a shelter out of shoeboxes. To be fiscally responsible and yet indulge my shopaholism, I have to scour for quality gems at a fraction of the price at vintage stores. It is a never-ending quest. Being a thrifta-nista has its price too. You have to approach every piece like a second hand store buyer – inspecting labels for material description, authenticity and sometimes to date a vintage piece. We also have to assess overall condition, look for flaws, stains and damage. It’s time consuming!
What special recommendation would you give somebody who admires your style but don’t know where or how to start?
If they are as appealed by the 1920s to the 1940s as I am, I would say start studying the eras closely by referring to reprint catalogs, fashion books and old photographs. I started with having only one 1920s look but over time have acquired more pieces and have started wearing vintage not only at dress-up themed events but also in everyday life. I’m not a purist (not yet anyway) as I tend to intermix modern pieces to keep people guessing.
Be a sponge and soak up all the inspiring looks around you and then experiment with what works with your own aesthetics/personality. Figure out your strengths/best features and showcase them. It’s good to be inspired by others or a designer’s offering for a collection for example, but never go head-to-toe using one voice. Be comfortable in your own skin and SELL IT!
Name six famous personages—past or present—who you would invite over for dinner/drinks because of their impeccable individualistic elegance?
AUDREY HEPBURN: Gamine beauty, mesmerizing actor and humanitarian. In her presence, I would probably be too smitten the entire time. I hope she would bring Mr. Famous along too. And perhaps wear a similar outfit she had adorned on her rebellious adventure in Roman Holiday—the little scarf, the adorable bangs on her newly cropped hairdo, the ice-cream cone, the scooter, the dancing. What a dream it would be to reenact that day with her in it.
EWAN McGREGOR: His big smile alone. Need we go further? What a guy’s guy. He can rough it on a motorcycle trip from Scotland to Africa (Motorcycle Diaries), stand out amidst all the flamboyance and glitter (Moulin Rouge), glam it up in guyliner (Velvet Goldmine), bowling us over in dark-rimmed glasses (Down With Love) and have you seen the January 2012 issue of GQ. The fashion spread featuring him in preppy looks? Absolutely fresh and winning. I bet he would be a jovial guy to hang out with. He just seems so unpretentious and genuine too.
JASON JEAN and LAURA NEILSON: Jason’s photographic eye on his Citizen Couture blog is spectacular and Laura is a freelance fashion writer with great individual style and a promising future. For one, she has two articles lined up for the New York Times Style Section. They are famous in my eyes and such beautiful people who share my passion for fashion. We could spend hours just talking about anything. Jason and Laura are part of a wider net of talented and creative individuals—artists, dancers, photographers, performers, models, designers etc.— in my life that I am thankful to be associated with. You know who you are.
KATE WINSLET: I find her incredibly beautiful and radiant. Such an accomplished actress who is riveting in whatever role she plays (incl. in films like Finding Neverland, Little Children, Titanic, Holiday and the mini-series Mildred Pierce). It would be an honor to shake her hand. I doubt she’ll be able to give me the time of day but a cute meet-greet at the Il Laboratario gelato place would be surreal.
BILL CUNNINGHAM. He has captured an exciting encyclopedia of fashions, eccentrics, and events and showcased street fashion trends galore. You can’t get more New York than that. He intrigues me to no end and would be fascinating to hang on to his every word. His most recent video entry “Styling on the Street” following creative fashionistas who enmesh the art world into their wardrobe choices was by far my favorite to date.
ALEXA CHUNG. The current host and co-judge on the 24hr Catwalk. I just love the way she speaks. She has been known to wear androgynous or sexless fashions, which is my cup of tea. She can be feminine at times and tomboyish at others. It would be great to be her shadow for a day, get her coffee, pick up her dry-cleaning or fan her or peel her grapes.
I know I’ve gone past the 6, but can I include ZOOEY DESCHANEL as well? Ever since I saw her in 500 days of summer and more recently in the sitcom New Girl, it’s hard not to be infatuated with her quirky girly sense of style (in terms of how she has been portrayed that is, I have no idea how she dresses on a personal level). How beautiful and adorable is she? And extremely funny!
As a result of your style, what is your impression of how you are generally perceived in public?
When I’m dressed in full-on vintage, people have asked if I’m in some kind of period film/theater. People have started to recognize me from seeing me at dance/costume events. Some people seem to appreciate the effort I put into my appearance, while others just think I’m vain—peacocking.
And how would rather the public perceive you?
The public can perceive me any way they want, I doubt it will change how I dress.
Presently, what do you think accounts for the poor appearances in how people generally dress or don’t dress?
I think generalizing seems unfair. It really should be on a case-to-case basis. I have been guilty of scanning a person from head to toe and mumbling under my breath things like, “Oh this navy ensemble is fantastic, had he just gone the extra mile and worn tan or brown shoes instead of the black!”; “Why the sneakers with the dress? Oy!”, “So much going on here… 60s headband, kaleidoscope scarf and polka dot rain boots”…. But who am I to judge or criticize someone else’s appearance unless it was solicited. I do feel that sometimes people dress for comfort first (baggy sweatpants instead of fitted pants; padded walking shoes instead of high heels) but I don’t think we should completely neglect the appearance department. I think we can all learn to dress better. Who knows, you might meet the love of your life at a Laundromat!
In retrospect have you ever worn something that you now find particularly regrettable?
I don’t regret my sartorial blunders in the past, there were plenty I’m sure. Although I have to confess that I am almost completely weaned off of unbreathable fabrics like polyester and acrylic. Progress!
In the end, do you dress to: (a.) please others, (b.) please yourself or (c.) hopefully be in agreement with everybody?
Mostly (b.) and a little bit of (a.) as my insecurities do take over sometimes, and it would be dishonest to ignore the part of ourselves that do seek approval from our peers.