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Ryan O'Toole Collett – Youths In Balaclava
Photography © Ryan O'Toole Collett

The anarchic Singaporean high school clique that became a fashion brand

British photographer Ryan O'Toole Collett travelled to Singapore and met a self-sustained, functioning community called Youths in Balaclava

Youths in Balaclava – or YIB – is a collective and a brand that started off as a lunch break clique in school. Finding inspiration in the likes of Rei KawakuboJun Takahashi and Takahiro Miyashita “who brought Asian pride to fashion”, YIB began as a group of six friends aged 18 to 23 looking to channel their energy through style, and create “a ripple in the current culture” along the way. With zero money and no guidance, they picked up knowledge from books, the internet, and meticulously observing the cutting and fabrics of clothes they loved. In 2015, the band launched a couple of tees before getting more experimental, having since then produced three collections: “Traitors 2 Society”, “Twisted Paradise” and “Stigma”. As to the creative process, “Anarchy is key” a member explained.

“They are a self-sustained, functioning community. I think it’s really cool for people so young to be so organised” – Ryan O’Toole Collett

Ryan O’Toole Collett, a photographer from London, is used to genre-bending assignments, from shooting for fashion brands, such as the OFF-WHITE C/O ART DAD capsule collection to running personal projects, including his exploration of identity in America’s Deep South. Upon graduating from UAL, the image-maker first collaborated with Dover Street Market in 2016, and linked with the retailer the year after again, this time to bring in his skills as a chronicler of culture. Last July, Collett travelled to Singapore to cover DSM’s latest store opening, and, in an attempt to show that the island-country is more than a “very clean”, “futuristic” oasis, he documented the community of defiant creatives known as “Youths in Balaclava”. The trip has since culminated in the launch of a special celebratory t-shirt by YIB, launching tomorrow at Dover Street Market in Singapore, New York, London, and Tokyo.

During the week he spent with YIB, Collett embarked on a trip through the depths of a small scene “filled with familiar faces”, like-minded artists and musicians. “They are a self-sustained, functioning community”, Collett explains, “I think it’s really cool for people so young to be so organised.” Through the photographs, Youths in Balaclava comes across as much more than an aesthetic or a label, it is a space for these kids to escape the harsh reality of a society – known in Singapore as kiasu culture – that is obsessed with achievement and the fear of failure.  “Growing up in Singapore” one member told the photographer, “you’re taught to study hard to be a doctor or a lawyer. You get looked down upon if you don’t do well in school. But fuck that, some people study so hard but they don’t get a job that they love.” Back in London, Collett depicts YIB's sense of freedom through a genre-crossing photobook of the same name. “The YIB pictures are a documentary representation but you could look at them as if they were a fashion shoot”. 

Youths in Balaclava and a special celebratory t-shirt by YIB will launch in DSM Singapore, New York, London, and Tokyo on January 13, click here to find out more