The entrance to the Song for the Mute atelier in Sydney, Australia, reveals exposed brick walls rising from the roughly polished black concrete floors. Bare wooden beams cross the soaring warehouse ceiling, while large industrial lights give the space a warm hue. Garments line the perimeters, light capturing the hypnotising textures of wool, sun-dried cotton, alpaca and mohair, rewarding curiosity and interaction at every step. There is a sense of cohesion to the space; no detail has gone unnoticed, every element speaking to the ethos that underpins the label. It’s clear the goal for Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Ty—the founders of Song for the Mute—is to create clothing that encapsulates their dedication and passion for craft and tell a personal story curated over many years.
Tanaya and Ty launched Song for the Mute in 2010 after identifying a need for directional artisanal clothing within Australian fashion. Tanaya’s background in visual communication and business combined with Ty’s fashion education from the Accademia Italiana Di Moda in Italy created the ideal milieu to share their obsession with quality and innovation. “The clothes are unique, not only to anything I’ve seen in Australia, but quite frankly, anything I’ve seen in the world,” says Nick Wooster, a menswear authority with over 25 years experience within the fashion industry.
The clothes are unique, not only to anything I’ve seen in Australia, but quite frankly, anything I’ve seen in the world,
Tanaya and Ty understood the concept of the Song for the Mute brand very early, and that they needed to seek and collaborate with artisans and specialist garment makers to achieve their experimental methodology. This approach has informed and dictated the entire life cycle of their collections, from sourcing, to creation and final garment construction. Ty reflects, “I would estimate that 70 per cent of the design process is spent sourcing and developing fabric—which can take up to two to three months”. This focus on curated fabric choice and development is the essential first step in the design process. During their annual trips to Japan, the pair will spend days exploring fabric mills, sampling and examining the texture, weight, touch, and drape of each swatch. “It’s that gut feeling,” Tanaya explains. “We always choose those special fabrics that speak to us.” All of the critical fabric characteristics act as a catalyst, which then shape the concept and story for each new collection.
Photo courtesy of Song for the Mute.
Photo courtesy of Song for the Mute.
If orthodox methods of material production prove to be insufficient, the designers are known to revive long forgotten techniques. One such example is the reintroduction of the needle punch technique, where two different fibres are mechanically weaved and interlocked, seamlessly fusing them together. The process can only be achieved by a small number of fabric mills in the world. “The possibilities are endless,” says Tanaya. This unique process results in an emphatic visual outcome, distinct in depth and textural quality. If traditional methods cannot be revived, the duo research advanced technologies to provide additional elements to their chosen materials. Dream Care is a process utilised to make wool water repellent by coating each fibre thoroughly before the weaving process. Ty demonstrates these properties in the studio, pointing out how water beads glide down the soft and luxurious wool. She goes on to comment that these new modes of material production challenge consumer assumptions about natural fibres.
Photo courtesy of Song for the Mute.
“We have to think about how the fabric will best react to the design idea, the construction, and particularly the comfort,” says Tanaya. By using a live model to shape and mould each new piece, Song for the Mute ensure that the initial pattern construction is directed by how these fabrics adapt to the contours of the human body, much like a second skin. From the placement of buttons along the waist to determine shape, to the angle and location of pockets and seams that best react to the body’s movement, each decision is repeatedly assessed until the duo reach a desired outcome. “It’s also extremely rare that we design something without knowing what fabric qualities we are working with, Lyna draws her designs with the cloth already in mind.”
This eye for detail extends to their design collaborations, with the most notable being established with Japanese jewellery designer Noriaki Sakamoto of IOLOM. Tanaya and Ty were introduced to Sakamoto through a mutual friend, Daisuke Nishida, the designer of cult Japanese label DEVOA. Sakamoto’s work shares many of the design principles distinct in Song for the Mute. “The Japanese don’t want to compromise on anything when it comes to quality and construction, they view their product as an extension of who they are,” explains Tanaya. Sakamoto handcrafted each silver hook in the shirting and tailoring of the latest season, preferring to use the highest quality .950 per cent silver. These small touches add a provenance to each piece and bring a collections narrative to life.
“We started with a very specific vision, and admit to some failures and deviations along the way. With each season these realisations have helped shape our understanding of what best fits the Song for the Mute story,” says Ty. The design duo have shed the constant pressure to follow the status quo, quickly learning that the best collections are produced when instinct is embraced over trend. Whether it be the immediately recognisable profile silhouette of the cocoon jackets, the asymmetric fastening details on leg and footwear, or the raw hems that evolve over a garments lifetime, the designs are subversive yet remain approachable. “People want quality products,” says Tanaya, “and we shouldn’t be afraid to follow that philosophy.”
Song for the Mute rewards inquisition of, and an obsession with, quality and detail. Both Tanaya and Ty’s collaborations are on a trajectory that feels both confident and inspired. “Our inspiration and creativity is constantly evolving, the aim is to open new areas of exploration at every step, so we’re pushing ourselves both technically and creatively. With progress there is always an element of uncertainty, but we wouldn’t have it any other way” reflects Tanaya.
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Materials of reconstruction
Known for ‘painting without paint’, Burri would tear, stitch, burn and batter his creations into submission. In the words of the Italian critic, Emilio Vila, Burri’s works were “nourished by matter that conserves only a tragic reminiscence of painting, almost as if it were asphyxiated; a material that is devitalised, impoverished, rotted, consumed and already wasted away”.