In the first of our studio sessions, we visit the design studio of menswear label Song for the Mute.


Photography Daniel Le Breton

The menswear label of collaborators and business partners Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Ty, Song for the Mute, has navigated a rapid ascent since its inception in 2010. With a unique aesthetic that straddles traditional tailoring and avant-garde styling with the employment of innovative, boundary-pushing fabrics, many of them taking months to develop, the label has fast gained international recognition, with stockists now throughout Asia, Europe and North America, in addition to a flagship concept store in Sydney and shelf space in luxury department store Harrolds. In the first of our ongoing Studio Sessions, in which we visit the design spaces of talented creatives to uncover their work process, we visit Mr Tanaya and Ms Ty in their new space in Sydney’s inner west. 

How would you each describe your personal style?
MELVIN TANAYA I change my style quite often as I get bored easily, but at heart I gravitate towards oversized silhouettes, soft tailoring and I hardly deviate from black and white. Keeping it quite simple on top with a classic blazer but being a little more playful with my choice of pants; cropped with a pair of high socks is best. I also find my style is influenced by the upcoming collection that we’re designing, which isn’t hugely surprising as we tend to design things we like.

LYNA TY In a broader design sense I like anything that’s classic or old, I’m fascinated with the history of things and their patina. Looking back to look forward. When it comes to dressing I prefer a more relaxed, layered look, wrapped in an oversized silhouette.

How did you make your new design and retail space feel like home?
MT It’s raw and minimal but always evolving. We fell in love with the high, open ceilings, uncoated raw brick walls and the slick black polished concrete so we didn’t want to do too much to it, but as the business grows we’re always adding more elements. It’s a work in progress.

The initial layout and design was done by our friend Christen Meli, a Sydney-based architect, and in keeping with the minimal aesthetic of the space we chose to use materials like stone for the counter, wooden benchtops and exposed steel racks and doors.

Oh, and the crazy black elastic installation that separates our work space from the retail part, that’s Lyna’s creative brainchild. We had to arrange for portable scaffolding to come in so we could run the cords all the way from the floor to the roof, and then she sat there for four days straight cutting and tying to create the final 3-D shape.

What can you tell us about the new collection?
MT For fall/winter 2015 we’ve pushed our fabric development further than ever. We’ve got that expectation now to be producing standout fabrics so we are constantly trying to push the envelope. One fabrication we’re particularly excited about is the result of one and a half years of development, back and forth between our mills in Japan until we have produced a fabric we’re happy with.

LT People can expect an evolution in our silhouettes and direction as well. I don’t want to give too much away, but anyone who follows Song for the Mute knows that no two collections look the same. This collection will have a focus on tailoring and I’ll be getting the fabric to be as expressive as possible through that framework.

What influences the design process?
MT I would love to say music but according to the team my music taste is a little weird – at least they’re honest. So besides my own mood and feelings, I look to both my wife and Lyna for inspiration. They keep me focused and driven.

LT It all depends on what the brand and I are going through at the moment. Our own experiences reflect a lot in what we design so each collection is deeply linked to both Melvin and I. The other source of inspiration for us is fabric – it’s truly the core of the brand and we do our best to communicate that feeling to our wearer in a similarly organic way.

What is the design process from start to finish?
LT Before I even begin with sketching or the designing process, I start with the fabric. This begins with regular trips to our fabric mills in the lead up to the season; these trips are the start of many of the ideas for the collection. It’s pretty rare that we design something without knowing what kind of fabric we are working with.

With those ideas in my mind and the fabric as my starting point I begin the drawing process. I’m always conscious of creating designs that allow the inherent qualities of the fabric to show, but designing menswear I have to be particularly aware of the utility of the garment. Menswear is as much about comfort and practicality as it is looks.

Who does what along the way?
MT We both develop the fabrics together and once this step is complete I leave the design to Lyna. I let her imagination run wild and it’s my job to cost everything as we go through and keep on track financially.

What music is on high rotation in the studio?
MT This depends on the mood or the task we need to get done for the day. When Lyna gets creative, she puts on something obscure… and French! Day to day, we’ve been putting on a lot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a Sven Väth mix when the team needs to get pumped up. When I’m alone I prefer working in complete silence… it helps me focus.

Who are your design icons?
LT Yohji Yamamoto for his passion for black and its aesthetic, for his endless master tailoring, influential philosophy and life devotion to this industry. I have the greatest respect for him.

Where do you love travelling to, and how does it feed back into your work?
LT Paris is still very close to my heart. It fills my passion for older, historical influences and I love getting lost in that world.

MT I make any excuse to get myself to Japan. I absolutely adore that country. Growing up I’ve always seen Japan as a magical place and every time I go it never disappoints. The people and the culture never cease to amaze me. Their devotion to their work, no matter how hard or simple it is… they want to master it completely. A lot of our mills are located in Japan and seeing them first hand and how much work they put into each fabric fuels me in a way that I don’t want to disappoint these people. I strive to do their fabric justice.

Signature scent?
MT Terre d’Hermès by Hermès.

LT Avignon by Comme des Garcons.

What designers do you personally wear?
MT Even though I’m one half of Song for the Mute, I still love to wear pieces from other designers. There are too many beautiful pieces out there to just wear one brand head to toe. Looking at my wardrobe while I’m answering this, I’ve got a few pieces by Yohji Yamamoto, Carol Christian Poell and Takahiro Miyashita TheSoloist. I spend a lot of time trying to find what I felt like were the best of each designer’s work. Yohji for his timeless, effortless layering and tailoring, Carol Christian Poell for his unforgiving construction and finishing where his pieces are almost like wearable ‘art’, and finally Takahiro Miyashita for his deconstructed, organic pieces.

What is the guiding principle behind Song for the Mute?
MT The core idea of the label has always been about self-empowerment. There are a lot of people, who through peer pressure, past difficulties or just unfairly high expectations from those around them, are pushed to do things they dislike. Some don’t have a choice at all. Especially coming from an Asian background, creativity is often seen as a dead end.

Song for the Mute originated from our desire to create something that could communicate to a customer more deeply and represent something meaningful. ‘Why did you draw that piece? What do you want to say?’ Those are the kind of questions we want to ask, and Song for the Mute is an attempt to re-infuse some passion and belief that makes clothing worth wearing. We wanted to create pieces that were intriguing in a deeper sense; we want each piece to tell a story.

What’s the next big project for you?
MT & LT Womenswear.