Almost 20 years after its controversial release, Royston Tan’s film “15” is now getting the streetwear treatment thanks to Youths in Balaclava.

The Singapore fashion collective has launched a new capsule collection under its sub-label, YIB Bandits, to celebrate the cult classic film. The collection, dubbed “The Bond of Bandits”, includes an array of graphic T-shirts, hoodies, tote bags as well as desk mats, all featuring references to Tan’s gangster flick.

One T-shirt features a striking film still of a protagonist getting their face pierced, while another long-sleeved shirt is printed with a monologue that reflects the camaraderie of outsiders: “We have no family, only the brotherhood”.

These references would be more than familiar to Singaporeans who caught 15 back when it was released in 2003. It was the first feature film by local filmmaker Royston Tan, and it offered a rare, unflinching look at the lives of real Singaporean teenage gang members. Through its unique part-documentary, part-drama format, 15 covered topics such as gangs, drugs, fighting, piercing, self-harm and suicide.

While 15 would go on to see its share of success — it became the first Singapore movie to compete at the Venice Film Festival — it was also met with plenty of controversy. The Singapore Police Force considered the film a threat to national security, requesting that the film be heavily edited due to its use of real gang names and secret society chants.

Still, with its authentic storytelling, the film would end up speaking to a generation of Singaporean youths who didn’t feel that they fit into the city’s squeaky-clean image, as it did to Youths in Balaclava member Kasyfi Hakeem. “This film is important to so many other teens when they were growing up, my personal experience included,” shared the designer over email. “[It represents] the mutual feeling of hitting rock bottom, with no direction, no goal, just floating. A universal language.”

Hakeem first reached out to Royston Tan about a collaboration in 2019. The director eventually gave Youths in Balaclava his “blessings” to use his film stills and material across their collection, which is up now on the brand’s website. The collection will also be available globally across Dover Street Market stores in London, Los Angeles and New York.

Fans of Youths in Balaclava will no doubt see the parallels between the cast of 15 and the Singapore-based creative collective, which started out with a band of self-labelled anarchic, marginalised teenagers. “We live in such a tight system in terms of laws, what you can say, what you cannot say,” shared founder Taufyq Iskandar. “So we make clothes in reflection of certain ideas we want to express. At the end of the day, that’s what we want to project out to the people.”

Their DIY, irreverent approach to fashion worked: they would go onto be picked up by Dover Street Market, that hallowed arbiter of cool established by Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo, and eventually held their debut at Paris Fashion Week. They have also launched their second fashion line, YIB Bandits, to offer clothes and merchandise that invite people “to reminisce and celebrate the pleasures and pains of the youths and everyone in between”. With their latest capsule collection, they certainly hit that nail on the head.

 

Header photo credit: Youths in Balaclava

Pameyla Cambe
Senior Writer
Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.