By Celene Sakurako
Spend a day with 22-year-old designers Abraham Guardian and Mamuro Oki of avant-garde fashion brand HA.MÜ and you’ll understand why the life-long adage of “opposites attract” prevails. Ham a maximalist and Mamu a minimalist, the two go together like a suit and tie—or in their case, a skirt and tie. With Mamu born and bred in Manila, and Ham raised in Singapore, the kooky couple says that they wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde Manila, where they spent four years studying Fashion Design and Merchandising together. And we are glad that they did.
As they appear today, two years after showing their joint graduation collection in 2017, which they’ve since presented in Manila Fashion Festival, Bench Fashion Week, and, just recently, at Tokyo de Palais in Paris last June 21, the equilibrial duo is completely in sync. Despite their obvious differences—Mamu is more reserved, soft-spoken, and drawn to subtlety, whereas Ham is bubbly, quick to babble, and essentially loud—somehow, there is an inexplicable harmony between the two, as they effortlessly finish each other’s sentences as if it were their own.
Through the years of evolving from classmates to lovers who work together, it's evident that Ham and Mamu have found a way to balance each other’s oddities out, and their brainchild HA.MÜ is the solidification of it. Visually bold with unconventional prints and materials in vivid colors, yet distinctly structured with intricate details, every piece from HA.MÜ’s past collections “Clothes; Not Clothes” (2017), “Child’s Play” (2018), and “Mama! Mama! There are monsters under my bed!” (2018) poses as organized chaos.
While others might typically repel from the very idea of opposing forces, Ham and Mamu openly welcome it, maybe even crave it. In fact, the two don’t seem to care about norms. As Ham puts it, “Our clothing has no form, figure, or gender, and each collection has no connection to each other; it just happens through what we feel at the time.” Mamu adds, “Designers usually follow a design process, pero for us, iba-iba. Sometimes, una muna 'yung gitna, or una muna yung dulo.” Their first collection, inspired by the “in-between of parallel universes,” was conjured after binge-watching Stranger Things. Their next two collections are nostalgic products of their distinct childhood memories. When it comes to experimenting and drawing from the bizarre, the two truly know no bounds. Constricted by nothing, each piece is as free as it comes.
As for designing genderless clothing, Ham recalls how it began when they were out thrifting, and Mamu, who grew up as a cross-dressing toddler and lists his childhood staples as skirts, wigs, and Bratz dolls, posed the question, “Bakit 'yung damit ng babae magaganda? Tapos yung sa lalaki ang boring?” This brought them to the conclusion that, “In a bigger perspective, clothing really has no gender. Because anyone can actually wear it. As long as it works for them.”
This epiphany became part of the HA.MÜ DNA, right then and there. As Ham elaborates, “If a guy wants to wear a bralette, let him wear a bralette! If a guy wants to wear a skirt, let him wear a skirt! If a girl wants to wear a tuxedo suit twice her size, or even five times her size, let her do it! I think gender-based clothing is just another social construct. People just label it to make things easier, but in some ways, in today’s generation, it has made things more complicated than it should’ve been to begin with.”
But for those who are still discovering their style and wanting to experiment, Mamu advises, “Baby steps. It’s okay to be afraid. But don’t be afraid to at least try. There’s nothing wrong with trying, and if it doesn’t go well, just try another one.”
“It’s normal to be scared, but always remember that you’re doing it for yourself, because it will make you happy. Sometimes you have to realize that your happiness comes before anyone else, even if it means expressing yourself through clothing, makeup, or an egregious hair color or hairstyle,” Ham quips, who himself dons two-tone microbangs.
The key, they stress, is to be comfortable in what you’re wearing. Underneath the extravagant frills and layers of patchworks that have become a constant in their designs, a rule that they both take to heart when it comes to HA.MÜ is that they just want their customers to feel comfortable, confident, and empowered.
As they join 50 artists of different fields from Dhaka, Lagos, Manila, Mexico and Tehran, at Palais de Tokyo—the largest center of contemporary art in Europe—for the large-scale exhibition about developing megacities aptly titled City Prince/sses, the duo divulges that their collection is inspired by “feelings.” After it runs from June 21 to September 8, the two plan to shoot a lookbook, and release a ready-to-wear line based on it to make it more accessible for everyone.
While it’s only been two years since HA.MÜ has gone from a mere college thesis to a full-blown fashion brand, Ham and Mamu are enroute to making their dreams of “elevating Philippine fashion and eventually putting a pin on Manila in the world map of fashion.”
Photographed by Renzo Navarro
Creative Direction by Madel Asuncion
Art Direction by Mikka Caronan
Clothes by HA.MÜ
Hair and Makeup by Zidjian Floro for Laura Mercier
Video Produced by Deiniel Cuvin
Video Edited by Heintje Mendoza
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