Letter From The Editor: Vintage Forward

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen! (drumroll, please) page five Issue 100! 

What a great milestone to cap a year of milestones. The year has been such a blur that it’s worth taking a moment to ask: "WHERE DID 2016 GO?"

Judging from my Instagram feed, it seems like I’m not the only one asking that question. So I took some time to browse my paper agenda where I keep every meeting, event, trip, deadline and everything else for the year (yes, I know, not very high-tech for a startup, but oh-so effective). Only then did I realise just how remarkable a year 2016 had been for THE FIFTH COLLECTION. Our many milestones include this 100th issues of page five, our first event showcasing the first-ever tattooed Hermès Kelly bag (and I mean literally #inked), a successful first funding round from new investors, our first award (Best Singapore Startup), and our first six-digit sale!

I’m breathless just thinking about the crazy, rewarding and overwhelming ride that 2016 has been. In the process, we increased our mastery of the art of managing busy schedules and multitasking. But I think what kept us going is the  THE FIFTH COLLECTION is the great team spirit and a philosophy of start small and build strong versus fake it 'til you make it. 

page five Issue 100 is just one example; we have produced around 500 articles of entirely original content. It's the result of countless hours of meetings, writing, shooting, fixing bugs and, just as importantly, fun. From books, movies, beauty, fashion, looks and even technology, we’ve covered it almost all, pushing ourselves weekly and then bi-weekly to bring you what we thought would interest you while keeping it real. page five is entirely made in house (no outsourcing here) while still managing the bulk of our business - the day-to-day operations of THE FIFTH COLLECTION. Your comments, emails, whatsapps about some of our featured articles kept us motivated. Knowing that some went through a closet detox thanks to us, or purchased one of our favourite beauty products or that some of you start their day with our oat’s couture breakfast this is what gives us the energy to keep going and do even more in the new year. A big THANK YOU… and please keep those comments coming 😉 

So now back to the “Vintage Forward” event and collection… 

Some of you know that we've had an ongoing collaboration with Manifesto store at Capitol Piazza that started about a year ago. Seeing the success it had, we decided that take it a step further and this is when the idea of co-hosting an event came about. An event where we could showcase our curation work, meet our collectors and celebrate the “upcycle" movement. We managed to curate 40 exceptional vintage pieces ranging from handbags, custom jewellery, clothes as well as vintage posters sourced internationally. But we wanted to do more. Yes, we wanted to highlight the vintage craftsmanship and encourage collectors to make pieces their own by mix and matching vintage piece with what is already in their closets. We also wanted to shake up the status quo by fully embracing REcycling, REselling, REpairing, Repurposing. And this is when the crazy idea of tattooing a bag came all about it. We wanted to express row idea that instead of being troubled by the flaws in a piece, why not use them as creative inspiration and build on them?

Serendipity made it possible: on one of our buying trips, we found the perfect muse for our concept: a Kelly bag in Chamonix leather from 1997 that had accumulated some water marks over the years, but was otherwise in great condition and an outstanding piece. I would have actually had no problem carrying it as it was, but how cool would it be that one elaborate on its flaws to give it a second life. So with the help of the uber-talented Bernice Chua, we tattooed the bag with a design that showcased where we are from: Singapore. Mynah birds and the Vanda Miss Joaquim Orchids simply made sense without being clichéd. Bernice played along and first tested with TFC on the inner flap and we refined our approach to make it work. After that, Bernice sketched the main design and it was just perfect. Then Bernice took 2 days with not much sleep to tattoo the bag. At the unveiling, it was an unequivocal hit with our collectors and the press.

As we go to print, I believe we have even inspired a few people to contact Bernice to REpair, Repurpose and REdo some of their own beloved handbags.

With no further ado, we’re proud to share a video of the piece de resistance, THE FIFTH COLLECTION Vintage Forward Kelly:

Chit Chat with tattoo artist Bernice Chua

THE FIFTH COLLECTION: What were your first thoughts when we approached you to tattoo the vintage Kelly?
Bernice Chua: It was actually quite daunting because tattooing on leather is not a common process and artists that succeeded in this did not share tips as they took years to perfect their technique. I thought that it was challenging, also partly because the vintage Kelly is an extremely expensive bag and I am supposed to "ruin" it. 

THE FIFTH COLLECTION: Tell us the process of tattooing this bag. How is it different from tattooing on human skin? And what are certain precautions you have to take, or what did you do differently?
Bernice Chua: I first researched on how to tattoo on leather, what were the difficulties that others faced etc. One of the major issues was the staining of the bag because of wiping away excess ink. It is quite different from tattooing on human skin because leather does not heal and it does not retain the ink like human skin. You are essentially scratching the surface of the leather with a needle. The process is more like carving or etching. I had to make sure that the ink does not stain the bag by cling wrapping surfaces that I'm not working on and to clean away huge dots of ink immediately before it stains the leather. Filling in the blacks of the design was different as well.

In tattooing, we would pack the ink in with circular motions but that would not work for leather. Thus, the blacks are painstakingly filled in, stroke by stroke, multiple times to build up shapes. This also created texture that is reminiscent of feathers so it worked well with the overall design.

Behind-the-scenes look at the tattooing process of the vintage Hermès Kelly bag

The whole process is very time consuming with preparation and also the constant changing of needles as they get blunt very fast from the constant puncturing of a hard surface.

THE FIFTH COLLECTION: Tell us about the design - why Mynah? And, since every tattoo design has a specific meaning, what's the meaning behind this artwork? 
Bernice Chua: Nejla conveyed her intentions for the design of this bag, stating that she would hope for Singapore icons to be represented.

She spoke of the Vanda Miss Joaquim and also the Peranakan tiles. I thought that since the Kelly is so structured, a more organic composition would work better. There were also water stains that I had to cover so I wanted something that would contribute some level of contrast. I also realised that the mynahs were never used in any product to represent Singapore and yet, they are practically everywhere here and such a big part of our hawker culture, which is very Singaporean.

Nejla also spoke of how she hoped that the people here would make vintage or luxury items a part of their daily lives - to put bags to good use by actually utilising them for errands etc. The mynahs then fit perfectly with this ideology where something common has the potential to pair well with something exquisite.

THE FIFTH COLLECTION: How long did the whole process take? 
Bernice Chua: Coming up with the design took about 2 days as I had to consider scale and placement. The tattooing process took about 2 days.

THE FIFTH COLLECTION: What other fashion items would you like to try to tattoo on next? Why?
Bernice Chua: I would actually like to try something of a smaller scale but higher cycle of usage like wallets and shoes as an experiment to see how the tattooed surface would change when exposed to the elements or with constant handling so that I can alter my technique/tools etc. to produce better results.


Bernice Chua, 27, is a menswear designer by profession and freelance illustrator. She is also an adjunct lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts. To keep up with her latest works, follow her on @eatdiamonddust on Instagram!