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 hypnotizing 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.


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 percent 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.


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.


“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, Ty 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 percent 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.



In part four of our interview series “In Dialogue With“, we speak to Australian luxury brand Song for the Mute about the essence of craftsmanship, the exciting process of developing specially designed fabrics and about garments as a channel of communication. The design duo also talks about calmness despite a driving enthusiasm, about their own emotions infusing every garment and the wistfulness upon sending off a new collection into the world. A wonderfully open, honest and inspiring story which reveals the true value of craftsmanship, design and esthetics and leaves you with a soft smell of old books and paper.


Who are the masterminds behind Song for the Mute?
Lyna Ty and Melvin Tanaya.


What’s the genesis behind Song for the Mute? Coincidence or a long-awaited dream?
LT: Song for the Mute has always been an ever-evolving experience. It is a reflection of our own growth. We started from nothing and built the business brick by brick. What this journey has taught us is to take things as they come and build one thing at a time without rushing through the thrill of it. We have just launched our womenswear, but that was never really planned either. It just felt right at this time in our growth and so we decided to take that next step. But what is most important is that if you have taken the choice to make that leap, make it a good one and make sure you put your all in it. That is when it gets really exciting.

So I guess it’s a combination of both coincidence and a long-awaited dream.


Wherein lies the essence of Song for the Mute?
LT: Creation is an emotion for me, and in these garments, I am able to voice my own identity. Every collection we put out has a meaningful, personal and emotional story behind it. We are so deeply connected to the work itself that we take even the smallest things very personally and very seriously. All of these emotions become infused in our work.


What is the story behind your paradoxical brand name Song for the Mute?
MT: We designed the entire first collection without having a name for the label. We knew what we wanted the label to be about, but we had trouble finding the right name to represent it.

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 – e.g. a very close friend of ours was deported back to his country as he decided to take up design instead of what his parents wanted him to study.

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 reinfuse 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.


Design is a process in motion. Where is there movement in Song for the Mute, and where is the strict red line?
MT: This label almost acts like a communication channel that we use to voice our thoughts and feelings. When it comes to design, Lyna is a very artistic thinker – she designs for the moment. How she feels, her mood and what she is experiencing and/or has experienced all add significantly to the development of our concepts. To be able to portray these emotions through the form of clothing requires her to develop new shapes, develop new styles and develop new ways of making garments.

Lyna and I might have different interpretations when it comes to the label, but there is always a huge synergy between us when it comes to designing our collections. I think this is one of the major reasons why we decided to start this project together – we both strongly believe in the core concept behind this label: the fact that people can come to their own conclusions, see their own stories or be moved for their own reasons. It’s personal, yet universal at the same time.


Where do you find the ideas and inspirations for your design work, and how do you manage to make them a reality?
MT: Before we start sketching or commence the design process, we begin with the fabric. It’s always the first step when we make a new garment, and Lyna and I stay in contact with our fabric suppliers as much as possible. We’ll try and visit them regularly throughout the season, and many of Lyna’s ideas for the collection come after a trip to see them. It’s rare that we design something without knowing what we are working with.

Lyna draws her designs with the cloth already in mind. That’s essential if we want to give our customers the highest quality possible; we continually search for fabrics that are special – fabrics that talk to us in a certain way. Lyna then tries to find the best way to use this fabric. We have to think about how the fabric will react to the design, the construction, and particularly the comfort. Ultimately, we use the fabric itself as our inspiration.


It is known that Song for the Mute develops its own unique fabrics. How does this extensive and complex process work?
MT: The progress towards developing our own fabrics was very organic, it wasn’t a goal that we set at the beginning of the label. It takes a very long time to build your relationship with the fabric mills. Some mills we have started working with more than three to four years ago, and it is only recently that we have been able to create our own fabrics with them. We don’t see this process as work at all, instead I think it’s the most exciting part about the whole thing. I often describe Lyna as “like a kid in a candy store” every time we go to Japan and Italy to develop our fabrics. We can spend days in one single room.


Does each collection arise from pure creativity, or is there a strong connection to your personalities? Emotions, mood, etc.?
LT: I guess my and Melvin’s characters come through in our garments. We put in our all each season and each collection is a piece of us. We don’t like to be stuck in comfort. We are big believers of always moving forward.


Colors – emotion, mood, moment, motion? In which way do colors affect your collections and stories? Do they?
LT: I don’t see black and white as colors. I see them as more of a medium that I can use to tell a story through their different tones and textures. It’s so rich. However, with time and age – and all the experiences that we have had over the past five years –, our life has become more dynamic, and we wanted to reflect this. We have started to introduce more and more colors into the collection.


Do you have an important and clear message to the world and its devastating fashion companies?
MT: A wise man just told me that nowadays your product only counts as 20%, the remaining 80% are all about social media and hype. This really breaks my heart. What happened to craftsmanship?


Craftsmanship, what does it mean to the work of Song for the Mute?
LT: Every season, we try to introduce something new to our collection – whether it’d be new fabrication, whole-garment knitwear, denims, accessories, and so on. It does not matter how long we’ve worked on a particular design – if we don’t feel the end result is 100%, we won’t release it. There was a fabric that we worked on for two years and the end result was still wasn’t right. It was very heartbreaking to do, especially after spending so much time on, it but we decided to scrap it from the collection. It’s about quality, not quantity. I see every piece of SFTM as an extension of myself.


Craftsmanship as the real, natural, unique and individual characteristic of a fashion designer obviously loses its value. Authenticity has changed: craftsmanship has been replaced by social media and artisans have been replaced by industrial society. The value of slow but good quality has been displaced by a fast pace and mass production without asking for quality. What happened? Who is responsible for this change, in your opinion?
MT: Somewhere along the way, our own society suppressed creativity and craftsmanship. When the industrial revolution occurred, everything became standardized and everything needed to be in order and fast-paced. I still remember when we were kids. In art class, the kids that were drawing inside the line were praised and everyone else who did something different got scolded. Isn’t art class supposed to be the class where you can truly express yourself? Ultimately, it is really up to the consumer whether they succumb.


Today’s fashion industry is dominated by price pressure, mass production and cheap labor abroad. What are your thoughts on this fast-moving, destructive and degrading business?
MT: Obviously, fast fashion can devalue and ruin the excitement people used to feel when they view a new collection. However, we try not to think about what others are doing and just focus on our own work. External factors such as these are beyond our control, but it’s also part of the business. I welcome it as a challenge.


After catastrophes a part of the fashion industry is making efforts to fight for fair production and organic materials. Does this issue take much of your attention? What’s your attitude regarding this?
LT: A great idea is a start, but execution is everything. Song for the Mute means everything to us, and we want to make sure that every stage of production is of the highest quality possible by making sure that all of our garments are locally made here in Australia. This allows us to oversee every stage of the process and helps us keep an eye on the brand that we’ve put a lot of time and hard work into building.

MT: To make sure we’re involved, Lyna and I have a transparency agreement with our makers. When our fabrics are sent off for cutting, for example, we make sure we know who the cutters are and what they’re like. By doing so, not only can we achieve a much greater quality control but we also have the chance to observe the work environment of everyone involved with the brand. Lyna and I inspect all the pieces individually in post-production. We see every single piece off – it’s almost like sending off a child into the world.


Is there a deeper message behind each collection, or is it pure creativity without any deeper thoughts?
LT: I only want to voice my own identity in the hope of connecting with other people out there who share the same feeling and would like their own voices to be heard and their identities to be seen.


Do you see yourself as an artist rather than as a designer? In your opinion, is there a distinction at all between the two?
MT: Everyone is an artist in their own way, whether they know it or not. As long as you have a soul, you are an artist. An “artist” doesn’t just produce paintings, drawings, music, etc. Artistry comes in many different forms.


Song for the Mute: business or passion?
MT: Both.


What does the umbrella term “art” mean to you?
MT: A gut feeling.


Statement or understatement?
LT: Understatement.


Silence or sound?
LT: A harmony.


Brightness or darkness?
LT: Somewhere in between.


Three words that describe Song for the Mute?
MT: Fabric-driven garments.


What is the characteristic smell of Song for the Mute?
LT: Old books and paper.


  • 2016
  • 2015