For 24-year-old Singaporean photographer Joseph Koh, Damnsel is a visual compendium that documents the unique fashion styles of over 50 women and femme-identifying individuals in Singapore today. Citing Chikashi Suzuki and Shoichi Aoki as influences, Koh’s photos depict how fashion is a visual language for self-expression and autonomy. Be it hand-crafted accessories or culturally significant belongings, Damnsel’s personalities are pictured in eclectic ensembles that reflect their identities.
Among Damnsel’s stylish cognoscenti, a common sensibility is a preference for nonconformity, fluidity and experimentation. For Farah Sudiro, Celine Lam (who also goes by Blue) and Natalie Dykes, whose manner of dressing is “free-form” and “ever-changing”, clothing expresses their personalities and boosts their confidence. Having a personal style, according to former fashion student Zhong Zhe Han, involves a journey of self-reflection and exploration that is connected to her self-esteem and beliefs. Similarly, Joey Oh and Myo Thet Hnin believe that finding one’s taste is more important than copying trends and yielding to others’ opinions. Being in control of one’s image is also necessary in the eyes of Loo Wen Xin, a 26-year-old photographer who finds empowerment and agency in her sartorial choices. “Finding clothes that fit me the way I want is hard, so whenever I get to be in them, I’m more confident. Nevertheless, I often feel the need to be on guard and it’s still a struggle, especially with the industry I’m in. Women tend to be sexualised and criticised for our appearance.”
When creating his images, Koh highlights that his priorities were two-fold: the subjects’ gaze is aimed directly towards the camera as though confronting viewers and the outfits had to be true to themselves. Shoots took place at various public spaces around Singapore over eight months, and Koh and his team would notice how passers-by often looked at the subjects with curious expressions or judgement. Koh deliberately included them in several images to show how the subjects remain confident, unfazed by unwanted attention.
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“My style empowers me to not hide myself. Dress how you want, not to please anyone else.”
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“Style is not determined by what clothes others are buying but how you wear yours.”
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“What I wear is my armour, a way to project my values.”
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“My mannerisms mould the style that I wear for each day.”
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“Women are often criticised based on what we wear, but my style is where I have my own say.”
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“Embracing the chaos within ourselves is essential for creativity and growth.”
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“Clothes are an extension of myself and a core part of my identity.”
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“Wear what makes you feel good at any moment and be unbothered by external views.”
Photography Joseph Koh
Styling Assistants, Production Assistants and Casting Zheng Jialei (Derma), Justin Neo, and Ryan Lee
Special thanks Misc. management
Koh’s self-published book, Damnsel is available for purchase via @badsoju on Instagram or on his website.
The May/June ‘Guardians’ issue of Vogue Singapore is available for sale online and in-store from 17 May 2023.