THE IM­POR­TANCE OF BE­ING EARN

HE'S THE POSTER BOY FOR THE LO­CAL STREETWEAR ARENA AND CRE­ATED FOR BRING­ING CULT FASH­ION LA­BELS INTO SIN­GA­PORE. FRESH FROM HIS SUC­CESS IN THE F&B AND NIGHTLIFE SCENE, SCENE CHEN'S NEXT MOVE MAY BE HIS BIG­GEST YET.

The Peak (Singapore) - - Contents - TEXT GERMAINE CHEONG PHOTOGRA PHY VERONICA TAY ART DI­REC­TION FAZLIE HASHIM STYLING MARTIN WONG

From be­ing the poster boy for lo­cal streetwear to achiev­ing suc­cess in the F&B and nightlife scenes, Earn Chen is ready for his next big move.

Strobe lights flash across the crowded room, leap­ing off neon-lit con­crete walls and a sparkling disco ball that redi­rects rays onto the faces of pa­trons. The dance floor at Cherry Dis­cotheque, which in­dus­try in­sid­ers re­fer to as a bright light re­ju­ve­nat­ing the lack­lus­tre lo­cal nightlife scene, is packed with happy feet shuf­fling and knees bounc­ing to heavy beats. “Sha- Shabba Ranks, Sha- Sha- Shabba Ranks, Eight gold rings like I’m Sha- Shabba Ranks,” the mil­len­nial and Gen Z crowd chants along to the A$AP Ferg club an­them, a morse code that only the ini­ti­ated will un­der­stand.

No one is more fa­mil­iar with this lan­guage than the man who cre­ated the club, Earn Chen. Over the last 20 years, he’s built a busi­ness em­pire cen­tred on youth cul­ture. In the process, he has rewrit­ten the codes of cool and re­de­fined Sin­ga­pore’s re­tail land­scape with his luxestreetwear em­po­ria and, more re­cently, the F&B and nightlife scene with his es­tab­lish­ments. His new­est col­lab­o­ra­tion, which is with Lon­don shop­ping tem­ple Dover Street Mar­ket that re­sulted in a Sin­ga­pore out­fit (the lat­ter stocks togs from Cherry’s fash­ion line and Chen’s own la­bel The Sal­vages), is yet an­other feather in his cap – or headband, his pre­ferred or­na­ment of late.

“I’ve al­ways been con­fi­dent about what I like. I’ve never felt that I truly fit in any­where. My work is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the kind of world that I want to live in,” says Chen, who’s been work­ing with Hype­beast.com, the fore­most au­thor­ity on streetwear and street cul­ture, to re­brand it­self. “These spa­ces are also my refuge. Thank­fully, some peo­ple get it.”

And by “some”, he re­ally means gen­er­a­tions. When he opened multi-la­bel store Am­bush in the late ’90s, he was one of the first to in­tro­duce cult streetwear brands such as Re­con, Good­e­nough and Gimme Five to Sin­ga­pore. Young peo­ple and fash­ion fa­nat­ics ar­rived in droves from all over the re­gion to snap up lim­ited pieces. What has en­sued is a slew of projects that has dressed the re­gion’s tastemak­ers and de­fined their hang-out spots.

“It’s a way of life – where you shop, the places you eat, the mu­sic you listen to, the movies you watch. As much as I hate us­ing this word, it’s a life­style. I like to pro­duce, whether it’s a brand, store, restau­rant or a club – here’s my take on some­thing, what­ever it is. I’ve al­ways liked the idea of dif­fer­ent worlds col­lid­ing.”

The 45-year-old is the per­fect em­bod­i­ment of this mash-up. Ap­ply­ing old-world sen­si­bil­i­ties to new world dis­cov­er­ies, Chen – his 26-year-old niece calls him Peter Pan – ef­fort­lessly nav­i­gates the com­plex­i­ties of cul­tures and gen­er­a­tions. To keep up with the lat­est hap­pen­ings, he needs to have his ear to the ground and you’d of­ten find him sit­ting on the kerb out­side Cherry, chat­ting with its young pa­trons. It is from this habit that he has forged friend­ships with 20 young peo­ple – as­pir­ing de­sign­ers and mu­si­cians – who look up to him as a men­tor. “I am here to make sure that they don’t have to re­peat the same mis­takes I did. For some time, I side­tracked from what I wanted to do. I be­came an­other per­son and wasn’t happy,” says Chen, who lets his young friends use his of­fice as a space to cre­ate. “The youth cul­ture has given much to me, so I want to give back to the com­mu­nity.”

01 L. A. CALL­ING Chen in Los An­ge­les, where he’s start­ing a cloth­ing man­u­fac­turer dubbed Star Sam Fash­ion Ap­parel.

02 HELLO OLD FRIEND Chen with mu­si­cian Eric Clap­ton, circa 2007. The lat­ter was a fre­quent cus­tomer of Sur­ren­der, Chen’s store.

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