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.
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.