Inspiring Conversations

Singapore’s Sartorialist

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Singapore’s answer to Scott Schuman’s best-loved blog: Outré Singapore. We speak to James Bent, the man behind the lens.

By Penny K


a. 1. Out of the common course or limits; extravagant{2}; bizarre; outlandish{2}; as, an outré costume.

Last week while on Twitter, someone posted a link to “Singapore’s Sartorialist”. I admit, I was skeptical at first. I thought that at best it was going to be yet another dSLR-toting hipster who takes pictures of his/her friends or friends of friends he/she thought were cool. I followed the link and it led to where Outré Singapore was featured as a round-up of 45 international new and/or unknown street style blogs!

Outré has certainly got what it takes. It’s got a fair share of good pictures of people wearing good clothes.

Luckily I managed to speak to the man behind Outré. James Bent, 31, tells me more about himself, his blog, Jung’s theory of collective consciousness and er, what it feels like to be a bit of a hound.

The man behind the lens, James Bent

About James

Please introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you come from and more about what you do outside of Outré.

My name is James Bent, I’m 31 years old, I was born in the UK in Salisbury, then lived near Southampton, in Portsmouth & Plymouth.  I left the UK pretty much after finishing University, traveling to the US, Canada, Europe, Japan, New Zealand  & Australia.  I’ve had heaps of jobs, including gardener, bartender, waiter, sailing instructor, tennis coach, freelance artist, blacksmith, business trainer, training designer, English teacher and I was once paid to make up the numbers in police line-ups.

What brings you to Singapore?

My visa ran out in Australia and the business I work for had an office in Singapore, so like most of my travels it’s been a case of taking the path of least resistance.  Plus, I love Asia – I’ve been to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, China and Japan so far.

How do you like it here? Don’t be afraid to say “No, I hate it”!

I don’t hate Singapore at all!  I think it’s great.  There are many things I like, such as: the weather, the food  (I love Yong Tau Foo), the people, the closeness of the city to everything, the MRT and being so well connected to the rest of the world.  Plus, it feels like it’s got a rapidly developing or re-evolving culture, but then I get the sense that Singapore is continually re-inventing itself.

About Outré

When and why did you start the blog? Why the name Outré?

Good question.  I studied English at University and I forever wanted to write a book.  So, last year I completed a novel (unpublished), but when I was done I wanted to develop my writing more, so I started the blog to write daily 1000+ word short stories.

The name Outré was inspired by a boutique of the same name in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I used to display and sell sculptures that I made.  I guess I just really liked the name, like the way it’s written, the way it sounds, plus the meaning is perfect – I think I’m trying to get style shots that are slightly quirky or a little bit out there; a little bit outré.

You have said on your website you were inspired by The Sartorialist, amongst other things: Clothes Show with Jeff Banks & Selina Scott, watched your mother work as a dress-maker and worked with your father for many years as an Artist Blacksmith & Sculptor. That’s so many sources of inspiration! Rank the inspirations from 1 to 4 (1 being the biggest inspiration). And maybe explain why number one ranks as such.

Undoubtedly, The Sartorialist is the #1 direct influence on this.  If I hadn’t found his book I wouldn’t have thought to take photos like this, not really.  Then to be honest, just about everything else in the world are my other influences.  Anything and everything that I sense or see or do influences this.  I remember reading some Jung when I was at University and I really liked the idea of the collective consciousness, like we’ve all got these amalgamated experiences that mesh and meld together to create something unique.  So I like to think that every time I take a photo, everything that I’ve done before that moment totally influences me. Does that make any sense!?

Yes James, that makes total sense. It was such a throwback to my days in uni taking classes on obscure subjects. We notice your subjects tend to be spotted around the Orchard ION area; obviously these people tend to be well dressed. Any intention to head down to areas like Far East Plaza, Haji Lane, Ann Siang Hill, where the fashion sense gets more eclectic?

Yeah, that’s another good question. During the week I work as a Learning & Design Consultant, which basically means I design training & training strategies for large organizations.  My office is in Wisma Atria, so I’m slightly victim to location during the week.  It’s definitely not a statement on where the fashion is in Singapore or where I prefer to shoot.  I have been to Haji Lane three times and to be honest it’s hard work – I haven’t found the perfect time to go yet, but I understand it’s Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.  I intend to visit everywhere in Singapore, so apart from Haji Lane, I think Ann Siang Hill is next on my list.  Plus Stamford house to visit the designers down there.

So, how do you pick your subjects? Is it appearance alone or does attitude count too?

I have this vague formula which is something like: do they look good? plus do they look different? plus do they look interesting? However, like most good formulas for something subjective, that can be completely thrown out the window sometimes.  Attitude definitely counts, as it’s all part of style.  However, attitude doesn’t necessarily mean being totally out there – sometimes I really like people who look totally shy or introverted.

How do you approach your subjects? Were those who had not heard of Outré before a little bit reserved? Any funny/memorable stories to share?

I sit around and look out for people, then when someone really grabs me, like I have to get their photo, I just run on up – sometimes literally! – and kindly tell them that I’d like to take their photo for Outré.  No one has really heard of the blog, except when I went and spoke to some fashion students at Lasalle.

I think there are two memorable stories.  When I started out, I asked a girl if I could take her photo and she just looked at me, raised her hand and was like “oh, no.” and then walked off totally snobbing me.  But then at the other end of the spectrum, I asked another girl to take her photo and at first she was like “no… no..” but then I kept asking “are you sure? are you sure? I like the way you’re dressed, you look good…” and then she thought about it, turned to walk away, then turned back and smiled and let me take the photo.  That was nice.  I find that I’m becoming a bit of a hound now, like if I see someone who will look great on the blog, then I have to get their photo, you know?

What camera do you shoot with?

Canon 5d mkII with a 50mm f1.4 lens.  I’ve said it before, but it rocks!

About fashion

Describe your fashion sense. What do you wear to work, what do you wear on weekends?

I should be called the Zara man!!  I think it’s better to say what I’d like to wear if I had the money – Z.Zegna or a good suit from Savile Row.  I actually wondered after reading about Alexander McQueen’s death what sort of suit he’d have made, as I believe he started out on Savile Row.  Otherwise, I’m on the hunt for a really good pair of leather shoes.  I saw Jools Holland at the Rock & Roots festival here and he had the coolest shoes.

How would you describe the Singaporean style?

I think its Asia meets the West in a melting pot of heat and humidity!

What would you like to see Singaporeans wear more / less of?

More layers – but fine/thin layers that really accentuate the form and flow of the body.  Plus, more accessories on both men and women.  And more men wearing a nice pair of leather shoes instead of sneakers.

Name the 5 things that you carry around in your bag daily. And oh, may we know where you got your bag from – the one you carry in the picture on your profile page of your blog? (see first picture).

Ha! That is my camera bag and it’s from Crumpler – not very cool eh!!  So 5 things in my bag are my camera, my flash, my blog namecards, a cloth to keep my lens clean and my house keys.

Visit Outré to see more of James’ works.

All photos courtesy of James Bent of Outré Singapore.

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