Dressed in all black, sporting a glossy Prada shirt no less, 25-year-old Hakken arrived early on set to get a head start to get their makeup done. Despite a long night out the day before as a special guest at our Harper’s BAZAAR NewGen Award runway finale followed by karaoke and a hotpot supper, the cosplay star greeted us enthusiastically without missing a beat as they (that’s how the star would like to be addressed) brushed on dark eyeshadow.
Watching Hakken’s process in-person evoked an otherworldly feeling. While they are widely known on social media for their dashingly androgynous portrayal of anime, manga and game characters, few would expect their online and offline personas to share so many similarities from the chiselled bone structure to the suave sense of style.
“I used to do more animated looks but my perspective of cosplay changed during the pandemic and I wanted it to become more natural. The characters I like and choose to cosplay happen to be very similar to my personal style,” says Hakken.
With so many fans hanging onto every post, Hakken, a perfectionist, feels the pressure to maintain the high standards and deliver the best content. Yet at the same time, the desire and freedom to venture beyond the cosplay universe is ever present.
It has been seven years since Hakken turned cosplay from a mere hobby into a full-time gig, and with that came jobs and travel opportunities to international conventions. It was a dream come true but it also left them with little to no time to explore other interests.
But now, the timing appears ripe for Hakken to ease up on cosplay and divert attention to the fashion industry with their distinct perspective.
“I want to balance cosplay with fashion. There is a connection between the two — it is about expressing yourself — so I plan to do more fashion shoots next year,” shares Hakken.
Hakken understands that some fans might not be receptive to this idea and view it as their way of exiting cosplay slowly but that is not the case. Instead, Hakken wants to add original concepts into their repertoire.
Eagerly, Hakken pulled up images of the Italian Carabinieri (military police) that they chanced upon on the streets of Milan in 2018 to showcase what they are currently working on.
Just like their rendition of cosplay, Hakken strives for realism but they do not want to simply recreate the military uniform. They are actively hunting on eBay for era-specific accessories such as epaulettes, the rank of an officer, with golden twisted tassels from the 1930s to construct their ideal version of the uniform.
“Modern materials can’t achieve the results that I am looking for — there is an ancient vibe to these uniforms. I want the final costume to look as if it was out of a painting,” says Hakken while scrolling through the long list of saved items on their eBay app.
Attention to detail is non-negotiable as Hakken also plans to travel to Italy in the new year for a photo shoot once they are satisfied with the costume. They plan to cosplay in the south of France and Switzerland with improved ensembles from cult classic Studio Ghibli film, Howl’s Moving Castle.
Hakken also has their sights set on Fashion Week in the new year, to watch favourite designer Peter Do showcase his sleek collections on the runway.
Although that may seem presumptuous, Hakken remains grateful for all the fashion experiences that they have had so far, especially their first foray at the debut of the Coach Cafe in Singapore last April.
“I was surprised when I received the invitation from Coach. It was so different, I had to go for it and it felt much more relaxed compared to cosplay conventions where it’s just chaotic and hectic,” gushes Hakken.
This event also opened their eyes to other possibilities of connecting with their fans. Hakken recalls the energising cheers from fans as they pulled up to the shophouse, taking selfies and signing autographs. Interacting with fans who waited patiently outside as the after-party continued into the night was memorable.
As Hakken reminisces, it is obvious — the fans are of the utmost importance to them. Hakken pledges to dedicate time to the fandom outside conventions, meet-and-greets and other creative projects to thank them for their unstinting support.
“Fan meetings, Q&As and signings are all boring because I can only interact with each fan for half a minute. I want to do more; create stronger bonds between us and give them something memorable,” says Hakken.
Hakken teased us with the idea of a vampire ball inspired by their love for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Japan. Slated for October 2024, fans from around the world will be invited to Hakken’s home country of Malaysia for a night of extravagant costumes and games, and engage with them like never before.
Nothing is set in stone yet as Hakken might just pull off something totally different such as renting the entire Orient Express instead. But no matter how grand their plans may be or how perfect their costumes are, the fan’s connection with their craft is what Hakken covets and how they measure true success.
Hakken explains: “Yes, I feel a sense of accomplishment when I finally make and post something that is exactly like the image in my mind but when the fans are able to see my messaging, when they leave funny or wholesome comments and truly relate with my content, that is the most rewarding.”
Photographed by Zhang Minhua and Jeremy Kieran/Telescope Studios Styled by Jeffrey Yan Hair: Colin Yeo and Dorene Low/Tress & Curvy Photographer’s assistant: Angelo Randon Luke/Telescope Studios Stylist’s assistant: Larissa Wong CGI: JJ Low, Sebastian Tan