One degree north of the equator, south of continental Asia and peninsular Malaysia, Singapore lies between the Indian Ocean and the South China sea. With the arrival of the British Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, Singapore became a trading post of the East India Company. It quickly became Japanese during its occupation in World War II, then gained independence from Britain in 1963 by forming an alliance with Malaysia. Two years later, Singapore became its own country due to ideological differences, and developed rapidly as an Asian Tiger economy based on external trade and its human capital.
Since its independence in 1965, the island city-state has used extensive land reclamation and has grown geographically whilst placing itself on the fashion map of the world. Being an exotic island with a concrete jungle and its location in the heart of Asia, its port was and still is a hotspot for trade and its multicultural background continues to inspire its emerging art and fashion trends.
The government has endeavoured to transform the island into a cosmopolitan translation between the East and the West since the 1990s. I remember arriving when they first opened the Esplanade Theatre. Shaped like the local durian fruit, it is home to visiting shows like Rocky Horror and more traditional opera such as La Traviata and Carmen. From emerging hipster hotspots like Haji Lane, where graffiti has since become legal, to the reconstruction of the old Courts of Justice into the new National Gallery, and being the only Formule 1 location to include music artists such as KC and the Sunshine Band and Pharrell Williams as part of their programme, Singapore aims to incorporate the arts into the daily lives of its community.
With its own Nylon, L’Officiel and Harper’s Bazaar, Singapore creates its own twist over international magazines and tailors them to the eye of its fashionable citizens. Singapore Arts Festival is organised every year and the country has developed a branch of London’s Goldsmith’s. La Salle University was established in 1984 and has since promised an important coupling of the city-state and the world of fashion. Holding short art and design courses as well as postgraduate degrees, its alumni students are some of the country’s most famous and valued fashion designers showing their collections at Singapore’s fashion week alongside Diane Von Furstenberg, Thakoon and Victoria Beckham.
Local label Hansel inspires itself from its surroundings. Its 2014 collection drew on the government’s housing accommodation, HDBs, something embedded in the local culture and communal lifestyle. From the building’s architectural structure and vibrant colours, to the community’s meeting place for card games and mahjong in the lobby, the garments shaped a unique perspective on this part of Singaporean history. A popular brand amongst expatriates, Hansel translated the livelihoods of the HDBs towards new horizons.
Mae Pang combines the Singaporean youth culture of Haji Lane’s street style (think South East Asian Shoreditch) with traditional Mandarin neck lines and structures. Making red, silver and black its staple colours, Mae Pang has pushed traditional designs towards a modern twist.
Despite all the new shopping centres popping up along Orchard Road each year, Singaporean and expatriate buyers are beginning to turn towards fashion forward homegrown labels. From Pauline Ning’s surrealist geometrical cut outs to create unique power suits, Revasseur’s dream-like cropped jumpers that draw on the island’s exotic backdrop and its rainforest geography, Saloni Rathor’s ready-to-wear flamboyant and expressive prints and textures showing South East Asian influence with European silhouettes, and Depression’s draped designs and graphic pop art pastel pink and baby blue cloud and leaf prints are quickly becoming a Singapore signature style. A new country in a constant economic boom, the city-state’s designers inspire themselves from the continent’s artistic background with their choices of textiles and use of traditional seamstress methods, whilst balancing their nation’s colonial history, shifts in government and connections to the Western world in order to tailor towards a multicultural community.
Of all the Singaporean brands, Lion Earl seems to be the most avant-garde. The McQueenesque hair runway accessories and the distorted hip silhouettes in bold red and black leather, emphasised the forward-looking brand’s vision in a country that is becoming socially progressive. And make sure to look out for Ong Shunmugan who are reinventing the traditional Chinese Cheongsam. This contemporary womenswear label uses classical weaving techniques for a modern wearer and opens up the country’s past to new buyers.
New brand Max Tan follows the tag line ‘Serious but never severe, minimal but never simple, fragile but never weak’. Beginning in a highly political country with limited freedom for the LGBT community, the designers strive to be the first androgynous and conceptual label. Opening up their collections to wider and more diverse buyers, Max Tan infuses minimalism with contemporary art and finds its quirkiness in its flamboyant shapes. Here at Wildabout magazine, we are particular fans of their play with volume and their contrast between the oversized and underside deconstruction.
Celebrating its 51 years of independence in August, Singapore continues to endeavour to search and lock in new trends. Combining its shifting cultural past with its present blended community, the Lion city stands at the forefront for Asian fashion, and is paving the way for the rest of the world.
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