SINGAPORE - When feathered mullet hairdos, fingerless gloves and big shoulder pads were fashionable in the 1980s, a young Alfie Leong was awash with ideas on how to dress cool.
Inspiration came from American rapper M.C. Hammer, who swaggered across the television screen in low-slung, voluminous harem pants; and pop queen Madonna, who struck a pose in her messy, yet chic, layered look on MTV.
The 44-year-old fashion designer says: "Watching those music videos got me interested in fashion. I wanted to have baggy pants just like M.C. Hammer, but no tailor would make it for me because they didn't know how."
With a needle, thread and elastic bands, the 15-year-old hand-sewed his first pair of Hammer-style pants.
Leong would go on to become a darling in the Singapore fashion scene, with his own labels Mu and A.W.O.L. His 23-year career hit a high when he was one of six people to win in the Designer of the Year category at the President's Design Award last December.
It was the first time in six years that a fashion designer had won the award, which is given out to Singapore designers across industries from architecture to advertising. They must have developed iconic projects that make an impact on the local and international design scene. Paris-based fashion designer Andrew Gn received the accolade in 2007.
Leong says: "I never expected my passion to turn into a business. It was not easy getting here but I felt so much hope along the way from people who worked hard to help me get here."
Indeed, he came up through the school of hard knocks.
Growing up poor, he was the younger of two children. His sister is two years older.