Dressed to thrill: S'pore's best dressed

PHOTO: The Straits Times

For months, Life pored over Instagram accounts, looked through its archives and asked fashion insiders for recommendations. And for months, the team deliberated and tried to settle the question: Who should go on Life's inaugural best-dressed list?

Anyone who cribbed head-to-toe designer runway looks was axed. Those who mixed and matched cult labels, however, made the shortlist. Extra points if the outfits of the day sent waves through Instagram, influencing the fashion industry.

In the end, Style reporters Stacey Chia, Leslie Kay Lim, Gladys Chung and others on the Life team came up with a list of men and women in Singapore, whose styles range from the bold to minimalist.

Each has his or her own individual take on dressing up and it is impossible to rank them.

At its core, the list reflects a vibrancy in Singapore's style scene. We searched across various age groups and industries and found Ms Susanna Kang, a housewife in her 50s, who knows no boundaries. She makes the cut for pulling off dramatic looks - think feathered headpieces and capes - without looking gaudy.

On the other end of the spectrum, counsellor Nisa Ngaiman, 29, encapsulates minimalist chic in crisp white shirts and tailored blazers from affordable labels.

Others such as Ms Yoyo Cao, 27, and Mr Hasnor Sidik, 35, were shoo-ins because of their international reach.

Earlier this year, Ms Cao, who owns Exhibit boutique, topped New York Magazine's The Cut fashion blog's Best-Dressed People From Fashion Month list.

As for the ever-cool Mr Hasnor, he was handpicked by online menswear retailer Mr Porter in 2012 to be part of its Style Council. This puts the Asia-Pacific music director at W Hotels in the company of 127 tastemakers, including musician Pharrell Williams and fashion designer Erdem Moralioglu.

The Life Best-Dressed List will be compiled annually and you can expect a new set of faces every year.

We give you the 10 best-dressed people of 2015.

Comfort meets chic
Nisa Ngaiman, 29, Counsellor

It is not pretty young things who inspire style envy in this fashionista, but mature older women such as French actress Farida Khelfa, a brand ambassador for Italian fashion house Schiaparelli, and English actress Charlotte Rampling. "They have a timeless elegance and a confidence to them," says Ms Nisa Ngaiman. "It's not always about the clothes, but how they carry them."

It makes sense that she is more concerned about inherent style than fashion with a capital F. As a counsellor working on mental health outreach, her dress code tends towards the conservative. "We have to look appropriate for the occasion. If we're meeting young people, we can't look too stuffy, for example."

Her own minimalist chic style veers towards menswear-inspired basics to create a streamlined, androgynous style. A premium is placed on comfort, so if she is wearing skirts or dresses, they are most likely paired with flats or sneakers.

Brands such as Cos, the higher- end line from Swedish H&M group, and popular Japanese high-street brand Uniqlo are go-tos. Ms Ngaiman, who is single, also likes the simple elegance of classic American labels such as Calvin Klein.

While her clean and polished style is established now - she appeared in the book Asian Street Fashion by James Bent last year - she tried out more looks when she was younger. "On Saturdays, when no one was home, I would try on different outfits for hours," she says, grinning at the memory. "I would try things such as my mum's silk tops and my dad's skinny pants."

She uses a few well-placed accessories to spice up her outfits.

Scarves make an appearance in both her looks. A small gifted one tied around her neck is paired with a textured button-down shirt from Bangkok, a pencil skirt from Spanish fast-fashion label Zara, oxfords from Paris and a H&M hat.

Her second scarf, from French designer brand Hermes, is tucked under a tailor-made black blazer, adding a splash of colour and the illusion of a second lapel. It is worn with a black H&M tank top, black jeans from Italian denim brand Hells Bells and nude pumps from local brand Tangs Studio.

Thinking back to those older women, she says, with hope: "I hope to be like them when I am their age."

Jazzing up streetwear
Hasnor Sidik, 35, Music director

A lover of street culture who grew up in baggy T-shirts and bermudas like any other teenage skater boy, Mr Hasnor Sidik describes his current style as an elevated version of streetwear.

"Skateboarding was what first got me interested in fashion because of all the brands that are associated with it," says the deejay, who is Asia-Pacific music director at W Hotels and spins at its venues.

His current interpretation of streetwear is unique and brings to mind uniforms worn by boy scouts.

His two shirt-and-pants outfits show his eye for detail and skill for accessorising. Both looks feature shirts from New York City-based streetwear brand Supreme, a nod to his streetwear roots.

In the first outfit, an Hermes scarf is worn as a neckerchief and, for the second, he swops the scarf for a customised flat cap to reveal a completely different look.

The rest of the outfits - pants, belt and shoes from French luxury brand Saint Laurent - brings about an air of Parisian elegance.

Mr Hasnor, whose father is retired and mother is a housewife, says his sartorial choices are influenced by movies, music and travel.

Wes Anderson's quirky elopement drama, Moonrise Kingdom (2012), was a style influence on his current boy scout style.

When he needs to put on a suit, he gives it a casual spin, for example, by pairing his jacket with shorts. If he is wearing long pants, they often sit high on the waist and show a sliver of ankle.

For his eclectic style sense, he has earned the backing of online menswear retailer Mr Porter, which made him a member of its Style Council.

The bachelor is in the company of 127 distinguished men from all around the world, including musician Pharrell Williams, fashion designer Erdem Moralioglu, venture capitalist Jean Pigozzi, actor Hugh Jackman and media mogul Jefferson Hack.

"I appreciate the acknowledgement but, really, I'm not doing anything special - just being myself."

Singing the blues
How Kay Lii, 30, Writer, communications officer

Although she works for the Government - the Ministry of Communications and Information, to be exact - Ms How is miles away from the civil servant stereotype.

Her style is casual, with a tomboyish preference for comfort. Sneakers and hats are a common signature in her outfits, but she never comes across as trying too hard.

She says one of her earliest style influences was fashion director Sharon Tulasidas at Style: Singapore magazine. Ms How freelanced for the publication as a writer during her days studying journalism at Nanyang Technological University and learnt about the power of accessorising from watching Ms Tulasidas.

"She was a casual dresser, with T-shirts and jeans, but she would wear them with Chanel pearls and colourful Lanvin flats."

Ms How has since spent time at creative consultancy Work, Female magazine, the ministry's Youth Olympic Games Committee and multi-label retailer Club21.

Along the way, she has honed her style and developed a fondness for interesting Japanese labels, which she says make up a quarter of her wardrobe.

On the day of the shoot, she wears a multi-textured dress from hip Japanese label Sacai that looks like a top and skirt, with a Comme de Garcons (another Japanese label) hat, pearls from local fast-fashion jewellery brand Chomel and loafers from cult Swedish brand Acne.

Her second outfit features a deconstructed Comme des Garcons skirt paired with a blue top from Taobao and a woven bag from Cambodia.

"A lot of my stuff is menswear-inspired," she says. "But there are also very school uniform-like elements I like, such as pleats, shirts and shoes with socks."

Her fiance, creative consultancy director Darren Lee, 34, founded the local style blog Shentonista. His preference for blues, greys and whites has rubbed off on her, she says, laughing about the fact that the colours of their closets are very similar.

Dressing up casual
Florence Lim, 55, Boutique owner

Casual means pulling on a T-shirt and going out in shorts to most Singaporeans. Not for Ms Florence Lim, however, who has a flair for making the casual look polished.

That is because she treats dressing up - or down in this case - very seriously.

The well-groomed Ms Lim shows up with several bags of clothes, accessories and shoes, to make sure she has choices aplenty for the photo shoot. Her favourite brands - Prada, Stella McCartney, Marni, Isabel Marant - as well as her resort label Alba are all well represented.

Eventually, she picks an Alba sundress that is paired with sandals from French brand Lanvin. Her neon-yellow Valentino handbag adds colour to the beach outfit and highlights her sun-kissed skin.

In her second look, she chooses a quasi-formal Dior romper. The look is completed with a bold printed clutch from Prada and Dior flatform sandals that fuse style and playfulness.

The Filipino-Chinese credits her mother for shaping her taste during childhood, which later influenced her to take up a career in interior design and fashion. "When I was younger, she would hand me colour pencils to find her a shade that would match her dress, so that she could look for a bag in that shade," says Ms Lim, who is the oldest of four children. Her parents ran a cement-manufacturing business in the Philippines.

Her boutique at Tudor Court, Edit Lifestyle, similarly displays her fondness for the luxe-casual style, by way of trendy resortwear and swimwear brands such as Melissa Odabash, Tooshie and Lemlem.

"I also sell a lot of accessories in my store because I believe that's how you can make something casual look different and original."

The self-taught interior designer, who has an undergraduate degree in economics and a diploma in art history, is married to a Swiss lawyer. They have two sons, aged 15 and 12. She moved to Singapore with her family in 2009 after living in London for 16 years.

"I've banned flip-flops as part of everyday wear in my family. They can be worn on weekends, but can't be a footwear staple. I think it's very important to take pride in the way one looks."

A fashion legacy for daughter
Charmaine Seah-Ong, 31 Marketing director

Her modus operandi is clean, architectural lines with pops of colour and attention to detail.

But since she became a mother - she had her first child, Charlie Rose, in October last year - her style has had to become more practical. Her husband is Mr Derek Ong, with whom she founded branding consultancy Elementary Co.

"Ease of movement is important," she says. "If I'm wearing anything too tight or constricting, I can't pick her up."

Her purchases are also more long-term now. "Now I think, will Charlie be able to use this one day? Can she inherit it?" she notes on picking up quality, investment- worthy pieces that will stand the test of time.

In her first look for the shoot, she dons a modern top with ruffle detailing from local brand In Good Company, wide-legged red trousers from British label Aq/Aq, an olive jacket and lace-up heels from American casualwear brand Banana Republic and earrings from Spanish label Bimba Y Lola.

The marketing director, who was previously part of Resorts World Sentosa's Universal Studios Singapore team and worked at boutique agencies in TV production, says that sometimes, a jeans-T-shirt- sneakers look may be more practical for days when she is at construction sites.

But she says the importance of dressing up has been instilled in her from the time she was young, thanks to her parents, Prudential Malaysia chief executive Philip Seah and housewife Christine Chan.

"I'd watch my mother dress up and accompany my dad to functions, see her at her dressing table with make-up and perfume bottles," she says of her early memories. "I learnt it was important to present yourself well as a sign of respect to those around you."

Her pulled-together looks, which veer towards sharp and feminine but not too girly, also benefit from other family connections.

One of her younger brothers, Brandon Seah, works in New York for fashion-forward Japanese brand Comme des Garcons. The printed tuxedo dress from American designer brand Thom Browne she wears in the second look, with heels from Spanish fast fashion label Zara, is a sample sale score he gifted to her.

"He's more experimental," she says of his adventurous influence. "He helps push me beyond my comfort zone."

Creative property agent
Darius Chia, 33, Real estate agent

Moving to Canada to study business at the University of Toronto in 2002, this dapper dresser discovered the joys of seasonal dressing. "There, you can mix and match, play with layering," he says. It was also where he first became interested in fashion.

His current style is versatile, going from casual, street-inspired looks when off-duty to more pulled-together outfits when working or at events.

In 2013, he won the title of Esquire's Best-Dressed Real Man. He had joined the competition because "they said I didn't need to take off my clothes and all I needed to do was dress well".

On his own style ethos, he says: "I'm not very brand-conscious. It's more about how things are paired together." He is married to a marketing manager.

For menswear, he adds, the details matter a lot. In his first look, he wears a white button-down from South Korea with pants from Spanish fashion brand Zara, sneakers from American brand Converse and glasses from Korean accessories label Gentle Monster. The button-down, though, is collarless and the unusual arrangement gives the top a monk-like feel.

In the more formal look, which consists of a jacket from British designer label Paul Smith, a shirt from American casualwear brand Banana Republic, pants from South Korea, Dutch Suit Supply monkstrap shoes, no-name tie and borrowed hat, the checks of the jacket contrast with the knitted tie's stripe motif.

His creative outfits mean that, sometimes, his clients are a little taken aback meeting him.

"Sometimes, clients don't think I'm the agent, but the architect."

But he says he wins them over with his industry and product knowledge. Before getting into the property business, he worked in banking and manufacturing.

Weird and wonderful
Charlotte Chen, 31, Entrepreneur

"The weirder the better" is how this entrepreneur defines her fashion choices.

Prints and colour dominate her wardrobe and she is a fan of whimsical labels such as British designer shoe brand Sophia Webster, Australian label Alice McCall and Japanese brand Toga.

A self-described "risk-taker", she is the founder of travel app Spottly and travel guide Spottly Insider. A spirit of fun and adventure defines her personal style.

For her first look in the shoot, a textured crop top and printed high-waisted pants from Alice McCall are paired with a colourful Louis Vuitton bag and platform sandals from Toga.

A recent transplant to Singapore due to her South African husband's banking job, the Hong Kong native's propensity for statement pieces might be due to her early immersion in the fashion world.

Her late mother was a fashion designer and her father worked in clothing manufacturing, meaning Ms Chen was always surrounded by people in the industry.

Her younger sister joined the business and now works for the Joyce fashion group in Hong Kong.

"I'm the black sheep of the family," she says of her decision to study finance and work in that industry.

For years, she donned the corporate uniform of black suits. But she ditched them when she quit the sector in 2009.

In addition to Spottly, Ms Chen, who does not have children, also works as a fashion consultant, helping brands make inroads in Hong Kong and China.

These days, she tries to go for quality evergreen staples.

Pieces such as a white dress from Australian brand Ellery, which she pairs with a bucket bag from American accessories label Kara and blue heels from London-based designer shoe brand Jimmy Choo, are in line with her evolving look - the voluminous bell sleeves are whimsical but, ultimately, very chic.

Drama queen
Susanna Kang, in her 50s, Housewife

"Drama or pyjamas" - that is the mantra for this fashion veteran and socialite. In the day, she opts for no-frills outfits such as shorts paired with crisp white shirts. By night, she turns the dial up to 11. Sequinned jumpsuits, feathered headpieces and huge capes - she has been there and done that.

In her words, "there's nothing over-the-top about me, the issue is whether there is enough".

A familiar face in the party pages of high-society rags, she spent more than 20 years working in product and brand management at companies such as FJ Benjamin before retiring in 2008.

She is married to Mr Han Seng Juan, a former stockbroker and major shareholder of Centurion Corporation and Centurion Global, and the couple have an 11-year-old son.

Born to a humble family - her father was a sales manager and her mother a senior hospital attendant - she had access to fancy items only after she started working.

Her daring exploits gave her the moniker of Singapore's Daphne Guinness in the fashion industry. Guinness is a British socialite who shares a similarly flamboyant style.

In Ms Kang's first look, she channels actress Angelina Jolie's dark queen from the film Maleficent with a voluminous feather-print skirt that was customised in Bangkok. To balance the strong prints, she wore a classic turtleneck top from American brand DKNY and a customised bustier by local designer Alfie Leong.

Her second outfit - a dress worn as a coat from Japanese label Sacai, customised fringe pants by Leong and Versace heels - is a playful take on military style.

She says she developed an adventurous streak after learning to use a sewing machine in school. As a teen, she would add embellishments to her store-bought outfits for "that personal touch".

Her husband is a big supporter of her style. "He always jokes he has many girlfriends because I look so different all the time."

Not playing by the rules
Jasper Chia, 40, Architect

In his professional life, architect Jasper Chia is behind the construction and design of some of the hippest spots here.

Likewise, when it comes to his personal style, he demonstrates a cooler-than-cool yet functional aesthetic in his choice of niche labels.

Looking spiffy in a shirt from British brand Casely Hayford, pants from British designer Neil Barrett and shoes from hip French label A.P.C, a striking correlation between his dressing and work emerges.

In a second outfit, instead of looking like a cowboy, there is a rock vibe in his denim- on-denim ensemble comprising several cult labels, including a shirt from Japanese label Number (N)ine, jeans from Japanese label Nonnative and shoes from Swedish brand V Ave Shoe Repair.

"As an architect, I always think of things quite conceptually. Tone on tone is something that I do a lot on buildings. I've always liked pairing blue with blue. To add interest to an all-blue look, I'll mix different shades of blue and play with textures and details," he says.

Each outfit is accented with accessories filled with sentimental value.

He keeps his airborne badge from his army days close to his heart, attaching it to the pocket of his Casely Hayford shirt.

Part of his bracelet stack is a piece from his good friend Tracy Phillips, a prominent figure on the creative scene, whom he has known for more than 20 years.

He says he developed an appreciation for clothes at a young age, having grown up with fabrics in his maternal grandparents' textile shop. His father is an architect while his mother is a retired teacher. "I look at clothes in terms of craft, identity, fit, details, comfort and texture. Essentially, I'm very interested in how things are made," says Mr Chia, who has a four-year-old son.

Since starting his firm in 2007, he has worked on cool establishments such as cafe and bicycle shop Coast Cycles, cocktail bar Jekyll & Hyde, Club Kyo and Nike. "I don't think I'm fashionable, but I think I have a unique sense of style and I don't play by the rules."

Street-style star with global reach
Yoyo Cao, 27, Boutique owner

With more than 94,000 Instagram followers, boutique owner Yoyo Cao is among Singapore's most recognised street-style figures. Her ability to make sharp pant suits and oversized silhouettes look cool and cute at the same time has also captured the attention of the international fashion community.

Not a fashion season goes by without her photo appearing in the street-style coverage of international publications. Fashion website Style.com went as far as putting her photo on its landing page.

Earlier this year, she outdid herself by winning the Golden Peacock, an award handed out by New York Magazine's The Cut fashion blog, for being the best-dressed during fashion month.

She says her minimalist, menswear-inspired style stems from her straight-forward personality. "I go for things that are comfortable and I don't like having too much going on," says the Macau-born Singapore permanent resident.

For the last five years, she has been running Exhibit at Far East Plaza, carrying clothes from affordable fashion labels, including her own.

Judging by her Instagram account (yoyokulala), she also has a knack for pulling off long silhouettes despite being of only average height and she came for this photoshoot armed with lessons on how to carry them off.

Dressed in a turtleneck from her label, a long pleated skirt from American fashion brand DKNY and Nike sneakers, the 1.64m-tall designer points out that the outfit "plays with proportions".

She explains that the different hem lengths on the knitted top - which is much longer in the back - prevents her from looking overwhelmed in fabric.

As for the slit on the side, it highlights the high-waisted skirt and hence gives the illusion of longer legs.

In a second outfit, she stands tall in a top with vertical stripes from online retailer Asos and high-waisted pants from Australian label Ellery, but not without the help of heels hidden cleverly under the flares of her pants.

"Contrary to popular belief, long clothes can make you look taller if worn right," says Cao, who is single.

As the only daughter of fashion- obsessed parents who own a business in Macau, Ms Cao was destined for this life as a street- style star, but developing her personal style did not come overnight.

"Understanding your body shape makes a lot of difference."

This article was first published on July 09, 2015.
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