Local designers take centre stage at Singapore Fashion Week 2016

Singapore designers will get their day in the sun at this year's Singapore Fashion Week, which features an all-Asian line-up.

The five-day show - with headliners such as internationally acclaimed Indian-American Naeem Khan, Beijing-based haute couturier Guo Pei and London-based Malaysian designer Han Chong - has 13 home-grown names on its roster, out of the total of 22.

In 2009, when the current organisers took over the event, only four out of 11 shows were by home- grown designers. And of last year's 15-strong line-up, only seven local names were featured.

Pointing to the growing interest in Asian and Singapore labels, Singapore Fashion Week chairman Tjin Lee says: "We are based in Asia, so why not let local and Asian labels shine? We have relied on the highoctane power of international designers for more than a decade - Roberto Cavalli and Victoria Beckham, for example - but I feel this all-Asian highlight is more relevant to us as Singapore Fashion Week."

Indeed, more Singapore designers are making a name for themselves beyond local shores.

Home-grown shoes and accessories label Charles & Keith made headlines when American television series Game Of Thrones actress Maisie Williams, who is British, carried its clutches at the Emmy Awards last month.

And in August, womenswear designer Priscilla Shunmugam, founder of Ong Shunmugam, outfitted Mrs Crystal Wagar, wife of United States ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar, in a custom-made lace blouse and batik sarong for the White House State Dinner in Washington, D.C.

Local fashion brands In Good Company and Aijek, as well as jewellery brand Carrie K, are also expanding overseas.

When asked why Singapore designers were given more prominence this year, Ms Lee says: "We're a little red dot and we have less visibility compared with other Asian countries. Any exposure is better than no exposure."

Telling stories with shoes

Occasionally, in the middle of the night, shoe designer Mashizan Masjum wakes up in bed drenched in perspiration.

The 43-year-old, who is based in Florence, Italy, where his shoes are made, has a panic attack once every few months, triggered by looming targets, production issues and fear of missing deadlines due to the time difference between countries.

But the Singaporean, who founded his eponymous shoe label in July last year, has never let panic get the better of him. Despite the night wakings, he still rouses each morning "excited and raring to go".

This go-getter attitude can be seen in many aspects of his life, such as in 2005, when he quit as a television film producer and moved to New York without a job offer. He eventually found work at some production houses, including the National Geographic Channel.

He took a sabbatical in 2013 to attend a four-month shoe-makingcourse. And in November last year, he ignored naysayers - concerned friends told him his dream was too difficult to achieve - and left his successful producing career as head of content at production firm Infocus Asia to focus on his shoe label, Mashizan.

Mashizan, who started his career as a broadcast journalist at Mediacorp in 1996, says matter of factly: "Struggles strengthen you and there will always be critics."

The Nanyang Technological University journalism graduate, who sells his shoes online and at multilabel stores in New York, Milan, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, is having the last laugh.

His shoes - priced between $450 for a pair of pointed suede flats and $980 for knee-high heeled boots - have been worn by American celebrities such as singers La Toya Jackson and Solange Knowles.

The label will make its debut at Singapore Fashion Week as the closing act on one of the event's two stages - an honour Mashizan "did not expect".

The self-described optimist refers to his current career as his "second lease of life", but says it is similar to his previous occupation as he is "still telling stories with my shoes".

His collections are inspired by the documentaries he has made - the jagged rock of Santorini and the volcanic lava of Hawaii in his production, The History Channel's Inside A Volcano, for instance, inspired the silver and black shoes in his Fall/Winter 2016 collection.

His Spring/Summer 2017 range comprises pieces such as lattice window-inspired shoes based on a series he produced about people living in interesting abodes such as a metal home and a luxe tree house.

Mashizan laughs when asked if he has been sleeping well in the lead up to his show.

"I've learnt to manage my anxiety. Any entrepreneur will agree with me that it's not easy running a business and I know there are people before me who have been through this before, so I'm taking this all in my stride."

Mashizan's collection will be showcased on Oct 30 at 9pm at Auditorium Foyer at the National Gallery Singapore.

Stolen's first three dresses were 'all wrong'

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Insecurity drove Singaporean Elyn Wong to start her own label, Stolen, in 2007 while still working her day job as head of advertising at a public relations firm here.

The straight-talker, who has no formal training in fashion design, says: "I think creative people are born a bit insecure. I kept thinking, if I'm a creative person, I shouldn't be limited to creating only ads, which I had been doing for 16 years.

"I thought fashion would be the area to explore because creative people look to fashion for inspiration."

The singleton, 40, quit her job in 2012 to focus on her label full time as it was gaining a loyal following of customers who loved her signature pleat and backless designs. She took her label to trade shows during Paris Fashion Week that same year. Since then, Stolen's sales have risen fourfold.

The home-grown label will make its debut at Singapore Fashion Week with its latest Spring/Summer 2017 collection, Concur, which is about contrasting textures and forms coming together.

Raw, rough silk linen is paired with delicate, see-through Japanese organza. Drape details and straight lines co-exist in an A-line dress. True to Stolen's typical colour palette, most of the designs are in muted, neutral colours such as nude and black, although its previous collections, such as Till The Next Sunrise, featured bright orange dresses inspired by the colours of the rising sun.

The label is carried in several independent fashion boutiques in Singapore, such as Nana & Bird in Yong Siak Street and Kapok at National Design Centre, and online (www.stolenstolen.com). It is also sold in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia and China.

Prices range from $149 for a top to $429 for a dress. Wong says candidly that the first three dresses which she kicked off her label with were "all wrong" in terms of fabric and pattern. And asking for help from the fashion industry was tough as players are quite competitive, she adds.

"I had to figure it out as I went along. I didn't even know basic things such as how to choose fabrics."

Her customers, however, make the struggle worthwhile. She remembers one who wrote her a thank you e-mail and another who bought 17 dresses at one go.

Her hard work will culminate with Stolen's long-awaited fashion week debut. She had wanted to show at the fashion event two years ago, but decided not to as the straight-runway format was not how she wanted to showcase her brand.

"I'm quite adamant about presenting my brand properly and I knew I wanted something unconventional."

But when asked to reveal more about her upcoming show, Wong demurred, saying: "It'll kill the fun."

Stolen's collection will be showcased on Oct 29 at 8pm at Auditorium Foyer at the National Gallery Singapore

Interpreting Asian culture with her designs

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Chi Chi Von Tang, founded by designer Lisa Crosswhite late last year, has already earned comparisons with luxury Hong Kong brand Shanghai Tang, known for its qipao-inspired dresses .

The 29-year-old Singapore permanent resident, however, eschews the comparisons.

"Shanghai Tang is super traditional and my label is more modern," says the former model, who describes the Chi Chi Von Tang woman as strong, intriguing and fierce.

Born to a Chinese mother and a Canadian father, Crosswhite is fond of using Chinese brocade and Mandarin collars in her designs.

Her label, she says, is an "interpretation of Asian culture with an edge".

It will debut at Singapore Fashion Week on Friday next week with the Anime Collection, featuring the label's signature bright colours.

"I'm too busy to be nervous. I'm the sort who is usually nervous just before an event," says the designer, who is in a relationship and used to work as a strategist in an advertising firm.

She quit her job to start multilabel online retailer Gnossem in 2012, but her dream since she was a child was to have her own fashion label, she says.

"Friends said I have a particular style and identity, which they didn't see reflected in the brands Gnossem carries," she says.

She wants to do retail differently. Fashion brands typically showcase their collections half a year before the products are available in stores.

But for Chi Chi Von Tang, shoppers can buy the collection immediately after previewing it at one of the brand's by-invite-only trunk shows in Singapore and overseas.

Prices for the label's clothes, made in China and Hong Kong, start at $300 and go up to $2,000 for a robe.

Chi Chi Von Tang, which has been worn by English rock star Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones and Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia, has a special service for VIPs - the brand's illustrator will draw a comic strip based on the customer's life and print it onto an article of clothing.

Crosswhite says: "I feel like I've matured a lot as an entrepreneur. Gnossem was a huge learning curve. I did everything from scratch and had a lot of sleepless nights. By the time I launched Chi Chi Von Tang, I had learnt how to deal with stress."

What she has learnt as a designer is to rely on herself.

"It's good that we have organisations such as Spring Singapore and Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore to help designers, but I think it's very risky when a designer thinks she needs help.

"As soon as she gets the mindset that she needs people to help her, she stops directing her own path."

Chi Chi Von Tang's collection will be showcased on Oct 28 at 9pm at Auditorium Foyer at the National Gallery Singapore.

Label put together in 3 months

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Designers typically take a year to prepare and launch their labels. Entrepreneur Arissa Cheo in three months turned her ideas into reality with her label Arissa X, which will debut at Singapore Fashion Week next week.

The 34-year-old started back-to-front.

She approached fashion week chairman Tjin Lee in July for a show slot and upon getting the green light, quickly assembled a team of four in Singapore - a creative director, a production manager, a marketing manager and a graphic designer - and worked with factories in China and Taiwan to make more than 40 designs of apparel, bags, shoes and accessories.

It has been a steep learning curve for the communication graduate from the University of Southern California, who has no formal training in fashion design.

But the Singaporean socialite, who is married to Taiwanese-American actor and singer Van Ness Wu, 38, says coming up with a look for her brand was "never really a problem".

Being well-connected helped. A friend of hers, Singaporean artist Jahan Loh, pitched in with a few hand-drawn illustrations for her vegan leather jackets and vests.

She roped in another friend, local deejay and producer Mr Has, who is W Hotels' music director in the Asia-Pacific, to produce her rock 'n' roll-influenced runway soundtrack.

Her father, a successful businessman in the palm oil industry, also had pearls of wisdom for his daughter.

"He said I needed to know what goes on in my business and that I cannot just let people do everything for me," she says, adding that she has a hand in all aspects of her business, from the accounts to the production and to the marketing.

Her designs, for women aged 18 to 40, are an extension of her girly yet edgy style - think leather biker vests, micro denim shorts and sky- high platform boots.

There are also designs suitable for the office, such as black jackets and shirt dresses.

Although her Instagram accounts (@xarissaxcheox and @arissa. cheo) show her penchant for high- end labels such as Saint Laurent and Prada, prices for Arissa X are relatively affordable.

Prices range from $69 for a cotton-polyester blend bodysuit to $350 for a customised vegan leather vest.

"I asked my followers what they wanted from my brand and they said they wanted things that I wear, but at a cheaper price," says Cheo, who also shops at fast-fashion stores such as Topshop and Zara.

With just over a week to go to her debut show, she is working around the clock at her office in the western part of Singapore.

"I spend most of my time at the office now. It's good for me that I'm busy like this, although there are times I get really frustrated and want to pull my hair out.

"I don't really like to go out, contrary to what people think. I like to stay at home."

The Arissa X Collection N° 1 will be showcased on Oct 29 at 10pm at the Supreme Court Terrace.

Following his heart pays off

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Singapore womenswear designer Max Tan has come into his own - after accepting misguided advice and years of trying to appease his parents who had other career plans for him.

Despite an inclination towards the arts, the son of a seamstress and seafood seller was urged by his parents to pursue a more lucrative career, such as banking or medicine.

This was followed by an uncompleted stint at junior college. Later, he dropped out of his third year at Nanyang Polytechnic, after realising that the multimedia course he was taking was "full of coding".

The now 31-year-old went on to enrol in fashion design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, a course he completed.

He continued designing when he was in national service and then went on to work as a stylist for Mediacorp for a few years.

The label Max.Tan was launched in 2010.

But taking well-intentioned advice from others to tone down his unapologetically bold designs in favour of basics that would "sell better" almost did the boyish-looking designer in.

"It did not sell," he says. "I listened too much to the opinions and suggestions of others instead of following my intuition."

He soon ditched the advice and stuck to his androgynous and geometric designs, pushing out structures that hid the wearer's form, creating a new shape altogether.

In the years since then, he has racked up praise for his avant- garde pieces.

His designs - sometimes also worn by men - are sold online and at boutiques in Singapore and places such as Dubai, Norway and Sweden. They range from $150 for a top to about $1,800 for a dress or jacket.

Tan, who is in a relationship, says: "My clothes are for the sophisticated rebel who appreciates design and wants to be different."

Still, he keeps his super crazy ideas for theatre costumes, where he can go wild.

He designs costumes for home- grown theatre companies as a "creative outlet". For the Japanese play Drums at the Esplanade in March, for instance, he created a dress made out of fishing line.

He hopes that his Singapore Fashion Week debut next Wednesday will help to drum up awareness of his brand locally - at the moment, his clothes sell better overseas.

Adding that Singaporeans seem to be more price-sensitive when it comes to fashion, he admits: "I like my clothes to have bold and big silhouettes, but it's not something that all Singaporeans can appreciate."

Max.Tan's collection will be showcased on Wednesday at 9.30pm at Auditorium Foyer at the National Gallery Singapore.

Singapore Fashion Week highlights:


View a specially curated range of jewellery, including rare gemstones and diamonds handcrafted by the brand's artisans in New York. Some of the pieces will be seen in Asia for the first time.

Available for viewing by appointment only at the brand's boutique in Ngee Ann City till Oct 31 . Call 6735-8823.


Festivalgoers can buy items they see on the runway almost immediately. This is a new feature.

Items can be bought at:

•SGFW & Co: The collections of Mashizan and Nida Shay will be on sale at the National Gallery Singapore's gift store Gallery & Co. till Oct 30, open 10am to 10pm.

Prices range from $75 for an ALT ring to $900 for Nida Shay's Insect Garden dress.

•Zalora.sg: Designs from Max.Tan, Aijek and Stolen have been available via the online fashion retailer since yesterday.

Prices range from $149 for a Stolen top to $459 for an Aijek dress.

•Boutique Fairs Singapore: Buy designs from labels such as Chi Chi Von Tang and ALT at the F1 Pit Building on Nov 4 and 5. Open to the public.


Spread over three days at the Lasalle College of the Arts, designers such as Max Tan and Indian-American designer Naeem Khan will share their insights, with a focus on fashion and technology.

There are five talks scheduled between Oct 25 and 27. Tickets, at $30 a person a talk, are available from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

This article was first published on Oct 20, 2016.
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