Fashion Heroes: Brands That Make Us Proud

This year has been quite a good year for many Singapore fashion designers - collaborations with international companies, major sightings of designs on the international stage (The White House being one of them! woohoo!) and many other incredible achievements. 

To mark the nation's 51st birthday, THE FIFTH COLLECTION lists some of our favourite labels and the achievements they've made this year. 

Making it to The White House

The womenswear label, Ong Shunmugam, which was started by Priscilla Shunmugam, is popular not only amongst the Singapore fashion elites but also with women from all walks of lives. Her designs bring together different elements from Southeast Asia to create a distinctive look that perfectly marries modern western aesthetic with traditional Eastern craftsmanship. 

She has shown at Singapore Fashion Week, moved to a bigger retail space and, later this year, launch a special collaboration with Rimowa. 

Most recently, her design was seen at The White House, worn by Mrs Crystal Wagar, the wife of the US Ambassador to Singapore. It was a moment of great pride for many in the fashion industry. Of her design for Mrs Wagar, Shunmugam wanted to demonstrate how "fashion can construct and deconstruct national identity, and for this reason, our collections and pieces are sensitive to these purposes".

Photo taken from Ong Shunmugam (@ongshunmugam)

My proposal to Crystal was that through this one outfit and this once-in-a-lifetime stage, we would use a combination of design and textiles as visual cues to articulate a statement on Singapore and Southeast Asian fashion. This statement would be scalloped around issues which I feel best affect postmodern Singapore: representation, relevance and self-expression. And very importantly, this statement would be made on our own terms, factoring in considerations from this part of the world, rather than artistic and design parameters of the West. But most of all, this statement needed to be inclusive.

For these reasons, we dressed Crystal in the Ong Shunmugam interpretation of both the Indonesian and Peranakan kebayas. It takes the key principles of a lace blouse, a batik sarong and a metal belt but leaves everything else behind. Knowing that President Obama would appreciate his Indonesian origins and his mother’s love for the textile, we used a very rare Indonesian Batik Tulis with Chinese motifs - a likely clue of the ethnic background of the artisans who made this. The best lace to match this could only be found from France and again, this pays homage to the arrival of European textiles and embroidery in Southeast Asian ports which contributed to the early evolution of the Peranakan kebaya. To substitute the metal hardware, we created a high waisted belt in Cambodian songket weaved with fine gold threads and to flatter her further, added a stiff peplum made with a brocade I sourced from a recent trip to India. We used fine Japanese crepe to create the collars, cuffs, piping and buttons.

I’ve been asked on several occasions what the Singapore national dress should be, and my response to that is I’m not sure and I’m not sure if there ever needs to be one. This answers flows from an obviously personal opinion that the present search for Singapore’s national identity needs to be emancipated from natural assumptions of ethnic categorisation. I can instead say with clarity, that on this day where we were given a chance to articulate to the world what could possibly constitute a ‘Singapore aesthetic’; we gently put aside mental barriers to make space for new forms of familiar concepts, we decided that a dress doesn’t have to be tick all racial boxes for the sake of it and in the process of doing all of the above, we managed to forge a beautiful supply chain of textile artisans, weavers, drafters, seamstresses, button makers from France all the way to India to make this kebaya make it to Washington.
— Priscilla Shunmugam, designer of Ong Shunmugam

Disney Wonderland

Last month saw the Singapore release of the Disney movie Alice in Wonderland 2: Through The Looking Glass. To mark the movie release, Disney collaborated with two Singapore labels to produce collections based on the whimsical characters and story premise. 

For this tie-up, the international entertainment company approached home-grown labels Carrie K and Rêvasseur. The collections were showcased in a fashion runway event in the foyer of Shaw Lido on 2 July. The intricate and stunning pieces were then sold at a pop-up store at Takashimaya which ended earlier this week. 

For its interpretation of the larger-than-life characters, Gilda Su, designer of the fashion label Rêvasseur, channelled the colourful and exuberant vibe of the movie and characters to produce a 16-piece capsule collection that we'd be sure to have the approval of the Mad Hatter. 

Called “Curioser and Curioser”, the collections rifts on the visual aspect of the surrealism, as well as showcasing a masterful play on Big-Small duality - a major Alice in Wonderland theme. In an interview with The New Paper, the designer says that she has been a big fan of Disney and was excited when the Disney team introduced themselves. 

Image taken from Rêvasseur Facebook page. Shot by Senatus.com 

For this capsule, it began with my team and I re-watching the original 1951 Disney cartoon, followed by the first Alice In Wonderland movie (2010) by Tim Burton.

The chance to access Disney’s media centre was like falling into a treasure trove. From there, we got ourselves screen shots or costumes that inspired us, and the sketching began. I remember watching Alice Through The Looking Glass in an IMAX theatre, and holding a sketchbook and scribbling in the dark.

An Alice In Wonderland collection is something I had dreamt of doing since I started my fashion design journey as a student in Tokyo. It was a dream to work for Disney, and how many people can say that dreams do come true?
— Gilda Su, designer of Rêvasseur, as told to The New Paper

Playing with the other two major themes in the movie (keyhole and time), Carolyn K of accessories label Carrie K. crafted jewellery pieces shaped like a keyhole and done in rose gold, yellow gold or silver. Other pieces in the movie-themed collection include necklaces, charm bracelet and earrings, which featured clock gear motifs. 

Keyhole rings in rose gold, silver and yellow gold (pic: Carrie K.)

Keyhole rings in rose gold, silver and yellow gold (pic: Carrie K.)

To Shop the Carrie K Alice in Wonderland 2: Through the Looking Glass collection, please visit the Carrie K site.