Singapore fashion designers are adept at using crafts from Southeast Asia in the work they put out. This can be understood through Motti Regev’s (2007) idea of “aesthetic cosmopolitanism”, which is “the condition in which the representation and performance of ethno-national cultural uniqueness are largely based on art forms that are created by contemporary technologies of expression, and whose expressive forms include stylistic elements knowingly drawn from sources exterior to indigenous traditions”.2 I argue that Singapore fashion designers cut, arrange and paste creatively from an array of disparate sources from Singapore and the wider Southeast Asian region, including techniques, textiles and silhouettes to create original, sophisticated products of cultural hybridity.
response by focusing on the role of craft
in Singapore fashion
RIGHT: “Wearable Art,” Her World Annual 1987, 53.
looking back and moving forward.7 We can observe
this trend in Singapore as well through the exhibits in #SGFASHIONNOW. Lai Chan’s ethereal qipao is carefully and patiently conceptualised and realised as a confection of pearls, appliques, sequins, beads, threads and tulle applied by hand on a netting fabric. The result is a highly detailed qipao that well represents a craftsman’s dedication to the qipao form over a long, illustrious career.
#SGFASHIONNOW gives a definitive perspective on what the Singapore fashion identity could be.
Singapore fashion does not necessarily reside within the geographical confines of the island-city, but a dedication to craft remains at the centre of the practices of Andrew Gn, who has been based in Paris since the 1990s, Kavita Thulasidas at Stylemart, a family business with its roots in India, Carol Chen who has a Taiwanese-American background but now works in Singapore, and Jamela Law and Lionel Wong of Baëlf Design, whose studio is based in Hong Kong.
The elegant simplicity of Gn’s dress from the Spring/Summer 2021 May There be Light collection reflects the precise execution of his ideas. And in Thulasidas and Chen’s dresses, we see eclectic mixes of techniques that put the old and the new together. Thulasidas has used Parsi Gara embroidery for the Eternal Weaves (2019) sarong kebaya-sari hybrid, hand-sewn in India and put together by the designer in her atelier in Singapore. Similarly, Chen has employed traditional Zardozi embroidery together with trendier methods such as the use of recycled fabric and laser-cutting for her take on hybridity in her debut collection Neoterica (2020), which won her the Singapore Stories competition organised by the Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore (TaFF). And Law and Wong have synthesised ideas taken from Jing costumes in Chinese opera through 3-D generative design in a tradition-meets-the-future creation from their Anthropology of Cultural Dementia collection.
#SGFASHIONNOW exhibition gives a definitive perspective on what the Singapore fashion identity could be. It is not static but dynamic, and never derivative, but reflective of the Singapore fashion designers’ savvy in crafting unique pieces that represents the cultural hybridity of Singapore fashion.
2 See Motti Regev’s explanation in"Cultural Uniqueness and Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism", especially on 126.
3 An example can be seen in “Fashion Fling,” Her World, July, 1961, 10.
4 An example can be seen in Fashion Fling,” Her World, January, 1963, 9.
5 An example can be seen in “Wearable Art,” Her World Annual 1987, 53.
6 See Tara Mayer’s essay "From Craft to Couture: Contemporary Indian Fashion in Historical Perspective” on the role of craft in contemporary Indian fashion.
7 Read Orsola Castro essay “Crafts in the Age of the Anthropocene”, which sheds light on the role of craft in global contemporary fashion.
Castro, Orsola. de. 2019. “Crafts in the Age of the Anthropocene.” Fashion Craft Revolution. https://www.fashionrevolution.org/buy-fanzine-004-fashion-craft-revolution/. Accessed Apr 18, 2021.
Mayer, Tara. "From Craft to Couture: Contemporary Indian Fashion in Historical Perspective." South Asian Popular Culture 16.2-3 (2018): 183-198.
Regev, Motti. "Cultural Uniqueness and Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism." European Journal of Social Theory 10.1 (2007): 123-138.
Wang, Nadya. "Country Review: Singapore." Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: South Asia and Southeast Asia. Ed. Jasleen Dhamija. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. Bloomsbury Fashion Central.
http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781847888532.EDch41811. Accessed Apr 18, 2021.
Wang, Nadya. "Snapshot: Priscilla Shunmugam." Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: South Asia and Southeast Asia. Ed. Jasleen Dhamija. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. Bloomsbury Fashion Central.
http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781847888532.EDch41813. Accessed Apr 18, 2021.