The Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award began in 2014 as a platform to unearth and nurture the brightest designers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Now into its third instalment, the regional competition is more than just a springboard for these gifted designers to show off their talents. In an industry that’s quickly adapting to the wide-reaching influence of the digital realm, and the lightning speed at which fashion is communicated and consumed by the masses, the competition accords the designers the loudest shot at getting their voices heard in the international arena.
But before they get a chance to witness their creations on the catwalk, the designers will first have to prove their design prowess and vision for fashion: After months of late nights, hard work and intense preliminary judging sessions, the responsibility to fly the Singapore flag high this year will fall onto the shoulders of two of these three promising designers: Sunny Lim, Fedri Mak and Ng May Ee. From pushing the boundaries of fabric design, to challenging the traditional notions of dressing, 2016 saw the most diverse range of ideas yet.
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“The three students this year are so different in their approach to fashion. Fedri is from a menswear background, while May comes from print; Sunny has had retail experience in Japan, and all three possess the tenacity to succeed under the toughest conditions this year. I can’t wait to see their results,” said BAZAAR Editor-in-Chief, Kenneth Goh, who is also one of the mentors.
“Looking back, it has been life-changing,” recalls Silvia Teh, who took home top honours from the competition last year. “Every step of the way has been so inspiring. It was the most creative period of my life and the knowledge I gained then continues to impact my work.” With Teh having won last year’s regional finals, Fedri, Sunny and May have big shoes to fill. But from what we have seen them produce—from sportswear, to deconstruction, to vivid prints—Singapore just might have the talent, style and verve to make it to the very top once again.
NG MAY EE
Cityscapes go sartorial
Few would take notice of torn posters and unwanted stickers splashed across sidewalks, but not Ng. During her trips to Hong Kong and London, the 22-year-old student at Lasalle College of the Arts was captivated by how those details added depth to the cityscape. “These hidden pockets of decay within an otherwise austere city landscape made it spring to life, adding a lot of character,” she explained. Ng then decided to use photographs she took of the two cities to form the basis of the digital textile prints that she employed freely throughout her collection.
How did you develop your idea further?
The colours and the folded layers of stickers reminded me of the hanbok, Korea’s national dress, and that inspired the silhouettes of the collection. I chose a clean silhouette and used smooth fabrics such as satin and organza to contrast with the prints inspired by the neglect and decay I saw.
What was most challenging about the competition?
I designed my own prints for this collection and found it a challenge to use the right print for the right garment. I had to experiment with different shapes, develop a textile print story that would complement each other perfectly, and produce a narrative the audience can connect with. The mentors advised which prints would work on what type of garments, and they encouraged me to be daring in mixing up my prints.
What has the competition taught you?
From the start, this competition has been about merging your creative vision with a commercial viewpoint. It’s about finding a unique selling point and weaving my creative direction through it. I had to keep in mind to play up my strengths before creating something that’ll appeal to consumers while building my collection.
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Body in motion
Making the jump from designing menswear to womenswear would intimidate even the most experienced of fashion designers. But 23-year-old Mak rose to the challenge to create a collection that melded masculine tailoring with the exquisite use of fabrics. “At first, it was a real struggle for me because it was difficult for me to imagine a feminine look,” confessed the graduate of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. “But thanks to the judges and mentors who guided me, I quickly got the sense of it. I think being able to understand and visualise both aspects is the hallmark of a good designer.”
How did you start designing the collection?
I was looking through Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches on human anatomy and I was intrigued by his drawings of bone and muscle. I later researched medical books and gathered pictures showing microscopic views of muscles, bone structures and skin textures. I decided to translate those pictures into textiles. Contrasts and gradations formed the underlying concepts for the collection.
What else should we look out for?
The fabrics were made by combining opaque with sheer versions, like they were gradually going from hard bone to soft skin. I also modified colours from the expected red of blood to white, powder pink and lavender with hints of black.
What’s a word that sums up your design philosophy?
Sophisticated. Fabrics are very important to me. I always start with them before designing the garment.
Fashion for a new tribe
Probably the most experienced of the lot, Lim headed his now-defunct menswear line, MILS, for three years, during which he was invited to show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Australia in 2012 and was even stocked in multi-label concept boutiques such as Wut Berlin and Gris Garden in Tokyo. Despite making inroads, he decided to wipe the slate clean by going back to school. “It’s like a rebirth of sorts,” the 27-year-old said of his decision to refocus on his craft. Describing his approach as “philosophical,” Lim strives to question the meaning of garments and explore how the act of dressing can be a powerful tool for the body, ego and identity.
What’s interesting about your point-of-view as a designer?
I don’t seek to create “interesting” garments. I’m always questioning what clothes mean and it is always about relating back to the times we’re in. I’m also always questioning the purpose of luxury and what it means. Is it a monogrammed bag? Or is it something rare? Is luxury a compelling design?
What inspired the collection?
I was studying the period of Dada—a time when artists across music, theatre and literature were questioning and challenging the purpose and meaning of art. I developed this ethos by displacing garments on the body and challenging the notions of dress. Felting unlikely fabrics together such as silk and wool was also a technique I used to convey the idea.
What’s the biggest takeaway from joining the competition?
It was learning how to balance the act of pure creation and commercial visibility.
By Gerald Tan
Photographed by Gan
Styled by Windy Aulia
Makeup: Toni Tan/My Makeup Academy
Hair: Manisa Tan/PaletteInc using Bed Head by Tigi and La Biosthétique
Manicure: Audrey Wee
Styling assistant: Syed Zulfadhli