Winner: Phua Chun Huen
Elegance is rewritten with innovative fabrics and chic silhouettes.
The 24-year-old put his fashion design dreams on hold for four years to help his mother run her eatery, but that didn’t stop him from winning this year’s competition with a sophisticated collection that showed the depth of his vision. “The most difficult part about producing this collection was regaining the momentum in designing,” the soft-spoken graduate from Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design admitted. “I stopped practising fashion in 2013, so it was a steep learning curve for me to recap the tricks of the trade and the various drafting methods, while still achieving my desired silhouettes and design details,” he added.
If there were any signs of inexperience, they didn’t show in Phua’s chic line-up of cropped jackets, sheer dresses and flare pants. Denim was his fabric of choice, and he pushed the envelope of textile manipulation by laminating plastic over it or felting it with wool (he had spent more than 20 hours fraying another piece by hand, but decided against including it in the collection as he felt it wouldn’t be commercially viable).
Of his time at the competition and his biggest takeaway, Phua said: “The most important
lesson I learnt was to balance creativity and commercial viability with currency. Fashion changes so quickly, and to be a good designer one must produce products that not only appeal to people, but retain the aesthetic beliefs of the designer as well.”
First Runner-Up: Joanna Lim
Notions of identity are explored through motifs and urban-yet-feminine clothes.
“My first memory of fashion was watching my mother dress up,” Lim recalled. “I’ve always wanted to make clothes for myself to wear. I remember sketching random garments ever since I was little. I love designing pieces that have stories and personalities behind them.” With the late Cristobal Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen as her fashion heroes, Lim has made it her motto to design for the modern woman who isn’t afraid to live and dress for herself.
Fashion is an expression of individuality, and Lim chose to tackle this universal language in her collection. “The whole concept revolves around the term ‘identity’. Whatever modifications we have done to our body, that is our identity,” said the 23-year-old, who pursued fashion design at LASALLE College of the Arts. “Tattoos, scars, makeup… These are tools that help us define who we are.”
Lim’s research led to her coming across pictures of the Li Basadung, a tribe from Hainan, China, whose womenfolk tattoo themselves from head to toe as a rite of passage to adulthood.
She drew a link to fingerprints (“a modern form of identification”) and engineered an abstract pattern based on the unique grooves found on the human skin, which she applied as a leitmotif onto the back of sheer blouses and laser-cut skirts.
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Second Runner-Up: Esther Choy
Utilitarian codes are updated with military precision and earthy tones.
Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award may be a competition, but in the months since
Choy was shortlisted as a contender for the prize, she also found friendship. “One of the most memorable situations was when the three of us went from being competitors to friends, supporting each other through all the challenges.”
It must have been kismet that the 24-year-old LASALLE College of the Arts alum kick-started her design process by focusing on the relationships that soldiers forge during times of war. “The camaraderie that emerges through shared experiences is something that I can relate to,” she said. From there, Choy translated the austerity of the military uniform into multi-functional clothes such as boxy jackets, shirts with utilitarian pockets and a pleated skirt layered under an asymmetrical panel.
Now that the competition is over, Choy is upbeat about what the future holds for her: “I often get asked by family and friends about what I hope to achieve for myself in the next five years. I never know what to tell them, because why put a limit on what one can achieve in a period of time? All I know is that in five years’ time, I will still be doing fashion as it has brought me one of the greatest pleasures in my life.”
Related article: This 24-Year-Old Singaporean Designer Just Won a Major Fashion Award