In a sea of beautiful, stylish Instagram It girls, Mae Tan (@marxmae) stands out for the realness she brings to the table. A cursory glance at her social media reveals an aesthetic that’s a far cry from the perfectly lit, artfully (if artificially) posed perfection that saturates our feeds. Instead, Tan leans towards a rawer aesthetic, amplified by her penchant for tomboyish pieces, vintage gear, cult streetwear brands and indie designers on the rise—a reflection of the curatorial eye she honed in her previous role as creative manager for multi-label boutique Surrender. That rawness seeps into our conversations as well: Tan is candid, unfiltered and unvarnished—traits familiar to those who binged last year’s hit Netflix reality show Singapore Social, in which Tan was a central cast member.
When I meet her, fresh from the BAZAAR shoot, she has just changed into a black, oversize Prada Re-Nylon shirt and matching boxer-like shorts. “Now I feel like myself again!” she says, laughing as she settles into a cross-legged position. We’re at the Tan family home, a three-and-a-half-storey Peter Tay-designed gem nestled in the quiet, leafy enclave of Bukit Timah. The sleek, supersized Modernist monument is exactly what you’d expect the residence of one of Singapore’s most prominent retail families to be. But within that, Tan has carved out an idiosyncratic space all her own. Her generously sized personal quarters on the first floor have been split up into three distinct spaces. “I wanted the bedroom to be a calm space where I can chill, so the colour palette is muted and relaxed. I wanted to have plants, and that’s also where my candles and books are; after a long day, I just sit on the bed and immediately, I feel calm,” says Tan. Her favourite space, though, is the lounge at the other end. “It’s where I spend the most time. My friends and I just hang out there, watching Netflix or listening to music.”
That space is grounded by a bright red Fornasetti rug featuring a polka-dotted feline. “My dad bought all of us rugs when we moved in last year. Initially, I wanted this space to be mellow as well, but because this became the centrepiece, I worked everything else around it,” says Tan. As a result, bright colours spill over onto the walls, with every surface covered by prints, photographs and paintings. A Murakami painting—“The first piece of art I ever bought”—takes pride of place, alongside posters bought on her travels, prints from fashion brands, paintings made by friends, framed scarves and handkerchiefs, a skate deck, a vintage Karl Lagerfeld photograph and a wall hanging from the Virgil Abloh x IKEA collection. A refurbished desk from Second Charm paired with a Pierre Jeanneret‑inspired chair make up her workspace.
In between the bedroom and the lounge is Tan’s massive walk-in wardrobe, anchored around a huge central island on which a DJ console sits. “I didn’t plan to put that there,” she says, “but somehow, everyone loves it in there, so now, when I have friends over, we just party in the wardrobe—which is a little bit crazy.” The fact that she has enough space in the wardrobe to throw parties is also, admittedly, a little whack. “Everybody was asking why I needed so much space for the wardrobe, but with my styling work, and especially during fashion weeks, we’re pulling things in and out so much that I really need as much floor space as possible,” Tan explains.
As you would expect of a diehard fashion lover, that wardrobe is filled to the brim, although Tan confesses that she has been trying to be more conscious about her consumption. “I love fashion a lot, but at the same time, I’ve also been in the industry for so long that I understand how much waste goes into it. Last year, I went through a sort of crisis because I was torn between my morals and what I loved doing. Then I realised that it didn’t have to be one or the other; it’s about finding a balance. So now, I no longer buy fast fashion; I buy more vintage or if I buy designer pieces, I ask myself: Will this item hold its value; will I love it just as much after 20 years?”
The designers she loves now have proven their longevity and value far beyond 20 years. “I love Vivienne Westwood and Prada because their clothes make me feel strong, confident,” she says. “For Westwood, even though the clothes are quite bohemian, she always finds a way to structure them that creates this really nice fit and strong silhouette. With Prada, I’m drawn to the workwear and the simpler stuff. Prada’s women are strong women—not girly types. I love that she always plays with the idea of femininity and juxtapositions. She might add an element of sexiness, but that depends on how you style and wear it. It may be an A-line babydoll dress, but scooped so low that you either wear it with a shirt or with nothing inside—her sexy is very different.”
Asked if sexiness is something she strives for in dressing up, Tan shares that “it really depends on the day. Naturally, I’m more of a tomboyish character, so for my day-to-day outfits, I like big fits and men’s clothing. But sometimes, I do want something that shows my figure or a sense of sexiness. Even then, it’s still all about juxtaposition for me, so it’ll probably be a men’s shirt over a tight little cropped top and oversize trousers.” Her major preoccupation when it comes to fashion actually lies more in high-impact details. “I have this thing where I always aim to have one item that will make someone go, ‘Oh, my God, that’s so dope.’ Everything else can be super subtle, but I like to have one item—like a bag or a shoe or a vintage jacket—that is a conversation-starter piece.”
When it comes to vintage, Tan is spoilt for choice—her mum’s extensive collection being the gift that keeps on giving. “I’m so happy I can take all her vintage stuff. I’ve stolen her belts, her bags, everything really. Her first Chanel bag is with me, as well as her first Louis Vuitton Keepall,” says Tan with a laugh. At this, Tan’s mother, Janet Toh, chimes in. “From a young age, I was very interested in fashion. Every trend you can think of, I’ve pretty much tried it. Disco with the gogo trousers? I did that. And a lot of the things that are now in fashion are things from my time making a comeback. So I guess, in a way, her fashion sense came from me?” Toh asks amusedly.
Tan didn’t just inherit Toh’s fashion sense. It seems her sartorial boldness, too, was in some ways shaped by her mother. “When I don’t know if something works, she’s the one I go to and ask, ‘Do I look too crazy?’” says Tan. “And she’ll normally tell me, ‘You just do you. If you think you look good in it and you feel good in it, then just wear it.’” Toh continues: “As a mother, I consider myself to be very understanding. I’m very open-minded about a lot of things. I don’t stop Mae from doing anything because I feel you have to let your children learn and discover on their own.”
Related article: 10 Interior Tastemakers You Should Be Following On Instagram
The learning and the fashion influence certainly goes both ways. “Sometimes, when I see Mae wearing certain things, I’d think they look nice and when I shop, I’d perhaps try something similar. A lot of the things she likes are things I’d also like. And sometimes, she also likes the things I buy,” says Toh. Tan adds: “Like right now, she’s buying more and more Prada, which I love. I’d even share with her things like, ‘Hey, do you know about this Re-Nylon thing that Prada is doing—isn’t it cool that a brand like Prada is also being conscious about the environment?’ I think we meet somewhere in the middle.”
That give-and-take is evident in the way they approached the decor of the family home as well. Given complete control, Tan would have kept the outdoors area as wild, leafy and grassy as possible, interjecting the space with modern, even avantgarde, art and sculptures. Her parents, however, have a predilection for traditional Asian artwork and a polished, classical aesthetic. “At the end of the day, it’s a family home,” Tan admits. “Even though I was super anal during the design process, I recognise that it’s a joint effort and if someone else isn’t happy, I can’t just impose my wants on them.”
The spaces the Tans built together have brought the family closer, “especially during the circuit breaker,” says Tan, “when we spent so much time together—which was quite rare. The place we spent the most time as a family was the dining area, as we really made an effort to eat together. My brother and I also spent a lot of time just doing jigsaws together in the living room—which was designed to be a social space, with no TV because we wanted it to be a place for people to gather and have conversations.” It’s this precise combination of heart and high style that makes Mae Tan one of the most exciting style-setters of a new generation.
Photographer: Brendan Zhang
Stylist: Windy Aulia
Makeup: Melissa Yeo using Urban Decay
Hair: Junz Loke using Kevin Murphy
Photographer’s Assistant: Seth Ang
Assistant Stylist: Gracia Phang