The latest edition of Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award has just wrapped, with the top prize going to Justin Chua, a recent graduate of LASALLE College of the Arts. Chua took home a $10,000 cash prize as well as a scholarship to further his Masters degree at the Istituto Marangoni. That’s not all. Chua also gets to show off his creations in a fashion spread in BAZAAR worth over $50,000 as well as the opportunity to develop his final year project into a full collection that will be sold in Design Orchard & Oneorchard.store by early next year. Now in its 8th year, the Award was started as an initiative to spotlight and uplift the best of new design talent in the region, coordinated by the network of different Harper’s BAZAAR publications in Southeast Asia. Due to travel restrictions, the 2021 edition was a Singapore-only affair, but the talent pool was no less rich with potential. The finalists, all from LASALLE College of the Arts, were shortlisted on the strength of their graduate collections, before creating an exclusive one-off look for the Award.
After a five-month long journey for all the five finalists, the announcement was made at Design Orchard, Level 3 on Nov 25 (Thursday).
Alongside Chua, four other finalists were shortlisted. There were Wiyah Ismail, who ruminated on time and memory through her dying processes and fabric manipulations; Irene Calista Wiratma, who paid homage to the imperfections of the human body via a graphic use of cut-outs and panelling; Sheree Toh, a textiles specialist who enriched hand-bleached denim with her vividly coloured “paint brush” embroideries and foil treatment; and Mia Zhang, who celebrated femininity with dainty florals and giant ruffles. Chua triumphed with a sleek, black two-piece nylon and taffeta look that encapsulated the designer’s preoccupation with polymorphism—the ability of a garment to shape-shift and take on different forms. The outfit consists of an asymmetrical, zippered dress that can be turned into a top and a skirt, and a cropped jacket with an inner layer that can be converted into a crossbody bag.
Chua’s interest in transformative, multipurpose garments was sparked as a reaction against overconsumption in fashion today and there is an architectural quality to his work. “As we learn to adapt with our environments, so must our garments. Taking conceptual and aesthetic cues from Brutalism, my work embraces ergonomic functionalism. The initial aim of the collection is to advocate conscious consumerism, with the main purpose of reducing wardrobe size for consumers. I wanted to take the concept of polymorphic design and implement it from a functional, inclusive standpoint,” elaborates Chua. In addition to being mostly gender-neutral, the pieces from Chua’s collection are all transformative in the sense that they each perform multiple functions or contain modular aspects that allow them to be convertible in design.
The judges, which included Kenneth Goh, Editor in Chief of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore; Lai Chan, designer; Vanessa Lim, General Manager of Communications for Chanel Singapore; and Rebecca Ting, creative director and co-founder of Beyond the Vines, were impressed—not just with Chua, but with this year’s crop of talent. “There was a consistency and a purpose in what they designed and it was coherent with the business plans and strategies they had moving forward as fashion design graduates. Our plan this year was to “shark tank” all the graduates with intense courses and classes to prepare them for the outside world. It all came together with a final business outline of their brand and the outfit which they designed to a brief: a celebration of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore’s 20th anniversary,” says Goh.
In the end, it was Chua’s vision that proved most compelling. “Justin has a clear vision and he doesn’t veer from it. It’s important to understand what your brand is about and what it stands for. His values were consistent with his designs and his tailoring and craftsmanship were good for someone who did it by himself. I hope that the Masters degree programme will further push him and help develop his understanding of design, business, marketing and branding so that he emerges as a design tour de force for Singapore. I have every belief he will do Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore proud as one of our NewGen winner alumni,” says Goh.
All the finalists underwent a two-month BAZAAR x CHANEL advisory programme focused on educating, inspiring and equipping the finalists with the right skills and knowledge on the different facets of the fashion industry. The collaboration between BAZAAR and CHANEL marks the first time an advisorship programme of this nature has been curated for the competition. Each finalist received individual advisorship—a virtual session on branding, marketing, products & analytics—as well as group advisorship—physical sessions hosted by BAZAAR and CHANEL on styling and visual merchandising.
Of his NewGen experience, Chua says. “This journey has been meaningful in terms of discovering more about myself as a fashion designer and the different possibilities of expanding my concepts and ideas through the brand that I want to create. There are always certain details that I might not notice as much when I am invested in the process but the mentors have helped me to identify those and to remind me to always take a few steps back to look at the grand scheme of things. The different mentorship programmes have also guided me in several business aspects from marketing to product development and branding—which are all needed for me to run a label in the future. Their different insights from an industry perspective have also allowed me to continue learning about these aspects in the right direction, even after NewGen. The whole process has definitely helped me reconsider certain aspects of the way I approach creative thinking and design—it is invaluable in the long run.”
At the award ceremony at Design Orchard, guests such as Yoyo Cao, Wendy Long, Fiona Xie, Lila Tan, Jamie QQ, Bernadette Belle, Esther Quek, Karisa Soekamto, Rebecca Ting, Lai Chan and working partners of BAZAAR were also invited to look at the final outfit created by the finalists up close and personal, as well as celebrate Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore’s 20th anniversary.
A BAZAAR newsstand was also set up at the venue, where guests enjoyed traditional Asian snacks as well as cold-pressed juices from Antidote.