Andrew Gn
A portrait of Gn. Photo: Rasmus Mogensen

Andrew Gn is back on home ground with a new retrospective exhibition “Andrew Gn: Fashioning Singapore and the World” held at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) from 27 May to 17 September 2023. Showcasing more than 100 pieces from his extensive archives, alongside looks from his fall/winter 2023 collection Roots, the exhibition celebrates the enduring craftsmanship, sumptuous fabrics and couture-like detailing that have defined Gn’s maximalist style over three decades.

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When we met in person at the lobby of The Fullerton Hotel on the last day of March, Gn was warm and affable, laughing easily and generously sharing the details of his journey as one of Singapore’s most prolific and well-known fashion designers. Here to oversee preparations for the exhibition which marks 28 years of his label—no small feat in the fickle world of fashion—Gn is introspective but always forward-looking.

He started his label in 1996 and prior to that his design education included stints at the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London and assisting French designer Emmanuel Ungaro in Paris. Still, despite the global influences, his designs have always referenced his Singapore roots in some way or form. This homecoming has been an emotional experience for Gn, who prior to this trip, had not been back to Singapore in nearly four years. He shares that he could not sleep for almost three days before his flight. Even the process of looking through his extensive archives of more than 10,000 pieces to shortlist 160 for the exhibition, which was then cut down further to just over 100 looks, was deeply emotional, though at times overwhelming.

Andrew Gn
A shift dress with waterlilies crafted from embroidered glass beads and sequins. Photo: Navin Pillay

Many were pieces that Gn himself had not seen in years. Contained within his archives—along with all the looks that had appeared on the runway—were the accompanying accessories and jewellery, as well as the initial sketches, all lovingly saved and stored. He was so inspired by rediscovering his archives that he has created new pieces riffing off some of his past work, including reworking prints in new colourways. He shares, “I’m like a woman shopping her own wardrobe. I feel like I’m shopping 20 years’ worth of my own archives, and there’s so much love, emotions, details and inspirations from them.” He has also generously donated a total of 160 outfits (some not on display at the exhibition) to the ACM, as he wants to pass on his savoir-faire to the next generation of designers. Through this retrospective, he hopes to share his own vision of beauty with fellow Singaporeans. “After seeing this exhibition, I hope that many people will view that it’s possible for them to pursue the aesthetic of anything… that’s what’s lacking in our country. I also want them to know that Singapore is not only capable of fashioning ourselves, but we can also fashion the whole world,” says Gn.

Andrew Gn Singapore
The red carpet section of the exhibition features gowns worn by celebrities. Photo: Navin Pillay
A look from the spring/summer ’18 runway. Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Gn

Gn embodies the very definition of a global designer. He has spent 21 years of his life in Singapore, 30 years in Paris, and the rest in fashion capitals like London, Milan and New York. “I would say that my native roots are in Asia, but it’s actually in Paris that the House of Gn flourished. Both Singapore and Paris inform me as a designer. It is true that the multicultural and multiracial society that we were born in really affects us,” he observes. His collections—which include chic, belted mini dresses to feather-trimmed gowns to beaded and embroidered kaftans—are executed in the most beautiful fabrics and rich jewel tones, and have always emerged from a melting pot of influences. The designer grew up with both a global perspective as well as early memories of style and the ceremonial aspects behind getting dressed. He remembers his father travelling around the Southeast Asian region and to Dubai, Pakistan and India because of business. His father would bring back exquisite saris and beautiful Indonesian batiks from his travels, and Gn would accompany his mother to the tailor—a Shanghainese man named Wong sifu—to make cheongsams or little matching suits with the fabric. Looking back, he realised that Wong was his first real design hero. He also recalled his mother donning traditional dress for special occasions, such as a sari during Deepavali, opening his young mind up to the idea of cross-cultural dress. Being immersed in different cultures in the most natural of ways deeply influenced his ideas on fashion and individual style.

The autumn/winter ’21 look donned by Lily Collins in season three of Emily in Paris. Photo: Courtesy of Asian Civilisations Museum, photographed by Lenne Chai

Today, his designs continue to attract a devoted clientele. His creations have been worn by some of the most stylish women in the world, from Queen Rania of Jordan to Lady Gaga, and you’ll also see his clothing popping up on shows like Emily in Paris with actress Lily Collins flaunting his iconic pagoda-shoulder jacket in season three. Throughout the trajectory of his journey as a fashion designer, Gn has always maintained a very clear sense of what his label is all about. “I have a very clear path in my mind, because my philosophy has always been to create only the very best. My designs are really meant for women who love refinement and beauty,” he says.

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Andrew Gn
The Red Carpet section of the exhibition. Photo: Navin Pillay

And while an Andrew Gn creation may not have originally set out to be a sustainable garment, it oftentimes is. Beyond having an aesthetic that transcends trends, Gn often advises his clientele who are buying an occasion piece to buy a long dress and then shorten it slightly to transform it into a midi, and then to cut it again at a later stage to make it into a mini. His pieces are also so exquisitely crafted, with a built-to-last philosophy behind them, they are meant to be passed on to the next generation. While he shies away from calling his clothes “classic”, there is a dedication to fabrics, construction and materials that differentiate his clothes not just from fast fashion, but even from other designer labels.

Though Gn may reference the past when it comes to an appreciation of the quality of construction, he is aware of the importance of social media and even “screen appeal” when it comes to grabbing the attention of consumers. He is matter of fact about the evolution of shopping today, understanding that most brands have mere seconds before a consumer decides whether they will click in to take a closer look at its pieces or not. Yet, he still believes in creating beautiful clothing that looks good in real life. He has a small team dedicated to quality control in his House. “I believe in creating beauty, and the quality of the clothing is amazing. And so it’s both [about screen and real-life appeal] and I always believed that it doesn’t have to have either. Why have one when you can have the best of both worlds?” he asks.

Andrew Gn
The Red Carpet section of the exhibition. Photo: Navin Pillay

Gn reveals that almost all the materials the brand uses are designed in-house, from the textiles to the trimmings to even the lining. By not buying anything readymade, the label is able to offer the kind of attention to detail one normally associates with haute couture. The braiding used in his clothing is done by specialists from Italy and he has specific suppliers for the jewelled buttons and buckles that are another signature of the label. The embroidery and patterns he creates for his fabric are a laborious, handmade process—two ladies in his atelier specialise in hand-painting. This attention to detail and specific way of doing things are to him, the true signatures of his brand, and exemplify its sense of refinement and luxury.

Gn marvels at how the brand can sell tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of clothes on a platform like Instagram, and shares that there are very few returns from online customers, a testament to how the products meet the recipients’ expectations. His global outlook also means that he is familiar with the habits and lifestyles of his clientele from around the world. He knows for a fact when Middle Eastern women like to shop, or that a New Yorker is more likely to dress up in the daytime compared to her Los Angelean counterpart. It is this nuanced understanding that gives him a keen appreciation for his clients’ needs and desires.

Gn himself is a man of varied interests and tastes. A multi-linguist who speaks English, Italian and French fluently, along with several Chinese dialects, he says that he loves many things in life. “Obviously, I love art and beauty. I love nature. I love movies. I love museums and books,” he says. An avid art collector of 17th and 18th century art, Gn likes everything from antiquities to works from the Old Masters. But as with most aesthetes, anything and everything can intrigue and influence him. When asked to recall a film that he enjoyed recently, he names the 2022 Cate Blanchett vehicle, Tár, a film he has seen three times and hails as sensational.

Andrew Gn
Intricate jewellery that matches the details on the dress’ neckline. Photo: Courtesy of Asian Civilisations Museum, photographed by Lenne Chai

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A prodigious reader, Gn has been working on his own coffee table book that accompanies the retrospective, with beautifully-shot imagery and contributions from many of his closest friends and supporters. The idea of beauty in all its forms and expressions is something crucial to Gn’s life and career. “When I picked Paris to settle down and establish my House, it was because they have the know-how, and also because it’s an extremely beautiful city. Living in beauty every day… it helps.” How fitting then, that Gn’s vision of beauty has finally come home to inspire us.