Catwalk with a Conscience

For one night only, the National Museum of Singapore played host to what felt like the city’s very own mini version of the Met Gala – a grand night of fashion and friends coming together to celebrate homegrown design talent. Organised by local fashion festival TheFrontRowSG, FashionCONNECTS 2022’s Museum*Takeover on Wednesday was the highlight of a two-week slate of events hosted across the city, celebrating young fashion talent who are changing the industry both here in Singapore and beyond.

Aptly titled Catwalk With A Conscience, the runway show atmosphere was electric, with models strutting across the museum floor wearing designs from popular local designers like Jon Max Goh and BAZAAR’s very own NewGen 2022 winner, Serina Lee. Celebrating sustainable fashion, gender neutrality and diversity in all shapes and forms, the show was supported by the Singapore Tourism Board and produced by creative director Daniel Boey. Singapore’s Minister of State for Education and Manpower Gan Siow Huang also made a special appearance.

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Ahead of the event, BAZAAR sat down with some stars of the show, including both designers and models, to learn more about FashionCONNECTS and get to know those working day by day to transform Singapore’s fashion industry from the inside out. Among them were Ian Sam and Eshton Chua of Syne Studio, which specialises in designs upcycled from discarded kimonos from Japan. “Both Ian and I used to work in the fashion industry, the fast fashion side of things,” said Chua. The duo say they personally witnessed the immense amount of waste produced by the fast fashion cycle, discarding loads of items whether they were slightly damaged or simply no longer in season. Unable to donate many of those items due to brand contracts and other issues, they were left to think about how they could personally address the issue – and this is where Syne came in. 

Getting to present their clothes at the National Museum, then, was a dream come true for the pair. Traditional yet hip, fashionable yet comfortable, Syne’s pieces looked perfectly at home in a museum setting. Calling it a “bucket list” occasion, the pair reiterated that the FashionCONNECTS event was a magnificent way to showcase their designs on a bigger stage. “It’s actually a very nice experience to get invited for this show,” said Sam. “It’s very big. It’s exciting, too.”

Irene Kusuma of IKV Studio couldn’t agree more. Having launched IKV just before COVID, Kusuma faced enormous challenges getting her label off the ground. As global supply chains shuttered and much of the world ground to a halt, the designer was forced to source scrap materials wherever she could find them. The FashionCONNECTS showcase, her first real in-person runway show ever, felt like a full validation of all her hard work over the past few years. “It’s a new experience for me,” she muses. “And each of the models is so diverse. They are so different. I love [that] about them.”

Farhan Hanis
Farhan Hanis getting ready for the show backstage. Photo: TheFrontRowSG
Alley getting their makeup done backstage. Photo: TheFrontRowSG

Coming down the runway in all shapes, forms, colours and prints imaginable, the diversity of both the clothes and the models wearing them reflected just how much Singapore’s fashion scene has to offer. Far from playing it too safe or conventional, show producers cast a wide net when searching for people to walk the show. Farhan Hanis, a plus-size model and current student at the National University of Singapore, told BAZAAR it’s about time Singapore began having a conversation about the body positivity movement. “I think Daniel has quite a good vision for this,” Hanis said, “to see and bring new perspectives to Singapore.” Model Alley, who identifies as non-binary, fully agreed. “What I’m also really looking forward to,” they added, “is seeing how more publications are willing to support and propel different representations of what fashion can look like, what inclusivity can look like.”

Once the show started, there was little doubt as to why we all gathered here in the first place – to admire the fashion. The runway event also brought together artists from other disciplines, with local puppeteer Bright Ong, decked out in clothing from local designer Jon Max Goh, stealing the show. Stomping up and down the runway before the designers’ presentation, attendees got to get up close and personal with Ong’s creations and multidisciplinary performance style.

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Expressing immense gratitude for the opportunity to showcase his work, Ong further shared his excitement at introducing puppetry to new audiences at the show. “I feel that in Singapore, there is a tendency to be quite secular in a sense, that we only silo our own interest and our own art forms,” Ong said, of why being at FashionCONNECTS was so personally important to him. “But it is through this act of rebellion, breaking boundaries and just tearing apart all forms of expectation, where the true work really happens.” After playing witness to the multidisciplinary magic which took place at the FashionCONNECTS show, we here at BAZAAR couldn’t agree more.