Lydia Kok, Anadier Ong, Theocara Missiel Maretha and Fanny Pricilla Sindo.

This is usually the time of the year when the nation’s brightest fashion design students take to the runways to showcase their collections—the culmination of months of research and hard work. Being the next generation to carry the design torch forth, their work as a collective whole forms a snapshot of where Singaporean fashion is headed. While runway shows in front of a live audience might not be possible this year, the message that these designers want to get across is no less diminished. Amid restrictions and uncertainties, these graduates prove that creativity, resilience and resourcefulness can indeed flourish. For them, fashion transcends the idea of just clothes to become vehicles through which they can explore issues pertaining to identity, society, heritage and multi-culturalism. These, of course, have always been issues at the heart of Singaporean fashion and of Singapore itself, but they feel even more pertinent today—making for rich fodder when it comes to creative authorship.

Jackie Yoong, the Fashion and Textiles Curator at the Asian Civilisations Museum, which is currently staging its first exhibition on contemporary Singaporean fashion, believes that Singaporean fashion occupies a unique position in Asian culture, which is exactly why there is so much space for imagination and growth. “As a cosmopolitan port city open to migrants and ideas over the past two centuries, Singaporean style has always been cross-cultural and experimental. Rather than being limited to one exclusive “national” style, Singaporean fashion embraces designs, silhouettes and materials from Asia and beyond—reflecting our location in Southeast Asia, our colonial past and our ancestral cultures, especially from China, India and the Malay diaspora.”

She sees this spirit as something that “continues to manifest itself in contemporary Singaporean fashion” and the thing that excites her most about the landscape today is the coming together of its many various components. “In great fashion cities, many partners in the ecosystem converge and collaborate,” she says. “These include the industry players, the media and the educational sectors of which museums are a part. For instance, the ‘#SGFASHIONNOW’ exhibition gives a snapshot of the different possibilities that Singaporean fashion has taken in recent years; I hope that a display like this can encourage further conversations about Singapore and Asia in the context of fashion.”

Lai Chan, a veteran of the industry with 30 years of experience under his belt, also notes this new-found solidarity in the industry that he believes is propelling it forward. “Today, we see established designers standing shoulder to shoulder with a new generation, Singaporean brands collaborating with businesses in Asia, and the government lending its support,” he says. As a result, he finds that “young Singaporean designers today are talented, fearless, and equipped with knowledge, contacts and support systems. With these, the industry can and will move forward.”

Lai Chan
Lai Chan (Photo: Courtesy)

The designer himself plays a key part in moving the industry forward. For several years now, Lai Chan has served as one of the mentors of the Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award, alongside our editors and other industry insiders, helping young designers refine their ideas, hone their craftsmanship and translate their work on a commercial level. The prize itself was established in 2013 to nurture the region’s emerging talents in all aspects of the fashion business. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, BAZAAR partnered with Singapore’s Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF) on A New Slate—an initiative to support previous local NewGen winners Silvia Teh and Rena Kok with a commercial platform. The exclusive capsule collections they created were given a big media boost by this publication, and retail support by TaFF’s online marketplace One Orchard Store (oneorchard.store) and Design Orchard.

Semun Ho, CEO of TaFF, thinks that the industry is on the verge of entering its next chapter. “I believe that the Singaporean fashion industry has reached a high point in the past decade,” she says. “With families being more affluent, parents are more supportive of younger Singaporeans pursuing fashion. We also see more Singaporeans willing to support local labels. This could be a result of social media, which enables young brands to expand their outreach quickly.” As to what excites her the most about this younger wave of brands and designers, she points to their “passion and willingness to explore”. She brings up Gin Lee’s on-demand production capabilities for her signature pleated pouch at her retail outlets as an example. “I’m also inspired by their willingness to collaborate. We’ve seen many brands pairing up to complement each other with products that are interesting to their joint market segments, such as the partnership between PINKSALT and The Missing Piece.

The elements of community and collaboration noted by Yoong, Lai Chan and Ho are indeed present in the works of many of this year’s graduating designers, but beyond that, what really stands out are also their fearlessness and sophistication in addressing sociocultural or deeply personal issues. In reflection of a changing, more conscious world, many are also championing slow fashion and more sustainable ways of creating. Featured here are some of Singapore’s best new design talents.

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Anadier Ong Soo Teng, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

Anadier Ong Soo Teng (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection.  

The collection is called The Marketplace, inspired by the bustling markets of Singapore and their diversity of unique ethnic cultures and heritage. I drew my inspiration from this “organised chaos” of randomly stacked baskets filled with fruits and produce, and their colourful packaging, plastic nettings, bags and containers. I saw all these as “accidental fashion”, which informed the silhouettes and colour combinations of my collection. I also wanted to incorporate discarded dry-food packaging like gunny sacks, rice bags and nettings alongside deadstock materials to create a sustainable collection—the aim was to express a visual story through the reuse of discarded materials to show how fashion can play a role in reducing our carbon footprint. I also used modular fastenings like drawstrings and snap buttons that allow the designs to be convertible—a skirt can become a bag, or a pair of pants can be turned into a skirt. 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Anadier Ong Soo Teng

What drives your work? 

Inspirations from my daily life, the current affairs of the world and my goals for sustainability drive me to want to make a difference. I aim to cultivate a more ethical and conscious approach when designing and to express my emotions through design to create wearable art pieces with a story.

Related article: NewGen 2021: You Could Be The Next Big Fashion Designer

Lydia Kok, LASALLE College of the Arts

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Lydia Kok (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection.

During the pandemic lockdown, I started exploring domestic crafts as a way to cope. I was particularly drawn to crochet because I love that the recurring knitting motion creates this interesting rhythm that is incredibly therapeutic. I realised that online tutorials were generally not well-captured so I started seeking out local homemakers to learn crochet from on weekends. These incredible women inspired me with their stories. The collection stems from the idea of collaborative design. An example would be the pink and blue woven-knit dress with 42 square spaces—alternate squares are attached with crochet pieces from the homemakers, who have complete creative freedom. I think this reflects that community spirit and shows that a handmade sharing economy, with small-scale productions and environmentally sustainable making practices, can ultimately build an ethical fashion system.

What were the other techniques used here in addition to crochet?

I focused on handmade techniques. The collection’s textile design incorporates abstract interpretations of the homemakers’ crochet language with screen-printed textiles and intricate hand embroidery. The collection’s layering of prints, crochet and embroidery celebrates eccentric dressing. The garment designs play with draping to achieve a laid-back kampung style. Some of the garments are unisex to advocate the inclusivity of the craft community, and they explore the concept of versatility and interchangeability through modular crochet pieces that are detachable using buttons.

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Lydia Kok

What drew you to fashion?

Since I was a child, I always knew I wanted to pursue a creative role because I love to paint. From a background in fine art, I was drawn to fashion because I like the liberation of translating my prints and artworks from a flat canvas into a 3-dimensional form. Over the years, fashion became an integral part of my self-expression and a driver for self-confidence.

What drives your work as a designer?

“Use your hands for happiness”—I learned this quote from the crochet aunties I worked with, and it resonates with me a lot. I think I have gotten the most pleasure from making things with like-minded people. I will continue to consider how fashion design inspires deeper relational connections between people, and between people and their environment, as my design practice centres around social design and nurturing diverse partnerships in local communities.

Related article: Beyond The Vines Aims To Put Singapore Designs On The World Map

Nguyen Le Huong Giang, Raffles Design Institute Singapore 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Nguyen Le Huong Giang (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection.   

The collection is based on maximalism and the concept of “more is more”. I wanted it to be over-the-top, visually exciting and individualistic. I drew from the Baroque era and the Eighties and the starting point was colour play. I was also contemplating the situation we have been facing—when times are bad, I feel people need to have fantasy; they want to dream. Colour and whimsy can help to elevate the mood. The main technique I’ve used here is patchworking, to juxtapose different fabrics and colours. 

What drives your work? 

Travelling to other countries and seeing different cultures is the most inspiring experience for me, and not just in terms of design. Immersion in different cultures and a desire to keep learning open my eyes to amazing possibilities I had never thought of. 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Nguyen Le Huong Giang

Who do you look up to in fashion? 

Dries Van Noten and Antonio Marras—their silhouettes are easy to wear, but the way they juxtapose colours, patterns and embellishment creates harmony and is very interesting. 

Jaime, Han, LASALLE College of the Arts

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Jaime Han (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection.

It’s about the idea of modern heirlooms and the study of material culture through a melding of identities and craft storytelling. I wanted to reexamine and recontextualise our past for and within the present. The starting point was when I was KonMari-ing and realised the excess of my family belongings that wasn’t necessary. I could live without most except items that held sentimental value. It led me to imagine what kind of cherishable heirlooms I would leave behind. I’ve always been fascinated by heirlooms—the way they aged and collected memories with each different owner; the intangible sentimental value they represented. Elements of timepieces and handmade crochet from my parents were incorporated into the construction patterns and textile development process. I wanted the end product to encapsulate facets of my heritage and inherited identity, and become my own wearable heirlooms. 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Jaime Han

What drives your work?

Storytelling through engineered, conscious craftsmanship, along with the refinement of techniques as well as consideration for the wearer. I aim to make better, not more; and I wish for what I create to have an unconscious glamour with a gentle ease of wear. 

Who do you look up to in fashion?

John Galliano and Madeleine Vionnet. Galliano for his flair for reinvention; his dedication and the intricacy of his work from concept to creation is unparalleled. Fashion is an art form of change and Galliano’s ambition to push fashion forward always excites and inspires me. I greatly admire Vionnet’s bias cut and timeless designs. Her sensibility in expressing fluidity of motion and sensuality while keeping comfort and movement key made her a visionary in liberating women’s bodies.

Eva Huang, Raffles Design Institute Singapore 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Eva Huang (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection. 

The inspiration came from my own experience where extreme emotions like frustrations and confusion got under my skin. Hence, I took a very literal translation—getting under the skin. I mimicked blood vessels and skin layers with fabric manipulations to evoke certain reactions or emotions—at first glance, you might feel weird or irritated which was my interpretation of getting under your skin. The main techniques I used here was cording cotton twine with chiffon on top of cotton twill as well as bleaching and dyeing,   

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Eva Huang

Who do you look up to in fashion? 

Michelle Lamy. She is such an icon. I always believe that fashion is not only about appearance, but way more about inner thoughts. I feel like her fashion was manifested from her own mind. Lamy is the boldest, and indeed the most creative figure that I look up to in all respects.  

What drives your work? 

I have always wanted to tell stories through fashion, which is one of the most fun as well as the most challenging tasks of a fashion designer.

Theocara Missiel Maretha, Raffles Design Institute Singapore 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Theochara Missiel Maretha (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection. 

The inspiration for the collection came from the idea of “coming of age”—the time when teenagers grow into young adults. I am experiencing this phase myself as I turn 20 and graduate this year, and I wanted to portray it as a bittersweet experience with a dark romantic vibe. I did that with a pink and black colour story and raw edges. I was also inspired by coming-of-age stories from the Victorian era so there are Victorian details throughout the collection. Silhouettes ranged from loose babydoll dresses to fitted coatdresses to reflect the idea of transition, and I also combined refined flowers with very raw ones to express the maturing of a young girl. 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Theochara Missiel Maretha

What drives your work?  

I really enjoy the thrill of experimenting and developing a collection, and as the collection starts to take form, I find it very satisfying and feel really excited to do the next one and consider how I can make it better.  

Who do you look up to in fashion? 

Alexander McQueen is my greatest inspiration. The first time I saw his work, I fell in love with his bizarre ideas and the way he could turn fantasy into reality. Seeing the ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition made me decide to go to fashion school. 

Gemma Wu Pui Shan, Raffles Design Institute Singapore

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Gemma Wu Pui Shan (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection. 

I was inspired by the idea of perception. The reason for this is because nowadays, people see what they want but what we see might not be the truth. I have incorporated the idea of infinity into my design, taking inspiration from the mobius loop structure found in architecture and optical illusions in paintings. I used leather strips and pleated ribbons to create illusions on the body, as well as TR [transformational reconstruction] vortex technique, and circle and loop structures. The emphasis is on creating shapes with contrasting colours that guide the audience’s eye to form their own perceptions of my designs. 

What drew you to fashion? 

I have loved art since childhood. When I was growing up, I realized that art came in different forms and fashion is one of them. I see fashion as a medium to explore and record life and emotions. To me, fashion is art and the body is a canvas. 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Gemma Wu Pui Shan

What drives your work as a designer? 

Rules drive me because design is about breaking rules and standards. I hope to inspire my audience to look at and think about fashion from different perspectives. 

Who do you look up to in fashion? 

I admire Japanese designers. Yohji Yamamoto is one of my earliest inspirations—he treats fashion as poetry and art, breaking standards that the world has imposed on us with his strong identity and style. Another designer I look up to now is Kunihiko Morinaga, the founder of ANREALAGE. He designs fashion for the future, bringing out new concepts, patterns, technology, materials, or manipulations in every collection. I am impressed by their design philosophies and their perspectives on fashion—they don’t tell me what fashion should be but show what fashion can be. 

Looi En Qi, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Courtesy

Tell us more about your graduate collection.  

Titled Impression, the collection was inspired by the Impressionist art movement of the 19th century and the Nanyang style of Singapore. I was interested in Impressionism, and especially in the works of Claude Monet, because the movement changed the way artists perceived both subject matter and technique. I then came across the works of local artists like Chen Wen Hsi and Tan Choh Tee, who adopted Western techniques but portrayed local subject matters. This inspired the direction of the collection—I wanted to highlight elements of our culture, and blur the boundaries between east and west, tradition and modernity. The silhouettes were informed by the traditional garments of Singapore’s multicultural background, while the colours reference Monet’s Impression and Chen Wen Hsi’s Singapore River

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Looi En Qi

How did you translate Singapore’s multicultural background into clothes? 

I would say that the key piece of the collection is a deconstructed top inspired by a Chinese qipao, with most seams tied together by ribbons. The thought process came from the idea of the sari—a piece of fabric wrapped and secured around the body which is so unlike many modern garments held together by buttons or zips. 

Fanny Pricillia Sindo, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Fanny Pricilla Sindo (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection. 

It’s a menswear collection with oversized silhouettes and a more androgynous look. I called it Hikikomori, which is a Japanese term for people, mostly men, who stay cooped up at home for months and even years—I thought it reflected our quarantine life and the collection was inspired by that lifestyle. My main keywords were clutter, mess and chaos, and I wanted the collection to visualise the mood of a hikikomori being lost inside their own thoughts and limitations. 

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Fanny Pricilla Sindo

What were the techniques you used to express that?

My collection is focused on fabric manipulations. To express a chaotic feeling, the techniques I used were distressed weaving, Boro Sashiko, and patchworking. Boro Sashiko is a Japanese mending technique which incorporates both patchwork and visible mending. I find the result very relatable to my theme as it gives a worn-out look accompanied by a pop of colours from the threads. The most time-consuming technique is the distressed weave—it took me at least 70 hours just to finish one of the jackets.

What drew you to fashion?

I have always liked making things. I started because I wanted to make clothes for myself but as I pursued it further, I learned more about the exciting things I can do with fabric, and how every garment or collection has a purpose and a deeper meaning. I love that fashion is both about everyday necessities and a statement of your inner thoughts. 

Sheree Toh, LASALLE College of the Arts

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Sheree Toh (Photo: Courtesy)

Tell us more about your graduate collection. 

Inspired by the protective quality of uniforms, ‘RÜI蕊’ examines and interprets the warrior figure in Chinese literature to design garments for a modern-day warrior. Referencing Chinese films such as ‘Mulan’, Zhang Yimou’s ‘The Great Wall’, Ken Liu’s ‘The Paper Menagerie’ and Maxine Hong-Kingston ‘s ‘The Woman Warrior’, the collection explores the connection between lost China and contemporary society to present a cultural reconciliation on the body. The garments are taken as wearable talismans that symbolise this duality through silhouettes and textiles, particularly through the mix of denim and Chinese brocade. With the collection, I hope to convey this notion of cultural disconnection between individuals today and their heritage, and allow for people to interpret and make sense of their heritage and identity to the relevance of now.

Singapore’s 2021 graduating class of fashion designers poised to make their mark.
Photo: Sheree Toh

What drives your work?

I believe in creating works that challenge the conventions of form and functionality, and am greatly motivated by uniforms, communities and stories of people around me. Remaining true and authentic to my perspectives on art, culture, identity and individuality, I aspire to design collections that offer a human touch and optimistic energy that celebrates the individual—both the maker and user.

Who do you look up to in fashion and why?

My role models are Craig Green and Raf Simons. Craig Green’s strong interest in communities is something that resonates with me, and I believe in the human quality and emotional value in his collections that are both highly conceptual yet wearable.I admire Raf Simons for drive for individuality that runs across his own label to brands that he had worked on, such as Christian Dior and Calvin Klein, and his love for collaborations beyond the fashion realm inspires me.