It is Day Two of Singapore Fashion Week (SGFW). The Supreme Court Terrace, more used to welcoming quiet crowds of visitors as they mill around exploring the cool interiors of the National Gallery Singapore, has been transformed into a dramatic catwalk, flanked by a giant rotunda on one side. Over the next few nights, this space will showcase works from both acclaimed and up-and-coming fashion brands to over 6,000 guests—all eager to partake in Singapore’s annual fashion extravaganza.
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This evening, however, the Terrace has become the battleground for the top prize at the Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award. Since its launch in 2013, the competition has evolved into a well-oiled system that seeks out the best fashion design talent from the region. This is of particular importance as Asian consumers are more used to paying attention to established fashion players from Europe or America. But from what is seen at the show, the talent this year proves you don’t have to travel far for good fashion. The burgeoning reputation of the competition has attracted the attention of industry brand heavyweights: The latest edition has Swarovski as its official partner and LaPrendo as the shopping portal that will stock the collections.
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With the push to furnish the best design talents with the necessary skills to stand on the world stage, the four regional editions of Harper’s BAZAAR—Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand—have picked the eight contenders who will each get a chance to parade their works in front of 400 guests. Ng May Ee, Fedri Mak, Seksit Perkchinnaworn, Junn Tan, Jirawat Thamrongkittikul, William Utama, Wilsen Willim and Aaron Yong form this year’s elite crop vying for the coveted $20,000 cash prize, a sponsored master’s degree in Fashion & Luxury Brand Management at the esteemed Istituto Marangoni and $20,000 worth of Swarovski Elements to use for their collections.
As guests leisurely stream in and take their seats, it’s a different scene backstage. The seconds are ticking by—the first model is already on standby, waiting for her cue to step onto the runway, but her clothes are still being fussed about. “I’m so excited,” says 22-year-old Malaysian designer Tan while waiting for her turn at the side lines. “It doesn’t matter who wins. For me, what’s important is that I’ve been given this chance to show who I am as a designer.” A breathless Willim echoes her sentiments while adding, “I want to use this platform as much as I can to open doors for myself. I’m hopeful, but everyone stands a fair chance of winning. I think it ultimately boils down to what the judges are looking for.”
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In the end, Utama emerges triumphant, and it is a raw energy finessed from the streets and a sound business plan that power him to the top of the table. “Utama’s personality and savviness also contributed to his win. His presentation showed awareness of social media and digital engagement,” observes Tjin Lee, Chairman of SGFW and one of the judges of the competition. She adds: “In the words of Indian-American designer Naeem Khan: ‘Fashion is about people.’ Who you know; and how you sell your collection, and yourself, are important. Utama has the personality to be a fashion star.” Thailand’s Seksit Perkchinnaworn and Singapore’s Fedri Mak take home the first and second runner-up prizes (a short course at Istituto Marangoni), respectively.
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Utama’s emotional and hard-earned win—he bursts into tears at the news of his victory—also marks Indonesia’s first triumph at the NewGen Fashion Award. “This is totally unexpected. Everyone put their hearts out there on the runway,” he says in-between sobs backstage, at a loss for words. “This win is truly an honour. It is a start.” The curtains may have come down on this year’s competition, but for Utama and the rest of the designers, their journey into fashion has only just begun.
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By Gerald Tan
Additional reporting by Ryan Sng
Photography by Gan
Styled by Windy Aulia
Model: Zijun, Liqin, Margarita, Tatyana, Xinyue/Nu Models
Hair and makeup: Grego and Manisa Tan/PaletteInc
Photography assistants: Samsidi Baderi, Loy Kok Wee
Assistant stylist: Debby Kwong
Fashion intern: Shona Menon
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore.