Started in 2013, the Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award is now a tentpole event for this publication, an annual platform to uplift and spotlight the best young design talents in the nation and the Southeast Asian region. Due to pandemic restrictions, the most recent edition (which wrapped last November) was a Singapore‐only affair, but the talent pool remained top‐notch nonetheless—a testament to the unique blend of creativity and commerciality that thrives on this little red dot. The five finalists shortlisted all brought to the table compelling visions for their fashion brand—which were further fleshed out with the guidance of our panel of mentors and judges: Kenneth Goh, Editor‐in‐Chief of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore; Creative Director of BAZAAR Singapore Windy Aulia; esteemed designer Lai Chan; Vanessa Lim, General Manager of Communications at Chanel Singapore; and Rebecca Ting, Creative Director and co‐founder of Beyond the Vines.
Selected on the strength of their graduate collections, the five finalists for this iteration—who all hail from LASALLE College of the Arts—were tasked with creating one look in celebration of BAZAAR Singapore’s 20th anniversary. There was Sheree Toh, a textiles specialist who enriched hand‐bleached denim with her vividly coloured “brushstroke” embroideries and foil treatments; Irene Calista Wiratma, who paid homage to the imperfections of the human body via a graphic use of cutouts and panelling; Rabiatula’dawiyah binte Ismail, who ruminated on memory and the passing of time through her inventive ice‐dyeing process and fabric manipulations; and Mia Zhang, who celebrated femininity with dainty florals and giant ruffles. All four presented a solid expression of their aesthetic sensibility as well as a deep commitment to craft, but in the end, the Award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize and a year‐long scholarship to pursue a master’s degree on the London campus of the renowned Istituto Marangoni, went to Justin Chua.
Chua triumphed with a sleek, black two‐piece nylon and taffeta look that brilliantly encapsulated his preoccupation with polymorphism—the ability of a garment to shape‐shift and take on different forms. His winning look consisted 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 cross‐body bag. The designer’s interest in transformative, multipurpose garments was sparked by a reaction against overconsumption in fashion today. To bring his mission and vision to life, Chua borrowed from the language of architecture.
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 [my graduate] collection was 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,” Chua says of the mostly gender‐neutral, modular pieces from his graduate collection.
Though Chua eventually took home the grand prize, the talent displayed by all of this batch’s finalists equally impressed the judges. “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 for this edition was to ‘shark tank’ all the graduates with intense courses and classes to prepare them for the outside world,” says Goh. “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 are consistent with his designs, and his tailoring and craftsmanship are good for someone who did it by himself. I hope that the master’s 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 a NewGen winner alumni.” Silvia Teh and Rena Kok, previous Singapore winners of the Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award, have both seen their stars rise in the local and regional fashion scene. There is no doubt that Chua and this new cohort of young creatives will rise to the challenge. Watch this space.
Photographed by Phyllicia Wang
Styled by Windy Aulia
Makeup: Rina Sim
Photographer’s assistant: Nur Athirah Annissa Binte Juma’in
Stylist’s assistant: Nadia Lim