SINGAPORE — Victoria Beckham’s fall 2015 collection concluded Singapore Fashion Week Sunday night, a culmination of a whirlwind partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to bring wider recognition to local designers.
While seen as a hub for consumerism, this Southeast Asian nation has lagged behind in garnering attention for its homegrown designer labels. This year’s collaboration with CFDA attempted to inject international interest in three chosen Singaporean brands — Elohim by Sabrina Goh, Dzojchen by Chelsea Scott-Blackhall and Ong Shunmugam by Priscilla Shunmugam — allowing them access to advice from Diane von Furstenberg, Thakoon Panichgul and Victoria Beckham during Singapore Fashion Week. Staging their shows alongside local and regional brands, the five-day event drew a diverse crowd of Asian celebrities.
Unfortunately, the biggest star attraction, Cate Blanchett, initially slated to attend Australian designer Dion Lee’s fall show, had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts with the Cannes International Film Festival.
Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of CFDA, said American designers were eager to showcase in Singapore because it could act as a gateway to the rest of Asia.
“Everybody wants to sell in Asia, everybody wants to grow their business. It’s the new frontier — or not even the new frontier, but the frontier of the moment,” said Kolb before the start of the Thakoon show Friday. “And the big brands — they need new distribution channels.”
Dion Lee, the designer behind his label, agreed.
“I saw it as a great opportunity to build more brand awareness in Asia and Southeast Asia, and really an opportunity for us to focus on this market, explain what the brand is and present the collection up close and personal to more people,” he said after his show Thursday night.
For Thai-American designer Panichgul, it also gave him a chance to explore the island country, and he was especially keen to go to the smaller neighborhoods to try the country’s diverse cuisine. “There were parts of it that were like New York,” he said.
Undeniably, the standouts among the local designers were the three chosen for the CFDA mentoring program. Goh’s eye for structural layering and color, inspired by the vermillion Danxia rock formations in China; Scott-Blackhall’s achingly hip silhouettes that mix opposing aesthetics, and Shunmugam’s balance of Asian textiles and sensibilities in modern statement wear were all on display.
“[Sabrina Goh has] really hit her stride,” said Anita Kapoor, a local travel show host, after Elohim’s show. “Regardless of your body, shape, size and how you like to dress, there’s something for everybody; yet at the same time, there was an edge to this collection that I haven’t seen before.”
There were more commercial brands as well, like Collate The Label, a newly launched label headed by popular fashion blogger and e-commerce maven Velda Tan, born out of the “blog shop” phenomenon so popular among Singaporeans, and likely to be a huge retail boon locally.
Global buyers also attended the shows, such as British online retailer Asos, Harvey Nichols in Kuwait, and Fred Segal in Japan. They were in town to attend Blueprint, a government-supported venture pushing for local labels to garner more global recognition. The annual trade show featured about 80 brands this year, including the more established ones like the three chosen for New York, and different styles of women’s wear and men’s wear, as well as accessory lines.
Shunmugam, whose label is probably most recognized within the country, acknowledged that this is not a feat that comes easily.
“We’ve always had a very skeptical audience. Singaporeans themselves need convincing before they consume a local product,” she said. “People assume that if it’s local, it’s inferior, and there’s still an aspirational element like, ‘I want to be seen carrying a bag made in Italy.’”
Mark Lee, president of Singapore’s Textile and Fashion Federation, blames the country’s small population of roughly five million for the lack of exposure, which is why the government is pushing so hard to support local designers.
An example is Blueprint’s latest initiative: Two new brands, men’s wear collection Biro and jewelry line Ivonovi, were selected by a panel of judges — which included CFDA’s Kolb and Elisa Bellini, editor of Vogue Italia’s talents section — to be showcased in New York trade shows later this year.
“For designers, they need a strong domestic market. Like in Korea, the population is quite large so there is a lot of support,” Lee said, “Over here, the population is smaller, rentals are not easy to come by.”
Buyers were mixed on the offerings, but all agreed that they would be returning next year.
Mami Shirakawa, a fashion consultant who represents Opening Ceremony, H.P. France, Isetan Japan and Fred Segal Japan, said that her clients were enamored with Scott-Blackhall’s Dzojchen and Ling Wu, a Singaporean line of snakeskin handbags, and have plans to place orders.
“I’ve been coming to Blueprint for the past three, four years, and I’ve seen big changes,” said Shirakawa. “There is potential — the designers are getting much more skilled, and packaging and style are more precise and the cutting is great. I think it is going to be the next place for sure.”