We are proud to introduce Buro. Large, our biggest project to date — where print and digital integrate, where we touch upon the topics of diversity, sustainability, and transformability, as well as highlight Southeast Asia’s rich reservoir of talents.

Discover Buro. Large on our print broadsheet and microsite as we harness Augmented Reality (AR) technology, revealing a 360-degree immersive experience amplifying Buro. Singapore’s passion for storytelling.

Enjoy this experience with the Artivive App (available on The App Store, and Google Play Store), a revolutionary platform for a complete visual and audio immersion. With the Internet of Things (IoT), join us as Buro. Large invites you into a new dimension of media.

Harnessing Augmented Reality (AR) technology, Buro. Large brings a virtual espacade into our cover shoot, tellings stories beyond time with the Artivive App, an experiential platform that marries digital and print.

Photography by Vanessa Caitlin
Styling by Asri Jasman
Words by Aravin Sandran, Esther Quek, Janice Sim, Jolene Khor and Ryan Sng

Harnessing Augmented Reality (AR) technology, Buro. Large brings a virtual espacade into our cover shoot, tellings stories beyond time with the Artivive App, an experiential platform that marries digital and print.

Photography by Vanessa Caitlin
Styling by Asri Jasman
Words by Aravin Sandran, Esther Quek, Janice Sim, Jolene Khor and Ryan Sng

It has been 10 years since you participated in Singapore Idol. How would you describe the following formative years?

I started performing when I was 16, and I spent much of my time trying to figure out who I was as a person. I was a nobody who was thrown into the limelight. Suddenly, everyone knew who I was. I had to go through a period of trial and error after to figure out what I liked and disliked. At the same time, choosing the people who I surrounded myself with was also very important.

Who has stuck with you from the beginning?

I want to give a shout-out to my stylist, Adam Choong. He has been with me since I was 18. I’ve also got friends like Ungku Fathin who have been supportive since day one. I am obviously grateful for my family who have always grounded me. You can pretty much conquer everything if you surround yourself with the right people. 

How has fame changed your life?

I struggled with it a lot when I first started out because I’m a very private person. When I’m in a club, I have to stay extra friendly, even when I’m in the restroom because girls are always asking for selfies. Over the years, I’ve been able to compartmentalise the idea of fame as part of my job. I’ve never thought of doing what I do because I want to be famous. I’m not interested in that; I sing because I enjoy doing it.

Some of your singles speak about having a strong facade as a woman. Where does this notion come from?

I grew up in a family with strong, opinionated and loud Indian women. I’ve been taught that if I want things done, I should do it myself and not depend on anybody to get the job done. A lot of the songs relate to what I’ve been through. Before Sony, I was with a recording label and it didn’t work out well. I went through this awkward period where I was super insecure and didn’t feel good about myself. Thankfully, I managed to find a way to make it work. I’d be miserable in a 9-to-5 job.

What do you do, who do you go to and where do you go to find your sanctuary?

I like having time on my own. I have always embraced having my own space. I value time when I get it and I feel it recharges me. I need to have those moments otherwise I’ll get burnt out. The sound of water calms me. I enjoy taking a walk through nature too. After that, I’ll be fine. If I need to talk to somebody, I’ll go to my best girlfriends. 

Do you have any insecurities?

People think that I’m unfriendly because I have a resting bitch face. It’s something that I’m very insecure about, so every time I enter a room I’m always elevated. It has gotten better now. It used to be worse when I was a teenager because you want everyone to like you.

Are you afraid of failure?

I am very afraid of failure. I am very afraid of not meeting my potential. I have high standards for myself, but I think everyone does.

Personally, what has been your most dramatic failure?

I’m always afraid that I won’t be a good sister or friend because of my busy schedule. I don’t have a normal 9-to-5 job so I may be on a shoot on a weekend and have a friend texting me for help. I’m worried that I may not have the capacity to be at the shoot while being there for my friends and family. I’m always trying my hardest but it’s tough.

What sacrifices have you made to advance in your career?

I had to give up doing fun stuff. Obviously, I can’t be going out as much. I didn’t have the full polytechnic experience because I participated in Singapore Idol. I don’t feel like I’m missing out. If I hadn’t done it that way, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now so I’m completely fine with it.

Besides music, do you have other passion projects?

I’ve focused on music my whole life. I’m into fashion as well and would like to try my hand at acting.

Name some actresses you look up to.

I love Jada Pinkett Smith, Zoe Saldana and Zoe Kravitz.

Which television series did you wish you could be a part of?

I’ve always wanted to play a badass police investigator, so I’ll be in Criminal Minds.

In terms of fashion, how would you describe your style?

I love streetwear. I’ll never move away from it because I’m so comfortable in it. I grew up listening to hip-hop. I’m pretty sure that even after the trend goes, I’ll still be in it.

What is your proudest achievement in your life so far?

That I still have a career in music after 10 years.

What has been the most surreal moment?

It would definitely be opening for Khalid when he performed in Singapore last year. There were so many concert attendees and everyone was singing along. It was insane. This must be what it’s like to have your own concert. I left the stage with goosebumps because it was so wild. I want to do it every freaking night.

Looking towards the future, what are you most excited about?

I’m excited to be putting out more music and possibly tour around the region as well. I’ve always had my sights beyond Singapore.

Tell us what’s coming up for you this year.

Well, I’ve just finished filming for a movie due to release in Los Angeles and Asia. It’s actually my first international film so I’m looking forward to sharing it with the world. Apart from that, a clutch line that will retail on my website and local stores in the Philippines. I also have a beauty collaboration with my make-up artist, Albert Kurniawan — called Teviant.

That’s quite the list. How do you balance it all? 

I love what I do. And I have been working for 21 years so when I got to know myself, I became the woman that I was supposed to be. That’s when everything started to unfold for me, and it gives me a certain high and excitement to keep it up even when I am exhausted.

What has been your proudest moment so far? 

I really can’t point to one, definitive proud moment. For me, it’s seeing the woman I’ve become. I’m really proud of myself when I compare how I was before to how I am now, and how I’ve been able to conquer challenges and face my insecurities.

What is one thing you love about your job?

With my job, I get to do what I’m really passionate about. Acting is and always will be my first love. I mean, I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager! So the fact that I get to do something I love everyday makes me happy.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about what you do?

I think people don’t know that in general, I don’t have days off. Being an actor means working long irregular hours. And in my case, after working those long hours, I need to work on my YouTube channel, website, and design collaborations. Basically, my brain is switched on 24/7.

Walk us through your personal style.

My personal style is actually quite experimental. I like mixing things up a lot — combining different prints, colours, textures and silhouettes, and of course, topping off all of that with accessories and jewellery. I stand firm in the philosophy of never taking fashion too seriously. Having this attitude towards dressing allows me to have more fun with clothes.

What is one embarrassing habit you’re secretly proud of?

Wearing high heels is a habit of mine. I’m in them even when I’m doing simple errands! A lot of people think it’s so hard to do but I’ve just gotten so used to them to the point that I can’t live without them.

Where are your personal favourite spots to visit in Philippines? 

It has to be the beaches. I have a couple of all-time favourites that I keep going back to for vacation like Amanpulo, Balesin, Boracay, and my husband’s province, Sorsogon. In fact, I always get excited whenever a friend from abroad comes to the Philippines because it means I get to show them around our beaches.

Your all-time guilty pleasure? 

I love chocolate, cake, anything sweet. I also love this Filipino treat called polvoron — especially when it’s homemade.

What do you do when you’re feeling stressed? 

I paint! As an artist, creating something is the first thing I turn to when I need a little stress relief.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing? 

I would probably be a veterinarian. I love animals on such a deep level so having to take care of them as a job would be a dream.

What is a lesson you have learnt from the digital age? 

To definitely take things more lightly; to not drown in the pressure of looking flawless and perfect. Instead, to just be yourself and live your truth. It took me a while to develop this perspective with social media. Lord knows how hard I took the comments of online bullies before, and how hard I was on myself to look perfect too — but today, social media has become something I enjoy.

In your opinion, is there a particular place, activity or cultural landmark in Hong Kong which embodies youth culture?
One of the things that’s unique to Hong Kong is that this bustling city is also 70 percent nature. Hiking is one of my favourite things to do, and it’s an increasingly popular pastime for the young; instead of going to a shopping mall, people just spend the day hiking. My favourite hiking spot is Sharp Peak in Sai Kung. But if I don’t have much time to spare, I go to Victoria Peak instead, although it’s more touristy.

Do you prefer hiking alone or in a group?
I love going alone, because the outdoors is basically my gym. Who needs a gym membership anymore? [laughs] At the Peak there are even spaces for working out, so I’ll do that sometimes. But I always try new trails with a group; I’ve started hosting hiking meet-and-sweats, where I invite my followers to go hiking with me once a month. We pick a new trail, get together and get healthy!

Was health and fitness a big feature of life while you were growing up? How was it communicated to you that fitness was important?
I grew up in Vancouver, and the school I attended instilled a lot of that in me. I played  basketball, volleyball, and ran track and field. We also went camping twice a year, during summer and winter. Living in Vancouver and being exposed to so much nature got me hooked. It’s a part of who I am, and discovering that in Hong Kong was just amazing. If I had grown up in Hong Kong, I might not have known that nature could be experienced that way. If I hadn’t been taught it, I wouldn’t been able to enjoy it.

It sounds like being outdoors and in nature is a very intrinsic part of who you are.

I think that’s a part of everyone, it’s just whether they are regularly exposed to it.

Which film should everyone should watch at least once?

It’s so difficult to choose. One movie that’s sticking out in my head right now is Meet Joe Black. Brad Pitt was super young in it. I love that story… it talks about death, and cheating death.

Which book should everyone read?

I’m currently reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It’s been pretty life-changing; as women, we are conditioned by our families or society. I’ve always felt a strong connection to the wild and to the wild woman within me. She exists in all of us, but so many of us get conditioned out of it. The book interprets stories and myths from different cultures to send the message that, fundamentally, women are put on this earth to be free. It’s given me a really fresh and interesting perspective on what I’ve been through in life, and what I can be as well.

What song should everyone listen to?

Anything by Michael Jackson.

What artwork or cultural landmark should everyone experience?

The ocean.

Mother Nature’s masterpiece.

Exactly. Sail anywhere. Explore the world!

Which nugget of Internet ephemera (YouTube videos, memes, Twitter, Instagram posts et cetera) deserves a place in history books?

Just social media as a whole, really. It has, and is continuously causing dramatic changes in society. I don’t think any one small part of it is going to be remembered all that much.

What’s your favourite English slang?

How about, “lit”? [laughs]

Describe your perfect day.

I’d be on a sailboat, somewhere in the Mediterranean.

What is one horrifying habit you’re secretly proud of?

I sleep a lot.

How much sleep are we talking?

I just take tons of naps throughout the day, especially if I’ve nothing to do. I can rack up 12 hours of napping in a day! It’s a talent, just not one I should be proud of!

I’d say you’re living the dream. What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

That I’m actually antisocial. [laughs]

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

My freedom, and the opportunities and experiences I receive.

What has your career progression been like, and how did you get to where you are today?

I started blogging 12 years ago, documenting my style and DIY projects. Two years in, I had my first project with Levi’s; I styled an exhibition for the brand, and it just progressed slowly from fashion blogging to my current focus, which is more travel- and wellness-oriented.

Was there anything specific that triggered that shift in direction?

When I was fashion blogging, I would make numerous trips to meet designers and attend fashion weeks. I’d travel to all these cool places, but never got to properly explore them because I was always on a tight schedule. After a while, I said to myself: “I want to stay. I want to see the world, not just rush through it.” I love fashion, and still shoot and write about it sometimes. But I love that my current focus is taking me on lots of new experiences.

What’s one lesson you think you’ve learned about the social media age? What has social media and/or the Internet taught you about human nature or who you are as a person?

The Internet has taught me that there is no right or wrong. Nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re all just trying our best in the moment, and that just goes for life in general.

As someone with a very strong social media presence, how do you maintain a balance between your personal life and public persona?

When I first started out, I shared everything. If I had a new phone number, I’d share it. I just didn’t know what social media truly was and overshared, sometimes even posting 12 times a day. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules, all that matters is that you’re comfortable sharing what you do. But at some point, I decided to limit myself, and keep some things just for me.

How are you helping your 12-year-old son understand his relationship with technology?

Well, it’s a little strange because his experiences with social media and technology are totally different from mine. I tell him not to spend too much time on it, but honestly, he doesn’t really need me to [tell him]. He’s not interested in being on Instagram, and makes fun of what I do. I just have to watch over how he’s interpreting what’s around him; as long as it is within healthy boundaries, there’s not much that I can teach him. If anything, I learn more from my son than the other way around.

As a mother to a son, do you have any perspectives on raising a young boy when everything that surrounds gender and masculinity is under scrutiny?

I think both women and men and reflecting on their gender roles. The parts where women are learning to explore more and men learning to reflect more is healthy. Anything that gets people to reflect and be self-aware is good; it doesn’t mean that you’re wrong, it just means that you have to be more conscious about what you say and do.

What gives you hope for the world these days?

The growing awareness people have when it comes to environmental issues, gender, race and politics. People are just becoming more aware, and that’s the catalyst behind any change.

What do you wish for in the future?

I want people to see that life is an experience to be had. One should embody happiness and joy, and to let that guide every decision you make in life.

What are some of your upcoming projects?

I’m planning taking a five-year trip and sail around the world. It’s not going to happen anytime soon though, I’ll start my journey in a couple of years. I want to travel and be one with nature, be at the mercy of the wind and the ocean… I’m still going to have some creature comforts, though. [laughs]

What is the funniest, strangest or the most interesting thing you’ve recently seen on your Instagram explore pages?

Mukbang. It’s this Korean thing where people film themselves eating. I go down that rabbit hole quite a bit!

What do you think is the psychology behind that?

I still don’t think I’ve figured it out. [laughs]

Do you have any social media tips or hacks to share with our readers?

I like seeing creativity and a sense of artfulness. Do what inspires you and it will usually resonate with people.

How would you describe your style when it comes to photography and fashion?

My style usually revolves around vintage and classic references. I draw my inspiration from books and films. I particularly adore Chungking Express, In The Mood For Love, old European movies and films directed in Vietnam.

You have a book coming out later this year, which will document all your travels. Why did you want to publish this book?

I want the book to serve as inspiration for someone else who might not know what they want to do in life just yet. When I was a student, I used to get my inspiration from books. The book will include notes on how and what I was feeling at that particular period, and how my travels have changed me.

You’ve travelled to more than 25 countries. What has been your most important takeaway after visiting so many different cities and immersing in their cultures?

Open your heart and mind, and stay calm.

What’s your top five favourite countries or cities visited so far?

Ho Chi Minh City, Paris, Kyoto, Bhutan and Cairo.

How would you describe Vietnam to those who have yet to visit your home country?

It’s much more than you expect. There’s a great geographical balance between the city and the countryside, with plenty of nice people and delicious food all over the country.

You have invested in a series of cafes. Why did you decide to do that?

After visiting so many inspiring cafes around the world, I wanted to open my own place and share my vision. It was a small space at first, but it has grown — and we have four outlets now.  My cafes are located in conserved heritage houses and have a boutique-style atmosphere. I’m planning to open more in the future, and hope to expand beyond Vietnam at some point.

What do you love most about your job?

I love that I get to do whatever I want. I live without regrets. I don’t worry about the little things because everything is temporary.

You’re mostly known for being a travel influencer and an owner of cafes. What’s something most of your followers may not know about you?

I have a law degree.

Looking to the future, what are you most excited about?

I’m looking forward to travelling extensively and visiting new countries.

What would say to other young people who want to emulate your jet-setting, Insta-famous lifestyle?

Work hard, be humble, and stick with the plan. You should know who you are and what you want to be. It doesn’t matter if you want to travel around the world or you just want a stable job. Follow your calling.

What has been your proudest moment so far?

That I can support my family with a stable job, but I do realize that even though I can support them financially, I can’t seem to support them emotionally [with a hectic work schedule]. But nothing’s perfect; I try my best to always have time for my family.

How has your life changed since after Asia’s Next Top Model? And now that you’re a full-time presenter instead of a model, how has it been different?

It has changed 180 degrees. I never thought that I can afford to buy things that I can buy now. My life has been a blessing after the fourth season of Asia’s Next Top Model. Then I realized that it’s not just about being a model. I found my true calling by entering the entertainment industry as a presenter; it’s a job that’s more about your personality, rather than your looks. There’s better time management in it as well — I used to take the whole day for a fashion show, but now I can do five to seven jobs in a day. There’s also more responsibility involved — as the emcee, you’re the core of the event. There are many challenges that come with every job, but I get to learn so much from every hosting occasion.

What are your personal goals for 2019?

To take on less jobs. Also, I aim to commit to a workout routine this 2019, to significantly be stronger and healthier. I fell sick on many occasions last year. These are things that I don’t share on social media because I don’t want to share negativity. I have never stuck to a fitness routine, but I do the bare minimum like taking the stairs instead of the lift, or walking instead of driving a car — which works out, especially with the heavy traffic in Jakarta.

Back to social media and negativity with Instagram, it’s so glossy and alluring. Do you feel that you hold back sharing the bad things on your feed?

I do share negativity, just selectively. For instance, if I lost my luggage due to the negligence of the airline, I will share it. I always give honest reviews (be it good or bad), because they pay me to, and my followers trust me enough to give them the truth.

What is one thing you love most about your job?

I get to travel instead of being stuck in one place. I get to meet lots of people every day and it’s a lot of fun.

What are some tips that you always abide by when you travel.

I always sleep, whenever I can — in the car, on the plane. And I’m only in comfortable clothing like jogger pants, sport shoes or sandals. When I fly, I lose the makeup and slap on skincare instead. Also, I’m never caught without my neck pillow.

Where are the lesser-known spots in Indonesia that’s worth traveling to?

Raja Ampat and Komodo island, the new It places. They’re like Bali but there’s more nature there, minus the influx of tourists.

Is there something that most people don’t know about what you do?

My job looks glamorous from the outside, but I often have to wake up at 3am or 4am to head to the TV station. It does get tiring, and I have to pack everything myself.

What is a lesson that you have learned from the digital age?

It really depends on who you follow. I’ve learnt that despite the glamorous things that you see, it’s hard to tell if people are genuinely happy. Many things are kept behind the scenes that you don’t see.

On to lighter things, what is your favorite emoji to use?

Probably the one with the side tongue sticking out.

What do you do when you’re feeling stressed? How do you unwind?

I help with a charity organization from time to time. Talking to my dad always helps as well.

What is an invention that you are looking forward to be created in the future?

I would love to have a baby without the pain of childbirth and being pregnant for nine months. All this without the help of a surrogate. This is why they call it the future, right?

Tell us what’s coming up for you this year.

I’m part of the Tresemme squad, where we’ll head up to New York Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week this season. I also a new television talk show that’s coming up.

What are some of your earliest memories of fashion?

When I was really little, probably around the age of three, my mum took my friend (our neighbour’s kid) and I to the zoo. I remember being blown away by the dress my friend was wearing. She was wearing a dress, to the zoo. Meanwhile, I was in a T-shirt and shorts. I looked at my mother and told her I wanted the exact same dress, and I started crying. The market my friend had bought the dress from was on our way to the zoo, so my mum picked it up and I changed into it once we arrived. [laughs]

What spurred you to start your company?

I was a rock and roll 90s girl and loved wearing T-shirts. But the ones available in Thailand back then were different from those in the US. Those from the US were far more expensive but the fabrics were so soft and draped so much better on the body. I could only afford second-hand tees, and figured that if I couldn’t find a quality T-shirt that was also affordable, then I’d have to make one. I was 19 at that time.

I started sourcing for fabric in Thailand and looked for a factory to work with. But nobody wanted to do business with me, because I only wanted to produce 10 T-shirts when the usual minimum order was around 500 pieces. I finally found a willing factory though, I think it was because they took pity on me! I also didn’t know where to sell or promote my product. I just gave them to my friends. Back then, there was no social media. Because I was still studying, I hit the ‘pause’ button for a long period of time. It was only six years ago, when I started making clothes again.

What was the most surprising thing about running a business, that you could you not have known before starting one?

It’s a tough business to sustain your own fashion label, because things change so fast. You spend 80 percent of your time on execution; the actual design process is a very small part of having a fashion label. No one ever ‘warned’ me about these things. I think my career has made me less naive!

Do you have any strongly identifiable signatures?

I like layering and combining different lace trims to create new patterns. The dress I’m wearing right now is cut from four different types of lace. We hardly cut and sew fabric directly from the mill.

What’s the most unique quality of the Thai fashion industry?

How creative and fun the people in it are.

What film should everyone see before they die?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry. It’s the most romantic film that I’ve ever seen, yet it’s not cliche. Jim Carrey conveyed loneliness and insecurity so well; I think this was his best performance. And the soundtrack is great.

On the topic of romance, what do you think is the most sincere expression of love?

I think holding hands is the simplest thing you can do, but it tells you a lot. You can feel someone’s sincerity through touch. Whether it’s between friends or lovers, or whether you’re doing it to support somebody through a rough patch… holding hands is the greatest expression of love.

What book should everyone read before they die?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I read it in my teens, and it changed me. It’s about a young Spanish boy who goes on a journey to discover treasure in Egypt, and along the way, he meets people who help him realise his dream. My takeaway from the book is to never be afraid to dream, set goals, and be passionate about doing what you love. When you have that mindset, the stars will align and meet you, wherever you are in the world.

It sounds like you’ve a very focused personality. Are you an organised or messy creative?

I’m more messy and spontaneous. My husband would agree!

What song should everyone listen to at least once?

Everybody Here Wants You by Jeff Buckley. I love Jeff Buckley. Absolutely love him. It’s such a shame he only released one album.

What artwork/cultural landmark should everyone experience?

Pablo Picasso’s body of work, no artwork in particular. He was a rare artist who lived well, was a genius and didn’t die poor.

Describe your perfect day.

I’d spend it someplace where there’s no news, no cell service, and no cameras. I just want to be barefoot on soil or sand.

What is one horrifying habit you are proud of?

I’m always the last person in family to rise. It’s pretty bad considering I have a child. [laughs]. My husband, on the other hand, is an early bird.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

It’s probably how much I really work behind the scenes of my company. I’m not just sketching. It is a tough, tough, tough business, which can take a lot out of you.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Apart from creating and sharing my work, I get to meet my customers, some of whom have become friends. I get ideas from the experiences they share with me, and designing has since become much like a conversation with them.

What is the most interesting comment a client has ever made about your clothes?

Somebody once said to me that when she wore my clothes, she felt her best, which is exactly what I want people to feel. Comments like that make my day.

What’s one lesson you’ve learnt from the digital or social media age?

It’s important to be aware. I remember a time without social media, so I know the upsides and the downsides of it. When 19-year-old me made T-shirts, she didn’t know where to show her pieces off to people. I didn’t have a platform for that. It’s so much easier to showcase my clothes today, but at the end of the day, you have to understand it’s just a platform. Social media or the Internet isn’t a life, you need to unplug from it sometimes.

Share a social media hack with us.

I find that more natural and less posed shots do better. Perfection doesn’t appeal to people… they want to see the real you.

What invention do you wish for in the future?

I would love for the fashion industry to become more effective at using recycled fabric.

Do you have an unrealised or upcoming project you could share with us?

I have always wanted to own an orange grove!

You’re an actress, you own a café in Malaysia… what’s keeping you busy now?

I’m more active behind the camera these days than I am in front of it. I have my hands full at my production house, The Live Media, producing digital content for clients. I also manage my two clothing lines, El by Elfira Loy and Twinkle by Elfira Loy.

As a social media star, what lessons have you learnt from the digital age?

I’ve learnt that you have to take responsibility for the message you send out to the world. Sure, your feed is your personal space but it’s also a public platform so you can’t stop people from making assumptions about your life. I’ve had to deal with comments about what I wear — because I’m Muslim and thus expected to dress appropriately. At the same time, I can’t pay too much attention to the talk. You can’t get away from negativity but you can spread positivity. Positivity always wins.

Is it difficult to control your image on such a platform like Instagram?
People can be blunt. I try to share my personal life because it’s how I grow my relationship with my fans, but I limit what I choose to say. Honesty can be tricky; it’s easy for people to twist your words, change the intention of what you want to express and have a hold on your mental health as a consequence. I was engaged to a singer in Malaysia. I broke off the engagement a few months later and I’m now married to someone else, someone I’ve only known for five months. There’s been a lot of talk about that — there were suggestions that I married for money, et cetera.

How did you respond?
I didn’t. I turned down multiple requests for interviews with the media. Why should I speak up if no one really wants to listen? I decided it’s better for me to be silent and focus on those who know me and love me.

What’s a secret habit you’re proud to have?

I like to wake up really early in the morning, about 6.30am. My mum taught me that women should start our days early with household chores. I also read motivational and religious books.

Do you have a yet unrealised project?

I would love to write a book. Because I began working when I was 12, people have always asked me how I manage my time. Therefore, I want to help others manage their lives with a self-help book, and tour schools and colleges to reach young people.

Twelve is young!
My mum raised my siblings and I as a single mother and she needed to find a place she could send us besides school — to explore what we want to pursue, instead of just playing outside and getting mixed with the wrong crowd. That’s why she encouraged us to audition for the theatre, along with some 500 other kids. I was really lucky to have been chosen to sing, dance and act in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

And this led you to a career in television.
You can say that. It was fun in the beginning but acting wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought it would be later on. While my peers got to act their age, I didn’t. No time for a social life, and no time for watching television, ironically, when I was hosting and acting in locally produced TV shows. All my free time I spent at shoots and rehearsals after school and on weekends; to help my mum make ends meet, I sacrificed playtime with my friends. I hid this from her, of course. If I told her I didn’t really love it anymore, she would have pulled me out, so I put on a good face and told her I did.

What is the most challenging role that’s come your way?

It’s really fun to pretend to be someone else because I get to explore what it’s like to have experiences, thoughts and histories of a fictional character. But playing the titular character in Qalesya at 16 was hard. Qalesya was a good Muslimah, a pure spirit who wore a head scarf. Little did my fans know, I wasn’t wearing one at the time, nor was I as sweet and soft-spoken as she is. There was a lot of pressure for me to be her; the fan base was so strong, people named their daughters after her.

What upcoming projects are you most excited about this year?
My heart is everywhere! Wherever life leads me to next, I’ll gladly go.

What do you love most about your job?

Because I’m a celebrity and an entrepreneur, a lot of young people look up to me. They make me want to do my best in every aspect of my life so I can inspire them. I don’t see that as a burden, but a push that I need to be better.

FASHION

The Emperor’s New Clothes are Asian-Made

Fashion has always loved mining Asian history and art, if somewhat misguidedly. But what happens when Asians make the leap from pliable fantasy characters to reigning storytellers? Meet the game-changing, must-know designers who are making waves, redefining Asian narratives, and staking a claim to the throne of the global fashion industry.

Words by Ryan Sng Edited by Jolene Khor

Asia has been a fount of inspiration to the Western world for centuries, if not millennia. Artists, fashion designers, musicians and filmmakers once let romantic and imaginative impulses run wild in their Asian-inspired works, but in this age of intersectionality, such expressions of creative licence may come off as tone deaf. Put simply, from an Asian perspective, outsiders don’t always nail it when it comes to our art and stories (six words to make your skin crawl — Mr Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is otherwise the nigh-perfect fashion film).

Representation is widely seen as the answer to society’s frequently offensive ills, and we’re inclined to agree. Sharing first-hand life experiences provides crucial points of identification for those different to us. Translation: as much as we wish it weren’t necessary, minorities and the marginalised need to speak up for themselves, and loudly, if only so others don’t misspeak on their behalf. Or, if second-hand storytelling is unavoidable, it should at least come from a place of humility and understanding, not complacency and presumption. To provide two real-world illustrations: Apu’s characterisation on The Simpsons is in no way culturally relevant in 2019, and that the shrill, Chinese takeout waitress who taunts Sex and the City’s Miranda Hobbes via telephone was a lazy caricature. A truly progressive society should be able to acknowledge that certain things which were once amusing or beautiful aren’t so anymore, without fearing the collapse of civilisation; like, puh-lease, you guys.

An increasingly resonant conversation in culture is the need for representation behind the scenes, too; all’s well and good with Asian actors and runway models, but if the material — e.g. a screenplay or fashion collection — they’re given to work with is trite and reductive, then what’s the point? Which is why we’ve chosen to shine the spotlight on the designers of Asian descent who are making it big in the global fashion industry.

We’re going to address the elephant in the room — it has not eluded our notice that all but one of the Asian designers listed here are of East Asian descent. This lack of diversity is symptomatic of the progress that still needs to be made. At the same time, we believe that you, our readers, deserve the unvarnished truth; let us all hope though, for a more inclusive and varied cross-section of high-profile Asian talent to come.

Angel Chen

London-trained Angel Chen, known for her vibrant and playful work, has been a supporter of the Chinese fashion industry since her earliest beginnings. Despite having already shown at Milan and New York fashion weeks, Chen remains vocal about the virtues of Labelhood, the Shanghai-based showcase of emerging local talent. The warm critical reception she’s received both at home as well as abroad testify to the cross-cultural appeal of her highly specific, Chinese point of view, with retailers, too, frequently citing the age and gender-diverse clients who are helplessly drawn to her clothes.

Chen is just one of a growing number of designers whose education and experiences overseas have instilled in them a thirst for global exposure, and the drive to change an industry better known internationally for manufacturing, and not creative design. Her frequent mashups of Asian history (e.g. the renowned female pirate Madame Ching) with contemporary street culture (e.g. the Japanese yakuza) are opening eyes to Asia’s less obvious cultural narratives, which, too long unused or abused, are ripe for new interpretations.

Masayuki Ino/Doublet

In 2018, Doublet founder Masayuki Ino became the first Asian winner of the coveted LVMH prize, winning raves from judges including Nicolas Ghesquière and Clare Waight Keller for his fun-filled (think compressed clothes in ramen noodle-esque packets) yet technically brilliant work. It’s a sign of how far we’ve come as a global industry that a Japanese designer best known for his pop-deconstruction — which revives vintage nightmare players like tie-dye, lumberjack plaids, lenticular textures and leopard faux-fur in a borderline fashion pastiche — has won the seal of approval from the establishment.

Where Japanese voices were once routinely pigeonholed and expected to fit the austere, high-concept template set by Rei, Yohji, Issey and co., there’s now a slightly more developed understanding that personal aesthetics resist profiling by region of origin and ethnicity. Case in point: last year, Ino was also invited by Pierpaolo Piccioli to work on a capsule collection for Valentino, the fruits of which blended seamlessly into the rest of the season’s line and required little by way of trumpety virtue-signaling.

Rahemur Rahman

He may be the freshest designer of the lot, but British-Bangladeshi Rahman’s inclusionary vision predates his label’s founding. While working at a creative agency, a self-directed photoshoot — which dressed a cast of South Asian descent in a mix of western streetwear and traditional South Asian clothing — circulated on social media and caught the eye of critic Sarah Mower, who over coffee advised Rahman to pursue a design career. He was also the creative director behind the industry-acclaimed London Modest/Muslimah Fashion Week.

For his hit fall 2019 presentation, the Central Saint Martins-trained designer cut his brightly-dyed cottons, silks and linens into uncomplicated, unfussy menswear staples. The clothes captured the fusion of European and South Asian culture that is central to Rahman’s identity, but more exceptional was the entirely South Asian team behind the seams of the collection. Rahman is clearly invested in giving traditionally sidelined minorities a platform at every level of creativity, and, great clothes aside, we’ve little doubt that his ability to nurture and empower others will take him far in the menswear game.

Photo: Net-a-Porter

Ji Hye Koo/Gu_de

Ji Hye Koo is the antithesis of the modern star designer; you’ll find no splashy public persona or machiavellian marketing behind her cult handbag label Gu_de (whose name is derived, allegedly, from an archaic Scottish pronunciation of ‘good’). As a hardened industry veteran boasting more than 15 years of design experience under her belt, Koo knows that the product trumps all; her company’s growth under Net-a-Porter’s Vanguard mentorship program is largely owed to the support of the all-important micro-influencer crowd, which has helped it build, slowly but surely, a steady following through word-of-mouth.

In an accessories climate dominated by improbable shapes and hyperbolic hardware, Koo opts instead for classic top-handle shapes with retro plastic chains in croc-pattern embossed leather. Gu_de’s pieces feel like a palate-cleanser amidst the glut of photogenic-but-ephemeral bags which feed the street style machine’s appetite for novelty; we can’t help but see Koo’s modus operandi as a quiet subversion of one of contemporary fashion’s least sustainable practices, and love her for it.

Shangguan Zhe/Sankuanz

As a former advertising specialist, Shangguan Zhe must have a knack for strategic partnerships; he’s pulled off collabs between his fashion label Sankuanz and the likes of Puma, Herschel, G-Shock, Teva, Adidas and Vans, presumably making serious dough in the process. Sankuanz’s elevated streetwear may frequently be inspired by youth, subculture and the latest in performance textiles, but the label has also earned attention for its designer’s arch sense of irony and provocation; Zhe once sent pastel-clad models down the runway with (artificially) bruised and scarred faces, sparking criticism as well as praise for its conflation of masculinity with violence, while on a lighter note, FW18’s sneaker-protectors — which were essentially orthopedic sandals for sneakered feet — tickled the internet.

With Paris Fashion Week-regular Sankuanz having passed the 10-year mark in business, Zhe’s inclusion on this list may strike some as a little odd. But as one of the most high-profile Chinese designers in recent memory to decamp to Xiamen for a better quality of life, Zhe is a major contributor to government-sponsored attempts at turning the city into a fashion education and clothing design hub. In 2016, he even opened Akipelago, a multilabel boutique largely stocking young and independent, Xiamen-based brands. When The Business of Fashion labeled Zhe and a handful of peers ‘The Xiamen Fashion Gang’, drawing comparisons between them and the  legendary Antwerp Six, Zhe rebutted that while the Antwerp Six were all trained within their city of residence, most of the ‘Xiamen Fashion Gang’ went abroad to study. That pointed awareness of the industry’s existing limitations, combined with a boundless sense of possibility and ambition, makes Zhe the ideal proponent for the changing face of Chinese fashion.

Yutong Jiang & Liushu Lei/Shushu/Tong

The feminist subtexts of Japanese Lolita fashion and its closest Anglophone equivalent, kinderwhore, may be somewhat quaint by most audience standards these days. But the social disenfranchisement of women in society is a pretty relevant in China, where women continue to face censorship when discussing endemic issues like sexual harassment in higher education and the workplace.

Enter the girlishly sinister oeuvre of Shushu/Tong, whose founders Yutong Jiang and Liushu Lei present, season after season, collections that unpack the mythical stage of life between girlhood and womanhood. Co-designers Lei and Jiang, who have been close friends since their teenage years, both grew up on a diet of maho shojo/magical girl manga in which ordinary young women discover their hidden potential. Shushu/Tong’s grown-up takes on school girl uniforms as well as maho shojo’s out-of-this-world ruffled confections are clear holdovers of this fantastical childhood hobby. While it would be easy to dismiss their work as fluff, there’s something enticing about the designers’ earnest faith in the irrepressible power of femininity, especially amidst an occasionally brutal patriarchal world.

BEAUTY

The
SHADES
and
SHAPES
of
SINGAPORE

To see beyond the colour of one’s skin, one must first come face to face with it. And so we held the mirror up at a league of racially diverse women in Singapore to better understand the power and prejudices that come with being different.

Words by Jolene Khor
Photographs by Vanessa Caitlin

Niamh MacFadden is a yoga instructor. She is of Irish descent.

What does being beautiful mean to you?

It’s beautiful to take care of yourself and be grateful for what you have. It’s cliché but I truly believe beauty starts from the inside. Your outlook on life — and that includes shedding any unnecessary (non-physical) weight or burdens — allows you to be happier and lighter, and in turn, a more beautiful person. My parents cared very much about my looks when I was younger. While my siblings and I felt it was coming from a place of love, support and well-meaning, in hindsight, it was damaging to us girls to have so much importance placed on our appearances, especially our weight. It manifested into self-confidence issues when I became a teenager and adult.

Who holds the responsibility for spreading healthy perceptions of beauty?

We all do. Every individual can make a difference, whether it’s by vocalising our opinions on social media or just by becoming open-minded and starting a dialogue with friends and audiences big and small. Obviously, mainstream media reaches millions of people and that makes it important for big corporations, fashion houses, advertising companies and the like to ensure their messaging is supportive and encouraging of healthy perceptions of beauty, but we  as individuals have to let go of any biases we may have adopted growing up.

Has anyone ever commented on your skin colour?

No, though that doesn’t mean we’re all free from judgement.

What’s it like to be a white woman in Singapore?

I’ve never had to think much about the colour of my skin, and that says a lot about the reality of white privilege. It’s important for me to acknowledge that as much as I feel Singaporean, I’m still considered an outsider for having white skin — no matter how many decades I have spent here. While the colour of my skin doesn’t affect my personal sense of beauty, there have been times when people have commented on my physical looks, appearance or beauty without mentioning the colour of my skin — but it was obvious that the comment was made because I’m white or different to what people are used to seeing and have grown up with. I’m aware that I often stand out as the ang moh in the group, which makes me uncomfortable.

GJ Wee is a consultant at Boston Consulting Group, and the co-owner and director of Ufit, a fitness and nutrition centre. She is of Chinese descent.

What does being beautiful mean to you?

Being beautiful to me means not giving a f—ck about what people think. Just living authentically in a way that is true to myself. It’s something I struggled with quite a bit because society tells you that you need to be one thing but you feel like you are another. It’s not always easy to feel like you are living a truly authentic life. People have tried to put me in a box but I’ve rebelled against it so much they have stopped trying.

Was there a time when you cared about what people thought?

It has taken me a long time to get to where I am now. When I was younger, I definitely cared a lot about what my family and friends thought of me. I’ve since come to realise, through growing up, that if you give people the power to dictate how you live your life, you will never be happy.

In what respect have you tried to gain public approval?
I have always been quite open about my sexuality — I’m gay and have been out since I was 15 — but support didn’t come from every direction. I know that I’m not going to get everyone’s approval so I just have to live my own life. I’m happy and I love who I love. I grew up in a very religious family, so it was very tough in that respect, but my friends have always stuck by me and I have always surrounded myself with people who never judged me. That helped immensely. It wasn’t always easy but it has been ok.

You’re brave.

Thank you. Having said that, I definitely had it easier than a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community. Though we have strict laws here, I’ve been quite protected in a way. I read about things that happen to people of colour who are gay — not so much here but in America, the number of people who get killed every day just for being gay, Hispanic or black is crazy. Living in Singapore and being part of the majority race has afforded me some protection. Chinese privilege definitely exists.

Charlotte Mei de Drouas is a trained nutritionist and a television host. She is of French and Chinese descent.

What does being beautiful mean to you?

Being beautiful is just as much about being confident in your own skin as it is about feeling comfortable with different. We wake up looking a little different every day and it’s about being comfortable with that, with change. You shouldn’t feel beautiful because of what you see in the mirror but because of how you feel inside — that’s how I have been raised at home. My mum never told me how I should dress or how I should look. Instead, she encouraged me to go inward. That really is the forefront of beauty to me.

Do you think you’re beautiful?

I do identify myself as beautiful — physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s a blessing, inside and out. I’m privileged to be blessed with good genes but I also have great people around me who empower me, reminding me that I don’t have to fit into a certain mould to be beautiful. Because I don’t fit within the French mould of beauty. Nor the Singaporean one at that. Visually, those who are slim, straight-haired and have fair-skinned are considered beautiful in Singapore. I don’t have the body type; I can hardly fit into bottoms here because I’ve got hips! When I go to France, they think I have “Asian eyes” so I’m Asian; in Singapore, I’m told the opposite. It can be confusing. I’m thankful I grew up in a household that embraced me for myself. I am who I am and I should rock it.

Has anyone ever commented on your skin colour?

I have quite a “neutral” skin colour so it’s never been a factor. Having said that, I do think that people are judged based on their skin colour in Singapore although we are a multiracial country. My friend who is brown told me that she always felt that growing up, she had to “scrub away her darkness” and she was told to put powder on her face every day before she left home. Someone else who’s close to me said the same thing. He’s brown too and powder was and still is a part of his daily life though he’s a grown man. It’s become a habit because his father used to tell him and his sibling to put powder on to whiten their skin. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Has our perception of beauty changed over the years?

Definitely. Beauty was very whitewashed when I was a kid — people looked to the white community and they thought that was beauty. We hardly embraced our Asian features; we are embracing that a little more now but it’s always very extreme — suddenly it’s great to look super oriental. I think Singaporeans don’t really know where to fit in because we are not super Oriental, nor are we super Western. We fall somewhere in the middle and that’s a beauty that we have not yet learned to love.

Lily Hamid is the general manager of SocietyA. She is of Malay descent.

What does being beautiful mean to you?

Someone who is beautiful radiates warmth, kindness and authenticity. True beauty isn’t just about appearances but how one treats others and makes others feel. You could be physically attractive but also be attractive to others based on who you are, and your personality.

Do you think you’re beautiful?

I never thought of myself as beautiful when I was younger; I was still coming to terms with my body for being plus-sized — it was hard to accept that, which people told me again and again is unattractive. I cared too much about what others thought; I didn’t know any better. Now that I’m in my 30s, I’ve learnt that I don’t need validation from anyone else as long as I’m being the best possible version of myself. I appreciate myself a lot more, I’m really thankful for what I have and I’m loving the capacity that I can give to my loved ones. I feel beautiful — yes!

What’s it like to be a Malay woman in Singapore?

It’s funny you ask because I often get mistaken for being of another ethnicity because I’m either thought as fairer or darker than what people expect a Malay person to look like. My three-year-old daughter, who shares my skin colour, has also been mistaken for being of another ethnicity. It’s very intriguing. It surprises me that people still feel that ethnicities have “fixed” skin tones today. I’m sure almost everyone has family members or friends who have joked about their skin colour. There are also old wives’ tales. When I was pregnant, I was told to drink more white or light-coloured beverages so that I’ll give birth to a fairer child; if I drink dark-coloured drinks, my baby would be darker. I wonder who comes up with these beliefs!

Has our perception of beauty changed over the years?

Our perception of beauty has widened to be more inclusive. We are seeing more plus-sized women (like body-positivity activist Ashley Graham) grace the covers of fashion magazines, more women of different races and ethnicities represented in advertisements, and more people stepping out of their shell and society’s expectations to dress in ways that allow them to express their individuality. It’s not a perfect time, but it is leaps and bounds better than where we were a decade ago.

Adlina Anis is the designer of her eponymous line of hijab. She is of Malay descent.

What does being beautiful mean to you?
Being beautiful is about who you are as a person. If you are a nice, kind, human being, you naturally will emote beauty. Beauty doesn’t have to be a physical attribute at all; it’s beyond that. My parents never used the word on me, but I don’t think they really needed to. There was so much love around and when you feel loved, little else matters because when you feel loved, you feel important. And that feeds the soul most.

Are there any pitfalls to being beautiful?

I’ve been told that I “look so much better in real life”. Compliments are lovely but I do hope my face is not all anyone sees. I’m really lucky because the industry I’m in now has been all about physical appearances, and a lot of the opportunities I’ve had… I think were given to me because of the way I look. It has opened doors for me in ways that I could never have imagined. At the same time, I know I have to work three times harder because of my appearance and what I wear — my hijab. I do feel that I have to prove myself, that I’m not just a pretty face.

The world is a lot nicer to pretty people.

It’s definitely a barrier to break through, a kind of beauty glass ceiling, if you will. That’s how life is — it’s not just an affliction within the industry. The world cares so much about the physical appearance. But no matter what you look like, you have to knock on every door you can knock on and prove your worth. And you do that by working hard.

Now that social media reigns supreme, has our relationship with media changed?

For a long time, we’ve blamed the media for encouraging unattainable standards of beauty. In the past, they were the ones shaping the world’s point of view of what we “should” look like. But now, there’s an awareness, that the images we see from the media are an illusion. It’s all a fantasy. I hope that people know it’s a fantasy. Because at the end of the day, they’re just pictures. Real life is what matters.

Rani Dhaschainey is the co-owner of The Curve Cult, a plus-size fashion boutique. She is of Indian descent.

What does being beautiful mean to you?

Beauty is so much more than meets the eye. It comes in all shapes and forms and sizes and colours, which really means that we are all beautiful — no matter what we look like. It doesn’t matter if you are still struggling to accept your skin, or still struggling to accept your body. There is beauty in there and for the girl who has already accepted herself and who knows that this is her version of beauty, she has imperfections, and that it’s ok, that’s beautiful too. There is beauty in all of us, we have to see that. It doesn’t matter if other people do not see it but as long as we realise it, it’s all good.

How do you define body positivity?

It doesn’t matter to me what someone else’s definition of beauty is. This is exactly how I am, and I am different. There may not be a ton of people who look like me and are portrayed or featured in the media. Most of the time, those who receive airtime are thin. You don’t see plus-sized women, you don’t see coloured women, you don’t see women with very visibly fat bodies. You see curvy women…maybe. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us with different bodies don’t exist.

Has anyone ever made comments about your appearance?

My family has made comments about [my] appearance. They definitely have said that I’m beautiful, so I have never thought that I am not beautiful in my family — but I was also told that I could be thinner. I grew up thinking that I have to be smaller, that my size is something I should change. I don’t fault my family because that’s what they know and if I wasn’t told those things, I wouldn’t be on this journey to discover that size isn’t really that important, and that I don’t need to be skinny to be beautiful. There were also times when I put my life on hold because I thought everything will be perfect when I get skinny. I suffered from self-esteem issues in my 20s; that is why discovering body positivity was so important and so helpful to me.

What’s it like to be an Indian woman in Singapore?

People used to tell me that I’m “very pretty for an Indian girl” and that I’m “very beautiful for a dark-skinned woman”. What does that even mean? And to think that I get it really easy as compared to other plus-sized girls because I have a curvy body and a conventional beautiful face. I’m not that dark, I’m kind of olive, I have curly hair… I have good stuff by society’s skewed standards. I am what they consider “good fat”. There are a lot of other people who get it worse and they must be appreciated and accepted as well.

Melanie Kasise is a student and a model. She is of African and Chinese descent.

What does being beautiful mean to you?

If you have a beautiful personality, I will judge you based on that. The inside is more important than the outside, but if you’re beautiful outside too? That’s a bonus.

Is the phrase “black is beautiful” applicable in Singapore?

Those who think that my skin colour is a hype are disgusting. I’ve gotten comments such as, “Oh, your skin is on trend right now” and “I’ll date a girl of colour” because it’s suddenly cool to be black. On the other hand, my African friends and I don’t always feel very appreciated nor accepted here. When we walk down the street with our Afro hair, people look at us differently, like we’re strange. So what if I don’t have straight hair or fair skin? I’ve lived here all my life, I’m 100 percent Singaporean; I’m so Singaporean I even speak Singlish! But Singapore is still very narrow-minded. I was bullied as a kid because of how I look. That’s too bad because our skin and hair deserve to be seen as and called beautiful.

At what age did you realise you were different?

When I went to an international nursery. My mother thought that environment would be more accepting of me, but that wasn’t the case. Most international kids there were Caucasian and they were vicious. Because I wore my hair naturally (and my mother didn’t know about braiding then yet), kids would say that my hair was so big it was crazy. They teased me, called my hair “broccoli”. For a while, it was hurtful and I begged my mom to let me straighten my hair. I’m glad she never let me, and always told me I’m beautiful just the way I am. Because of her, I’m modelling today. Now, I love my hair. I want to grow it out and wear it completely natural.

Who holds the responsibility of spreading healthy perceptions of beauty?

Everybody is responsible. Even my family who has seen its fair share of racism is still very old-fashioned where body shapes are concerned. Whenever someone says something insensitive or unkind, I make it known that it’s not right. Imagine is everybody did that; if we all educated the people around us, progress will be faster and acceptance won’t be a novelty but the norm.

CULTURE

Buro. Visits: A tour of Singaporean contemporary artist and musician, Ruben Pang’s gritty studio

Words by Tracy Phillips Video by David Bay

Ruben Pang has achieved rare success for a young Singaporean painter. Selling out his first solo show straight out of school in 2011 and most shows since, has fortified Pang’s career and enabled him to lease his own studio. Tucked away in a non-descript industrial estate in Boon Lay, he paints through the night and feeds his other creative outlet, playing the guitar and making and mixing music, sometimes accompanied by members of his band, A Talon Hits the Lake.

A signature of Pang’s work is his use of aluminium panels as a canvas for his oil paintings, because in his own words, “it’s a much more forgiving surface that can take a lot of abuse.” See any one his works up close and you will immediately understand. The layers of labour and emotion are almost palpable; brushstrokes that call out to be felt rather than seen. Using experience built up from experimenting with various techniques, including painting with his fingers and hands, combined with an approach he describes as “consistently random” has aided Pang in knowing when to leave a canvas alone, to wait and when to keep grappling. The results are visceral, otherworldly and at times unsettling, alive with dissonance and phantom forms in technicolour.

Another way that Pang stands out in the local arts scene is the ease with which he is able to articulate the ideas and themes behind his work. Prone to speaking in streams of consciousness through puffs of smoke, Pang came across as measured and contemplative when we spoke to him about the realms he has created in his works, including with his band who are set to release their EP, Creeptone in the next two months.

Ruben Pang is represented by Chan + Hori Contemporary Gallery in Singapore. He will be showing two new works on 6 March at a group show for South East Asian artists at Tang Contemporary Arts in Bangkok and is preparing for his next solo show at Primo Marella Gallery in Milan in end May.

LIFESTYLE

It’s 2019, why are we still not getting enough quality rest?

From teas and essential oils to sleep trackers and robots — , we’ve seen them all. But has sleep technology changed our lives for the better?we’ve yet to find the perfect solution

Words by Charmaine Tai

We have autonomous cars, refrigerators that tell us when we’re lacking certain items, heck, we can even adjust the temperature or light in the room with a voice command. So why do we still have problems sleeping? To our ancestors, we’ve made it. Big time. We’re no longer fighting for survival. We’re apex predators, top of the food chain.

Increased working hours, the pressure to be constantly productive and the need to deliver results are just some factors that affect our sleep in the 21st century. Sleep deprivation increases our risk for chronic illness, and affects our work performance, mood, energy levels and emotional stability. As a matter of fact, most Singaporeans sleep seven hours a day, which is significantly less than people living in Belgium and Australia, where the average is about eight hours.

What’s more? In Singapore, about 30 percent of us are plagued by insomnia, which means that receiving a good night’s sleep is in itself a win. But for those in the science, health and technology fields, this isn’t enough. They have devised methods, designed products and created jobs (sleep technicians conduct sleep studies, treat sleep disorders and review results) in the hopes that we’ll be able to pin down a fool-proof method of replicating restful sleep, night after night. Here’s to sweet slumber.

The OG Of Sleep Tech

The term may be a buzzword of the 21st century, but way before we knew what it was, NASA invented memory foam in the 1970s. What was meant to keep pilots cushioned during flights spun off into the introduction of memory foam pillows and mattresses, both of which align our spine, reducing strain on our backs and necks, inducing a more restful state. Can’t bear to fork out a pretty penny for memory foam? You can try drinking chamomile and lavender tea to soothe nerves, or slather on some lotion or essential oils that promote relaxation. While these everyday items have less to do with technology, they’re backed by scientific research.

The Wearables

In addition, there are digitally driven products, such as sleep trackers, fitness trackers and smart watches that keep track of your activities and heart rate throughout the day, along with a rough gauge as to how well you’ve slept the night before — including the moment you slid into deep slumber.

Tech giant Philips introduced its SmartSleep headbands, aimed at triggering quiet audio tones to improve sleep quality. On the other hand, Senseez’s vibrating cushions and pillows employs vibrational therapy to calm the user and ease them into a more relaxed state. Perhaps the most fun of the lot is Somnox, a bean-shaped sleep robot that you can hug to sleep.

The Somnox Sleep Robot lulls you to sleep by playing soothing sounds and helping you focus on your breathing

Can’t Touch This

Of course, there are products that don’t require holding or wearing. In a bid to reclaim relevance, Nokia — surprise, surprise — launched Nokia Sleep at CES 2018. It’s a pad you place beneath your mattress or pillow that records the time you went to sleep, how long you slept for, your REM sleep phrases and more. The godfather of mobile phones (as we know it) has bowed out unglamorously in the world of technology, but is making a re- entrance in the health industry. And it’s more than just a sleep tracker. It’s compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, which allows you to control light, temperature and sound to create the ‘perfect sleep’ setting.

The Dodow, by its eponymous parent company, emits a soothing blue light (not to be mixed up with blue light rays that keep you awake), gradually slowing your breathing down to six breaths a minute to get you in a state of rest. It’s said to be great for trans-continental travellers, especially those who suffer from jetlag.

If you’re looking for continuing wellness, flotation therapy deprives users of their senses and provides a weightless sensation, soothing anxiety, reduces pain and thus allow you to sleep better at night.

Place the Wi-Fi enabled Nokia Sleep under your bed and it’ll track your sleep patterns

The Human Connection

There’s no denying that sleep technology has benefitted our lives one way or another, but a bulk of it remains that our mental state in the day contributes to our rest at night. Went through a break up, made a mistake at work, or fought with a pal? No surprises there if you’ve subconsciously brought these issues to bed.

And that’s what technology lacks. It solves a physical problem, but leaves the residual emotional ones hanging. We need the human touch at the end of the day, and visiting a trained therapist or talking things out with those around you are some ways to not just solve the problem, but nip it in the bud. For those who are always on the go, meditation and counselling apps are also on hand to walk users through their day. Regardless of which you pick, you’ll slowly identify the triggers, acknowledge them, then test out healthier alternatives when it comes to dealing with issues. And with the help of abovementioned tools, you’ll slowly start having quality rest.

Author cuisine in Singapore: A brave new world spearheaded as a league of its own

Words by Janice Sim Photographs by Hazirah Rahim and Preludio

“A chef becomes an artist when he has things to say through his meals, like a painter in a painting,” said Joan Miró. Often enough, you might see it as great, illustrious content for your social media accounts, but putting up a piece of art on a plate is so much more than raking in the likes. At least for a chef anyway.

Preludio

Last year, our city saw the entry of a foreign cuisine — we’re talking one that hasn’t already prospered here or swayed the hearts of our people. Almost every kind and reiteration of a cuisine has travelled far and wide to find a place to call home in Singapore. Except author’s cuisine. Chef Fernando Arevalo, whom you might previously know from Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse and Artemis Grill is the man to change all that. The Columbian chef was trained in French and Italian kitchens, used to work in Italian-American steakhouses and currently resides in Singapore. So if you’re wondering if he cooks anything traditionally Columbian — the answer is no.

Chef Fernando Arevalo

Arevalo’s fine-dining restaurant, Preludio, located at Frasers Towers, bears the ambitious vein of author’s cuisine — which essentially means that the chef is free to roam, mix flavours, colours, textures and culinary styles. No one is sworn to fix up an Italian meal just because you’re Italian, conform to French plating or feel pressured to please a hungry hoard of Instagram diners. This innovative form of cooking previously originated in Spain, where it was exceptionally popular for standing out as a cuisine on its own.

The interior pieces at Preludio revolves around movement

As for Arevalo, his spin on author’s cuisine involves a rotating concept of a primary theme. The concept impacts the entire restaurant, from décor to food presentation. His first, titled ‘Monochrome’ seizes the art works, table ornaments and the plates of courses served here. Yes, almost everything you see is black and white, and the real challenge is plating and serving up foods that can only adhere to the colour scheme. “Restaurants featuring author cuisine isn’t traditional, neither is it a mix of cultures, but it’s something that is completely new that we like to call our own. We always emphasise that it is not from a region but from a person; most of the time, it comes from the experience of how that food was created,” explains Arevalo.

Surprisingly, the course-led menu isn’t limited at all. Every dish put up here strings together personal stories of various food growers and producers across the globe. It’s plenty of fun as the diner takes the black and white colours apart, stripping apart the façade and revealing what’s underneath. The last time we visited the stunning establishment, we tasted the wonders of white beetroot, yoghurt foam, black trumpet mushrooms and a good slab of iberico pork shoulder. The wines here are arguably, still in theme; their grapes harvested on black and white soil. That’s all we will divulge — the best part of Preludio is undeniably the element of surprise.

Burrata cheese getting plated

Author’s cuisine is unheard of in Singapore. Tell us how you discovered author’s cuisine, and why it is so special.

It really is a way for chefs to identify themselves. The first time I came to a restaurant that had author’s cuisine, the chef was making European food with Japanese and other Asian influences and ingredients, but I’m sure he did not want to call it fusion.

This name is a way for us to describe ourselves without misleading people. It is a necessity because people seem to have a preconception of what food is. If you say that food is French, or Italian, then people would expect certain things. Especially if you are Italian; your vision for Italian food is very restricted to where you were raised or what you ate when you were young. In order to be free and create an opinion without regional constraints, [calling it] author cuisine is very appropriate as it doesn’t mislead our customers and at the same time, it gives us the freedom to look for ingredients everywhere.

Chef Fernando Arevalo at work in the Preludio kitchen

Your previous experiences [in Artemis and Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse] were entirely different. What was the process of opening your own restaurant like?

Every chef dreams of owning his own restaurant. As you go through life, you start pinpointing things that you have noticed and you feel is something you want to have when you have your restaurant. When it was finally time to build it, I thought of every experience that I had and that helped in making the restaurant come to life. There were some things that I loved and some things that I hated about jobs that I had — that marked the base of what Preludio is.

For example, I used to be a bartender, and while I hated that job, there was something really cool about it. When you are bartending, and the customer turns around and tells you they want to have a shot with you — that moment, is the moment when that barrier between bartender and customer just blurs and we are the same, like friends. With that in mind, we created ideas for Preludio which encourage close bonds with the customers, and it is about putting all of us on the same level and carrying out a more familiar service to serve people. This also includes serving a smaller crowd — meaning a smaller seating capacity in the restaurant — so that I can increase the level of refinement in the food.

These experiences tell you where you want to be, what you want to aim for and knowing who you want to be. I always knew that I wanted to be better and maybe cooking is a way [for me] to transmit my emotions and to tell something to the world, and try to change anything if I don’t agree with it.

‘Autumn’

Author cuisine is almost abstract now, especially to Singaporeans. Do you think there is an element of mystery that you need to match up to when people come to the restaurant?

I think there is an element of mystery every time anyone is doing something different. That can be a good and bad thing. Sometimes expectations are hard; people are going to expect things to be too different or people will not know what to expect. So it’s about making sure that when it comes to creating and when it comes to looking at what the final product is, we try not to look at what people are expecting but at our own expectations.

The first theme is ‘Monochrome’. How did that come about, and how do you decide on the themes that will follow?

That’s a good question. The themes have to be basic enough, different enough, and can perceived in many ways so that everyone can have their own opinion of it. ‘Monochrome’ is something that is really appropriate because we’re going against what everyone is doing for food. Everyone is trying to look for colour and we’re challenging that by presenting it in black and white. And at the same time, black and white feels like the beginning; it reminds me of an old time that we can be born in. I always describe it as a colour book that hasn’t been coloured yet — it gives me all this room to create.

‘Gorbea Mountain’

As for the cuisine, where are the ingredients sourced from?

All over the world. But very specifically, when I’m not here, I try to travel to many places to look for farmers and ingredients. I went to France and spent two weeks looking for farmers and fishermen — going to places where they make butter and grow tomatoes. Also, to Italy where I hunted for truffles and at the same time for fancy products. I found the guy who makes rice and the guy who makes olive oil. I’m also very lucky because when you start looking for ingredients and when you start using them, people notice and they start sending you things. They also start telling you about other people who have good farming practices or good agriculture. It’s like a community of people who are doing good for the environment and the product. This then naturally led to the search of sustainable products and ingredients. It gives me confidence when I use the product and when I come out to talk to the customer. I’m assured because I have been to the place of produce, I know where they come from and I have eaten what the cow eats.

‘Parallel’

What do you hope for diners to take away from Preludio?

To be honest, a combination of things. A restaurant is a place that you go for different reasons. Sometimes you come because you want to celebrate something, sometimes you come because you want to close a deal, sometimes you come because you’re just curious about [the] food. Whatever the fulfilment, I want them to be excited, I want them to be happy. I try to surprise them, make them smile, let them have a good time, and create an environment where they are comfortable enough to learn things — for instance, the different ways that we manage flavour, our cooking techniques and the complexity of our wines. But the basic thing is to feed people, to make them happy, to close a deal, to get their girlfriend, to have the girl say “yes”. That’s the main thing.

WATCHES & JEWELLERY

SMASHING

RECORDS

These horologists push the boundaries of movement construction and case design, reworking the wheels of traditional watchmaking and breaking records along the way

Words by karishma Tulsidas
Photography by Ching

ZENITH

Shattering Glass Ceilings

The raison d’etre of a chronograph is undoubtedly its precision — when recording crucial moments like a race or sporting event, even 1/5th of a second can make the difference between a gold or silver medal. Meaning ‘first’ in Spanish, the Zenith El Primero was the first automatic chronograph movement with a higher frequency, meaning that it could measure intervals of 1/0th of a second — a stellar achievement back in 1969. The El Primero 21 pushes the technical boundaries even further, and can measure 1/100th of a second thanks to a highly precise high-beat movement. Outfitted in a 44mm Defy case, the timepiece features an openworked dial so wearers can appreciate the inner workings of the watch.

CORUM

Chain Reaction

Back in 1980, Corum broke the shackles of movement construction with the Golden Bridge — it recalibrated the mechanical components of the watch movement into one vertical line. Before that, the movement was always hidden behind the dial, a quiet power horse that did all the work with no fanfare. With the Golden Bridge, the movement became the star of the timepiece. It helped too, that the first Golden Bridge movements featured gold components, adding to the sheer decadence of the timepiece. The Golden Bridge continues to be reinterpreted in various ways by Corum, and its most recent iteration is the Golden Bridge Rectangle, designed by Dino Modolo. The architectural inspiration of the timepiece is apparent in the geometric lines flanking the vertical movement.

JAEGER-LECOULTRE

Battle of the Fittest

Watching the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon 3 Jubilee in motion is truly a visual treat: essentially, the Gyrotourbillon rotates on a double-axis at different speeds, making for a dervish, almost trance-like spectacle. It’s not just about the visual drama though — the Gyrotourbillon was constructed to ensure precision of -1/+1 seconds, a notable achievement by the watchmaker. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, the timepiece has another ace up its sleeves: the subdial and aperture at 9 o’clock is actually the chronograph counter, with the jumping minutes in the digital display.

BVLGARI

Size Matters

The challenges of shrinking a watch movement are considerable. Think about it, the components need to be sized down, without compromising their performance; the mechanics need to be reworked to compensate for the smaller size of the parts while the diminutive space needs to be fully maximised. Many watchmakers are in this arm race of creating the slimmest movements, but Bvlgari often leaves the others in the dust with its Octo Finissimo collection. This Octo Finissimo Automatic measures a scant 5.15mm high, and is one of the thinnest automatic watches in the market. With its sandblasted rhodium case, the timepiece exudes a cool, urban vibe.

RICHARD MILLE

Set in Stone

Most athletes don’t wear a watch when performing competitively: any additional weight on the wrist can affect a serve or a swerve. But those who align themselves with Richard Mille regularly break the rules and compete with a watch on their wrists. The reason being that the brand has invested considerable research and development into seeking out alternative materials to manufacture ultra-light timepieces. The RM 67-02 Automatic Alexander Zverev, named for the German tennis champ, weighs a scant 32g, as light as a feather on the wrist. The lightweight nature of the timepiece is the result of a movement constructed in carbon quartz TPT and titanium. Even the case is wrought in carbon quartz TPT, while the brand has utilised a Comfort Strap, made of elastic and unencumbered by the weight of a buckle.

Extreme World

To the ends of this earth (and beyond), these watches will go - and return to tell the tale

Words by Celine Yap

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is the most important thing to carry around. Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with. You laugh. But it’s true.

In real life, however, the towel is a metaphor for your watch. Think about it. Anyone who can cross the widest river, climb the highest mountain, dive the deepest oceans, conquer it all and still tell the time right? Mad respect to them.

Throughout the short history of mankind, we’ve achieved some pretty amazing things. Sure, we’ve also done a lot of nasty stuff to the planet, but that’s a story for another day. The heroes of our time are the brave men and women who didn’t back down in the face of adversity. Instead, they studied their brains out, trained their guts out and worked their butts off, so that one day they might be able to say, “Hell yeah, I did it.”

And on each of these incredible feats of human exploration, time was always a friend, not a foe.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer

In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary became the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who practically functioned as Hillary’s “GPS”. The duo relied on nothing more than simple tools and instruments, as well as sheer mettle, to conquer the highest point on earth — 8,848 metres above sea level.

Among the almost 30 kilograms of equipment that Hillary and Norgay each carried, there was an as-yet unnamed Rolex watch. It was just a prototype but with it, they were able to track their progress, plan their route, as well as time their ascent.

Both men arrived at the summit at 11.30am and spent 15 minutes there before making their descent. That watch eventually inspired the Oyster Perpetual Explorer, a collection of hardy tool watches designed for extreme situations.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sea-Dweller Deepsea

In 1960, the US Navy sent a submersible bathyscaphe named the Trieste down to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. At its lowest point, the Mariana Trench was 10,994 metres below sea level. Dangerous doesn’t even begin to describe it. The pressure at such depths is over one metric tonne per square centimetre — so high that carbon dioxide exists as a liquid.

To ensure that the Trieste could survive the odds, the Navy had it modified and carried out 64 test dives before Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard — whose father was the inventor of the Trieste — delved into the abyssal depths.

Meanwhile, strapped to the outside of the Trieste was a Rolex “Deep Sea Special” — a non-commercial diving timekeeper made specifically for this challenge. That this timing instrument was not made for the wrist was just one reason it sat outside the hatch. Its crystal was a huge bulbous protrusion, without which it would pop open from the pressure build-up inside the case.

The Trieste spent nearly nine hours underwater and became the first vessel, manned or unmanned, to reach the deepest part of the Earth’s ocean. And the Rolex Deepsea is a solid reminder of that mighty achievement.

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch

There are two distinct parts of the history of Omega’s Speedmaster: when it was just known as the Speedmaster and when it became known as the Speedmaster Professional. The singular event that added the second word to the watch’s original name was the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing mission. Indeed, that was how the Speedmaster became known as the Moonwatch, a moniker it has also officially adopted.

Manned by Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the surface of the moon known as the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong, followed by Aldrin, stepped out of the Eagle and left that legendary shoe print on the lunar surface, changing the face of the moon and human history forever.

All throughout, Omega’s Speedmaster assisted by consistently keeping good time. The astronauts wore the watch over their space suits, keeping them securely strapped with good old-fashioned Velcro. The Speedmaster was selected by NASA, whose flight crew operations director Deke Slayton issued a request for wrist-worn chronographs. Several brands submitted their watches but only Omega’s survived the pummelling tests. And so the Speedmaster was officially declared “Flight Qualified for all Manned Space Missions”.

Breitling Cosmonaute Navitimer 809

The Navitimer is regarded by many as the de facto aviator’s watch but not everyone knows that this sporty classic also made it into outer space. In the 1960s, the best pilots in the US Air Force often made the transition into NASA’s Mercury program. Scott Carpenter was one such flying ace preparing to join the Mercury mission. He was already wearing a standard Navitimer but needed another watch that could truly assist him in space.

Carpenter approached Breitling and jointly created the Cosmonaute Navitimer 809. The most significant difference between this Navitimer and all others before it was a 24-hour dial to quickly discern between day and night. This was an immensely useful feature because the perpetual absence of light was disorienting for the astronauts. Breitling also gave this watch an enlarged beaded bezel so that Carpenter and all space explorers after him could manipulate the watch even with thickly gloved hands.

Breitling’s modern Navitimer 8 collection descends from this momentous chapter in the manufacture’s long history.

Panerai Submersible Mike Horn Edition 47mm PAM985

Who is Mike Horn? Put simply, he is a man who cannot sit still. Since 1997, the indefatigable South African native has journeyed to every continent on the planet, including the North and South Poles. He’s circumnavigated the equator on foot and by sail. He’s taken on the Arctic Circle without motorised transportation. He’s skied across the North Pole, sailed around the world, driven up the mountains and recently concluded a two-year circumnavigation of the globe.

Each of these expeditions was a test of endurance more than anything else. Horn would pack only the bare necessities because he was going to be carrying all that weight. Since 2002, he always counted a Panerai timepiece amongst his list of must-haves. Indeed, when you’re trudging over hundreds of kilometres of ice, you’re going to lose track of time at some point. And when that happens, his Panerai Submersible comes in extra handy. Digital watches aren’t an option because LCD screens begin to malfunction once the mercury hits minus 20, so mechanical all the way it is.

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Mil-Spec

Before the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, there was no such thing as a dive watch. Born in 1953, the Fifty Fathoms was the first timepiece constructed specifically for the purpose of underwater use. It was also made specifically for military frogmen in the French Navy. Other special forces who subsequently approached Blancpain for watches included the Israeli, Spanish, German and American.

The name Fifty Fathoms corresponded directly to the depth of its water resistance, where one fathom is equal to six feet. This watch could go as deep as 300 metres. It came at a time when underwater exploration was still in its infancy. In the 1950s, inventor of the Aqualung and renowned conservationist Jacques Cousteau was known to have worn a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms on his underwater expeditions.

Blancpain has made numerous variations of the Fifty Fathoms to date, some of which are military specified and others designed for commercial wear.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert”

The Top Gun series by IWC is a hotbed of technical innovation — and it has to be because it is named after the US Navy’s Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program. Only the best make it to the program and hence the best of IWC’s research and development goes straight to the Pilot’s Watch Top Gun line. Robust materials, legible design, tactile handling, shock and corrosion resistance are not the exception but the norm.

The Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert” features a case made from sand-coloured ceramic — the world’s first. This unique colour tone is inspired by the Mojave Desert, which is home to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Like all standard-issue tactical gear, it matches perfectly with the uniforms worn by Navy pilots. Paired with a dark brown dial and a beige rubber strap with textile inlay, it boasts a cool monochromatic look that few can say no to. And while this watch has yet to set foot on the Mojave Desert, we’re pretty sure it can survive the arid conditions without much trouble.

Tabitha

NAUSER

Singer,
Singapore

Heart

EVANGELISTA

Actress,
Phillipines

Cindy

Ko

Founder of Cindiddy,
Hong Kong

Tran

Quang Dai

Entrepreneur,
Vietnam

Patricia

Gunawan

TV Presenter and Host,
Indonesia

Jane

Suda

Fashion designer, founder of Janesuda,
Thailand

Elfira

LOY

Enterpeneur,
Malaysia