Reinvention: #BuroSocial with Singapore's creative community and Mikimoto at Andaz Singapore
Old meets new
There's nothing quite like a sunset session overlooking downtown Singapore. Time? Cocktail o'clock with flavours of rhubarb, strawberry, and lemon. Host? Mr. Stork, who's quite the charmer as Andaz Singapore's rooftop bar. Perched on the 39th floor of the hotel, the post-office retreat is decked out with 10 teepees and cosy corners that boast views of the glittering bay, the terracotta roofs of Kampong Glam, and the urban jungle below. Mr. Stork's specially reserved for the creative community that surrounds this new hotel: Colin Chen of The General Co. and The Refinery, Pamela Ting and Jessica Wong of Scene Shang, Karen Tan of The Projector and Leon Foo of Papa Palheta. Welcome to our seventh edition of #BuroSocial, co-partnered with Andaz Singapore and Mikimoto.
What ties these creatives is their dedication to reinventing aspects of their work — Chen with craft, Ting and Wong with furniture design, Tan with place-making and Foo with coffee. Another thing you'll notice is a string of pearls adorning the ladies, while a well-placed brooch accessorised the gents. Courtesy of Japanese pearl designers and manufacturers Mikimoto, the Akoya brooch and necklaces embody purity, style and elegance. With a history dating back to 1893 when its founder Kokichi Mikimoto successfully cultured the world's first semi-spherical pearl, Mikimoto has changed the perception that pearls are only for the privileged few.
Like any good icebreaker, the starters at 665°F — Andaz Singapore's upcoming premium steak house opening on 8 December — and flutes by Perrier-Jouët kept the conversation flowing. #BuroSocial's guests were the first to dine in this 38th-storey restaurant, which specialises in gourmet meats and sustainable seafood. Before moving towards the grand dame, a Wagyu Tomahawk sourced from Australia's Margaret River region, we tucked into a creamy burrata salad and moreish crab cakes as chatter turned into a sharing session across industries. The evening ended on a sweet, cheeky note, as Andaz Neh Neh Pops — their take on a pandan and coconut lolly — were distributed.
Tell us what you do.
We're a modern age craft agency that represents young generation craftsmen who are pursuing traditional trades that are more handcraft-driven. We aim to develop a better platform for them to showcase the range of goods that they make and the skills that they have.
How important is reinvention in your industry?
It's always important to look at what has been done and study it from a foundation standpoint, and see how we can re-apply it in a modern day application. Traditional crafts can be well made, but the product that comes out from it might not be relevant in modern society. Take furniture, for example — you want to update it to the style and décor for times to come.
There's a belief that when you buy local, you won't get it at a good standard. Do you think that belief is accurate or was it ever accurate?
It boils down to education. A lot of times people want to buy a well-made good, but they don't know the craft behind it to fully understand the work that goes into it. With better education and exposure to craft knowledge, history and heritage and education, people are finally able to be more discerning as to what a well-made product it. It's exciting times for Singapore craft and designers in particular.
Who's a craftsman whom you think is doing a good job?
Morgan Yeo from Roger and Sons. A lot of people don't know this, but Morgan is a highly educated guy. In the common eyes of the public, a lot of times people would see a carpenter or wood-worker to be less educated, but that's not true. Morgan took over the family business and is trying to bring it to a new direction and to fight the stigma that the woodworking industry is a labour-intensive job rather than an educated career. More of such people would come in the next couple of years to allow people to re-look how traditional businesses are run.
PAMELA TING AND JESSICA WONG | FOUNDERS OF SCENE SHANG
Tell us about the ethos behind Scene Shang.
Scene Shang is a Modern Asian furniture and homeware brand. We feel a lot for our culture and tradition but it needs to be relevant to the time we're in now. A lot of inspiration comes from Chinese furniture and a lot of them are ostentatious and too big. We try to take a contemporary slant while keeping the essence of the tradition and culture, but adding the space efficiency and modularity.
How do you reinvent the familiar at Scene Shang?
We try to break down tradition and extract the essence that's still relatable today. Things like family and love are things that are timeless and what people can relate to.
What's your customer base like and why do you think they've taken to your products?
We get a lot of tourists and expats, but also locals who want to explore areas other than Orchard and Tiong Bahru, so we have a good mix. They appreciate the fact that we extract a bit of the Asian touch, so it's speaking of Singapore but yet modern enough to fit into their Scandinavian and/or Australian homes. It's amazing when customers come in and say "I have this in mind and it's in your shop!". That's where we get the sense that we're doing something right and it's something that people want.
Where are your common sources of inspiration?
Childhood stories, the way we were growing up, interaction with grandparents — where these stories come from and this is something we want to capture and pass down to our next generation. We extract the wicker from the chairs that give you little holes when you sit on it, and the rubber strings where as a kid you poke you head through and can't get out. We extract that but design something that's modern and sleek.
What's your bestseller?
Our signature product is our Shang system. When you look at it, it looks like a traditional piece of Chinese furniture but it's actually stackable. You can remove the tray and there's a box drawer and stool. You can choose the colours. It kind of fits like Lego and you can mix and match.
Tell us more about what you do.
I run a real estate creative consultancy called Pocket Projects. We focus on the adaptive reuse of old buildings and urban regeneration projects. One of the projects we're known is The Projector, which is an independent cinema and cultural art space. We came upon a disused 1970s cinema in Golden Mile Tower and were inspired to do something with it. It's not just your average cinema. It's about showing stuff the commercial big boys don't show. We go for diversity and show highbrow art house films as well as engage with different country embassies to do film festivals. We also do old favourites and retrospectives. We make films interactive and try to move away from passive consumption and into something more engaging and thought provoking. We play host to music gigs, pole-dancing competitions, talks about social issues and the spoken word.
How do you reinvent The Projector to make it relevant for a new audience?
Reinvention is an interesting word here. We do it on two fronts: One is the physical area and the other one is about content. For us, it's really about adaptive reuse and it's important to look at that. Firstly, an old building has heritage value to it and the stories that have meaning to the city. It's about introducing new layers. When different groups of people use the same space over time for different uses, they attach their own memories and experiences to it. This is how people feel a connection to a place. Singapore as a young country talks a lot about national identity and sense of belonging but I think it starts with something basic — that people feel attachment to a certain physical space, and you feel at home.
How are Singaporeans invested in this?
We are 50/50 in terms of the local/foreign demographic. Lots of people came out from the woodwork after we started. Which is good because it's not just about catering to a niche, because how can you make a difference if it's within a small crowd, right? It's about bringing in more people and increasing their exposure on alternative films. People think it's just for the hipsters, but it's not — we also get students, retirees... a curious audience.
What's the next step to grow The Projector?
We've just expanded to a new hall. It used to be a little church and is now a small screening room that sits a hundred people. We're also trying to break out of this current cylo that we find ourselves in. In this digital age, there's an increase in this fragmentation of segments of society and interest groups online so we're susceptible to those echo chambers. We want to broaden our reach to other segments of the public as well.
LEON FOO | FOUNDER OF PAPA PALHETA
Tell us what you're doing with Papa Palheta.
We try to push boundaries with coffee and make specialty coffee available to the masses. We preach about where to find specialty coffee where you least expect it, and to try to brew differently. We're crazy about roasting, sourcing, and connecting with people over coffee.
How do you think the concept of reinvention is important when it comes to coffee?
It's important because there are many different beverages, cultures in Southeast Asia, and coffee history that really influence us. You need to reinvent yourself and present coffee differently. A phrase to sum it all is to "Sell better coffee and to sell coffee better". Reinvention is key.
What have you observed about Singaporeans' taste preferences and do you think Singapore café owners and roasters should come up with their own espresso beverage, like what the Aussies and Kiwis have done with the flat white?
I think it's possible for us to come up with a beverage that is uniquely Singapore. To be frank, I think what we can really do is come up with something that's cold. Cold brew has taken off uniquely and explosively in 2016 and 2017, but I think we can band together and redefine a Frappuccino or a cold coffee beverage.
How have you seen Singaporeans changing their appetite to coffee in the last five years?
What we're trying to revisit is the experience. What we should be focusing on is hospitality. I'm sure you've been to a café where the barista doesn't look at you; he doesn't smile, he doesn't say hello.