Living A Legacy: #BuroSocial with Salvatore Ferragamo at Straits Clan
Today and tomorrow
What does it mean to live (and leave) your legacy behind for the future generation?
It was the question on everyone's mind at Buro. Singapore's eleventh edition of Buro Social, hosted hand-in-hand with Salvatore Ferragamo, in partnership with Straits Clan. Flanked by VIP guests of the Italian house and esteemed friends of the private members club, games and merry conversation pulsed through the evening at the transformed Tropicana room, over delectable rock melon salad, roast spatchcock, wild strawberries semifreddo and champagne.
The cosy get-together was more than a dinner party with some of Singapore's most well-dressed individuals. It was a celebration of the past, the present and the future of Salvatore Ferragamo's heritage, as well as that of our four hosts: Rebecca Eu of Love, Mei; Gaurav Kripalani of Singapore Repertory Theatre; Joy Seah of Ministry of Design; and Harris Zaidi of Wild Rice.
Salvatore Ferragamo didn't grow up with a silver spoon. In fact, his origins could not have been more humble, having spent his formative years in Bonito, Italy with 13 siblings. He emigrated to America his 20th birthday to work in a cowboy boot factory with his brother in Boston. The stint was a brief one, before he packed his bags once again. This time, he headed west for California, where he opened a shoe repair shop and offered made-to-measure shoes while studying anatomy in university. A decade and then some passed before he moved back to Italy to launch Salvatore Ferragamo, the brand, in 1928. The world responded, and they still do today, with Paul Andrew at the helm of the house.
It's a new world, 2018, but Andrew isn't turning a left cheek to the legacy Ferragamo had built. If anything, he wants it on display, front and centre, guiding his footwear and ready-to-wear creations under the storied house. For fall/winter 2018, Andrew's debut collection for Ferragamo, he revived prints found in the archives on bags, shoes, dresses and scarves — the latter of which were treated to the guests of Buro Social.
Just like the household fashion name, our local architects of Singaporean heritage have come a long way, though their journey still on-going. We sit down with them to chat legacy, its power and how it shapes, simultaneously, the people it is intended for and the people leaving it behind.
REBECCA EU | FOUNDER OF LOVE, MEI
What kind of a legacy do you want to leave behind with Love, Mei, the social enterprise you founded that helps abused and trafficked women in the Philippines?
It's funny you ask, because I'm in the process of changing everything. I want the girls to spend more time being educated, learning what specialising they want to go into rather than simply learning how to sew. I don’t need a thousand girls to make clothes but I do want to put a thousand girls to school. I want a thousand girls to move on with their lives, to focus on their fulfillment. That's why Love, Mei will rebrand to Mei's Own (to sound like maison, French for house), a platform which they can feel safe in, where we can help them realise their potential.
Do you feel the pressure to live up to the legacy of the Eu family?
Of course! That pressure is a good thing. My family has built a name in Singapore about a holistic approach to wellness, and the story beyond is that it started as a social enterprise — we helped tin mining workers kick their opium habit. I want to live up to to that; it sets a standard for me. I want to make my parents proud but I want to make myself proud first, because if someone in my family was able to make such a significant change to the society here in Singapore, I want to make something out of it. I can't just be Rebecca from the Eu family. That is not enough for me.
Is legacy a birthright or is legacy earned?
Oh, nothing is a birthright. I have learnt that, with my exposure to people especially in Philippines over the last few years, just from a spectrum of different backgrounds, legacy is something that I definitely do not take for granted. It is earned, just like everything worthwhile to claim in life. It is not your legacy if you are — what's that word (J: sitting on your ass?) yeah sitting on your ass. That's not your legacy. That legacy belongs to that person who worked to create it, not you.
Do you have any Salvatore Ferragamo items in your closet?
Salvatore Ferragamo means so much to me because it's was one of the first really luxurious, prestigious brands that I was exposed to as a kid. When I was in middle school, I was such a brat and demanded to only have Salvatore Ferragamo hairbands and flats; my flats had to match my hairbands. [Laughs] One of my friends, Princess Melusine Ruspoli became the face of Ferragamo several years ago. It's really cool to see how the brand has evolved yet my perception of it has and hasn't changed at the same time. I still get excited whenever I'm in a room full of Vera flats!
GAURAV KRIPALANI | FOUNDER OF SINGAPORE REPERTORY THEATRE (SRT)
What kind of legacy can art leave behind for future generations?
I honestly believe that performance art is life-changing and can have a cathartic effect on people — art plays a mirror to society, it has the ability to create wonderful emotion, the ability to make you question, the ability to make you fall in love. Art plays a critical role in people's lives. The experience of watching a life performance is unmatched by anything. Netflix movies will never be able to give you the same emotional reaction that a live performance will give you. So I would love my legacy to be that everybody makes going to the theatre a part of their lives because it will be life-changing.
Where do you see the Singapore Repertory Theatre in 10 years?
In 10 years, I would love SRT to be an international recognised brand, flying the Singapore flag globally. In the same way you think of the Royal Shakespeare Company, you will think about Singapore Repertory Theatre and people will fly to Singapore to see a show by SRT. What we do now is bring in the best artists from around the world to work with Singaporeans. Our goal is to create work that marries the best artists from around the world so that you have a piece that has the ability to tour internationally and be something that every Singaporean can be proud of.
What is the most priceless gift one can leave behind in this world?
The most priceless gift is a memory. An unforgettable memory will stay with you for life and you can experience that on a holiday or on a special occasion... I genuinely believe that if you watch a magical performance, be it a musical or dance, you will remember that for life.
Do you consider yourself a Salvatore Ferragamo man?
I work for a non-profit charity but I aspire to be Ferragamo man because I love the attention to detail, the craftsmanship, the history of the brand and the work that goes into producing Ferragamo products. Being in the creative industry, I have so much respect for what they do. What Ferragamo stands for is absolutely admirable.
JOY SEAH | FOUNDER OF MINISTRY OF DESIGN
What are your thoughts on leaving a legacy behind?
It's sobering on one hand, to think about legacy because it's such a big thing. On the other, it's also liberating knowing that you are actually just a speck in the universe. The legacy that I would love to leave behind is the knowledge that you are just a small part of the world; you are just the created and someone else is the creator. I often feel that when I am diving — that the world is huge, marvellous, idiosyncratic and diverse but all that is due to someone who made it happen and I am just a participant and a spectator, someone who can observe. That is a kind of privilege.
As an architect, what do you think is the connection between legacy, design and the fabric of our identity?
There is a desire sometimes for Singaporean architects and designers to find a way to say "this is the stamp of Singapore" and "this is who we are". Sometimes this may feel a little artificial because Singapore is such a young nation. Compared to our neighbours and European counterparts, we don't have that kind of legacy to speak of. But I don't think we need to be afraid to say that one of the biggest skills and contributions that we bring to the global scene of design is a sense of alchemy and a sense of amalgamation. The sense that we don't need to be super original about things, not like the Japanese for example, who have years and years of heritage. We have the ability to take something good and to make something new and relevant out of it. That is alchemy isn't it? The sense of amalgamation saying that I can make something relevant and innovative in this world that we live in.
What designs stand the test of time and what doesn't?
We often get compared to different types of designers who maybe have a certain style or aesthetic that they just stamp on different clients and they just stamp on different projects — it's just an aesthetic that you recognise. Honestly, as a business person, I think that's a very clever business model because every client that comes to you knows what they are getting. But I think if you are really trying to innovate then it can't be possible that everything looks the same. As such, timelessness has its value but also relevance has its value. As time progresses with change, there is a need to be relevant in that age that you are in. That's what we are trying to do — to be relevant and innovative where you are, not for the sake of being novel but to be relevant.
In the search for relevance, will old always be part of the new?
Some people shun the old and only want the new. And there are some people who want the old so much, they replicate the old and make it new. Both approaches are difficult to appreciate. What we try is to have a continuum of the old into the new. Continuum that carries on; not a contrast, not a replica but a continuum. It's the approach we took with New Majestic Hotel (now Straits Clan), and again at Vue Hotel which won the Best Emerging Concept at the Gold Key awards — to have a continuum of tradition. You get a sense of the old by embracing the tradition, and you change it so that there is new in the old. You can respect tradition yet make it new so that young people and people of today can appreciate it.
HARRIS ZAIDI | DEVELOPMENT BOARD MEMBER OF WILD RICE
As a development board member of Wild Rice, what does leaving a legacy mean to you?
Theatre is very important. I believe in Wild Rice because I think that it is not only a creative voice but it's also an independent voice. It reflects a lot of the narratives and arguments, a lot of the things that Singaporeans feel which may not necessarily be articulated in TV or local sitcoms. But when we see it on stage, there is something about the medium of live theatre that makes a real impact. It's important for us to see ourselves on stage. I like the idea of leaving a legacy of an independent theatre which will continue to nurture reflection, to nurture people to ask difficult questions about themselves, about being human, about being Singaporean. It is just such an important and beautiful thing to be able to be part of and leave for the next generation of Singapore.
As a father and as a son of Singapore, what does leaving a legacy mean to you?
A lot of my life has been about complaining and saying Singapore is this and that, and then when I travel in other countries, the sentiment is the same. To be really honest, and it was interesting for me to realise, despite everything that I've said, I am proud to be a Singaporean. You’ve got to pick the battles that are important to you. If you engage in that battle with all of your heart and soul, I think anywhere you are, it is a good place to be. I wanted to stay in Singapore because I wanted to be part of the narrative, to be part of the evolving society, to play my part in continuing that story and not leave for the rainbow or greener pastures.
Would you say then, as someone who is so vocal about the cultural and societal causes of Singapore, that the country (a better one than your ancestors saw) is a legacy you want to leave behind?
We are moving into a global culture and increasingly within Singapore (whether you are Malay, Chinese, Indian, whatever) we have a small personal culture and a larger Singaporean culture. Similarly, we are in an age of Internet and greater travel. There is Singapore culture and there is a global culture and there is an osmosis and there is a lot of cross fertilisation. We will see how things are done in other countries — some things are better, some things are not so. I will not leave Singapore as my legacy to my children. I will leave laksa, nasi lemak and chicken rice as part of their legacy but it has got to be a bigger picture that they see.
If you could tell a story to change the world, whose would you tell?
I would tell my mum's story because she was born a woman within an extremely conservative society in a time when women were just hit and told what to do. A lot of choices were not open to her simply because she was a woman, she was Asian, she was Muslim. My mum, without having any feminist theory or opera somehow instinctively, her fierceness and her belief in her love just shone though. She married my father even when people told her it was the wrong thing, she went against everything and married him.
Why did she see so much resistance?
Malay and poor, he was of the "wrong" class. My mum was of a "higher standing" having come from an Arab family, first amongst Muslims. They were wealthy too. There is always going to be discrimination on every level but my mum held on. She just loved that one man and she stuck with him. Alas, she got her heart broken because he was really an asshole that everybody warned her against. In Malay there is this saying: "Not only did she fall, but the staircase collapsed on her". My mum got up, didn't say anything, didn't seek validation. She just went on with business, raised two boys best she knew how by herself. It may not have been the most perfect childhood but I will always remember one thing. No matter what — whether I am gay, whether I am marrying a man, whether it's religion — my mother will always see one thing first, that I am her son and she loves me. Everything else is secondary.
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