Fashion Futures 2.0: Meet the three selected Singapore designers

Fashion Futures 2.0: Meet the three selected Singapore designers

From local to global

Text: Norman Tan

Photo: Vanessa Caitlin

Introducing the three Singapore designers selected to participate in the prestigious international development programme created by Singapore Fashion Week in partnership with the CFDA

Congratulations are in order. Designers Max Tan (of label, max.tan), Danelle Woo (of label, Aijek) and Elyn Wong (of label, Stolen) have each secured a place in the international business development programme, Fashion Futures 2.0 — a holistic initiative created by Singapore Fashion Week (SFW) in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), designed to equip local fashion talent with the skills needed to succeed on the global stage.

Hand-picked by a selection committee of fashion industry leaders and insiders that included Tjin Lee, chairman of SFW; Debra Langley, brand consultant from Coraggio Asia; Walid Zaazaa, founder and creative director of multi-label boutique Manifesto; and yours truly (that's right, @MusingMutley), these three Singapore designers have demonstrated their suitability for the programme, after being judged on design talent, business acumen, and coherent brand identity. To be eligible, the designers must have at least five years of industry experience, launched at least six collections for export, demonstrated their potential through substantive local and international editorial coverage, and secured orders from retailers.

Like the inaugural 2015 Fashion Futures programme — which saw local designers Chelsea Scott-Blackhall (of label, Dzojchen), Priscilla Ong (of label, Ong Shunmugam) and Sabrina Goh (of label, Sabrina Goh) receive mentorship from Diane von Furstenberg, Victoria Beckham, and Thakoon — this year's batch will have the opportunity to showcase their collections at retail pop-ups (including the Buro pop-up store in Scotts Square)*, receive invaluable feedback from industry insiders at SFW, and benefit from international industry networks through participation in the CFDA Induction Programme to be held in New York later this year. Fashion Futures 2.0 will also connect the three selected designers with international showrooms and provide funding to secure showroom representation in overseas markets. In short, it's the best leg-up that any local designer could possibly hope for.

Furthermore, brothers Keng How and Kage Chong of menswear label, Biro Company*, have also been selected to participate in the showroom representation component of Fashion Futures 2.0. As participants in the mentoring and development programme Fashion Futures 1.0 (launched in October 2015 to nurture the next generation of emerging design talents), Biro demonstrated commercial viability in their fall/winter 2016 collection as characterised by intuitive design flair and immaculate construction quality.

Keen to learn more about the three designers selected for Fashion Futures 2.0? We pulled them aside — and held a little studio shoot — to give you the lowdown on these need-to-know local labels. Scroll down to discover their signature looks, sources of inspiration, and what they hope to achieve through this unique 'local to global' programme.

Fashion futures 2.0: Stolen Stolen

Label: Stolen
Designer: Elyn Wong
Known for: Sculptural dresses inspired by architecture

Why the name Stolen?
One day I chanced upon this quote from Gandhi that says: 'Those who keep more than what they need are thieves." So, to me, fashion in its entirety is basically kind of going against that line. Which I thought was quite humourous and I quite like the sarcasm of it, so I thought, "Okay, I'll use the word 'Stolen' because all the clothes that people buy, all this fashion, it's not a need, they're all wants. So it's just a good reminder for myself and it's also a bit cheeky.

And I understand that a lot of your designs are inspired by architecture. Tell us more about that. How do you start designing a collection?
I don't have a standard formula. I'm not from fashion. I'm not fashion-trained so I believe that whatever excites you, inspires you. Even before I started the label I've always been very, very passionate about buildings. Actually, not so secretly, I wanted to be an architect but I couldn't do it (laughs). So, my designs incorporate architectural elements and have strong lines and structures.

You see this in the detailing at the back of your dresses. 
Yes, and even though my clothes are kind of feminine from first glance, they're actually very structured. All the lines are kind of straight; there are not a lot of curves per se. I try to create sexiness with straight bold lines. And I also get a lot of inspiration from fine arts cause I'm an installation artist as well. I don't actually look through fashion magazines very much, especially when I'm looking for inspiration. My inspiration comes from my travels, visiting art galleries and looking at buildings from around the world. I'm very, very moved by brutalism — things that are very raw, very straight, very strong.

What do you want women to feel when they put on a Stolen garment?
A few years ago, somebody described my style as 'alternate sexiness'. I thought that's spot on. Because I feel like every woman wants to be sexy, but not everybody can wear plunging necklines or short crop tops. So, I started designing backless garments. I also have a secondary line called 'White', which is all based around the white shirt, and to me, that's also a very sexy in my opinion. It's the kind of sexiest that's not overt and body-hugging, but it's the simplicity of a white shirt that lets the confidence of a woman shine through.

What do you hope to achieve through the Fashion Futures 2.0 programme?
I've always seen my label as part art and part fashion - I even registered my company as 'arts and fashion'. So for Fashion Futures, I would really like to fully immerse in the fashion world and hopefully receive some good mentorship. That's really important for me In Singapore, because it's so small, it's quite easy to make some noise. But when you're out there in the real world, the competition is different, the standards are higher, and that's where I want to be. There's a lot of things I still need to learn: How to strike a balance between creative and commercial design, managing sales, managing money, looking at production, and all the unsexy parts of fashion.

What is your weakness? What do you need most help with?
Production. And finances (laughs).

Fashion futures 2.0: Max Tan

Label: max.tan
Designers: Max Tan (with assistant designers Jacqueline Teo and Yuan Zhiying)
Known for: Monochromatic dresses characterised by 'Asian drapery'

How would you describe your brand, in just a few sentences?
Max Tan: It's draping, soft geometric forms of modified Asian cuts.

Looking at both the local and international market, who are your competitors? Which brands are you most similar to?
I think in terms of influences, I would say I'm still very drawn to the period of time when Japanese designers took Paris by storm; like Yohji Yamamoto. I really like Rick Owens too because of his urban and anti-fashion aesthetics. But being based in Asia, Southeast Asia in particular, I also want to re-imagine certain traditional garments like sarongs, and to introduce more rectangular draping into the collection.

Why did you decide to apply for the Fashion Futures 2.0 programme?
I wanted to create more awareness for the brand and to build my confidence as well, especially given all the press that Fashion Futures generates. And, it would be great to get new leads with buyers.

Judging from last year's Fashion Futures programme, what are you most looking forward to?
Meeting new people — press, buyers, stylists and everything. We already have a few enquiries from the States, so we're going to touch base with them and show them our latest collection in the hope of making it available on the East Coast.

Your brand is well-known in the industry for its drapery. How do you see that silhouette evolving to keep the customer excited about the brand?
With every season our shape does evolve naturally, as ultimately, we are a brand that's built on drafting and tailoring. We do a lot of experimentation in the studios, exploring different ways of constructing things and we try to build a line that really caters to a broad spectrum of women.

And what about your weakness? What is something you're working on?
A lot of people have said that they can't relate to the look book. So we're trying to tone down the avant-garde styling so that the end-consumer can see themselves wearing the clothes.

On that point, where do you see Singaporean woman wearing Max Tan?
Everywhere and everyday. Both Jacqueline and Zhiying wear Max Tan almost everyday, and you can really wear them everywhere. For example, this jumpsuit that Jacqueline is wearing, you can wear it to work and you can also wear it out for dinner later in the evening. And the basic t-shirt that Zhiying is modeling, it can also be dressed it up for work with a blazer, or paired down with jeans and sneakers.

Yuan Zhiying: I think there's a misconception that Max Tan is very avant-garde. Actually, the clothes are everyday basics with a little bit of twist in terms of construction; so they're really versatile.

Fashion futures 2.0: Aijek

Label: Aijek
Designers: Danelle Woo
Known for: Feminine lace dresses

A brand needs to have a clear identity. What is the unique selling point of your label?
A lot of people associate Aijek with lace, but I really just stumbled upon it. I was trying to create something to wear for my 10th wedding anniversary, and knowing my husband, I designed this all-lace black dress. A short dress that I still wear to this day and has become our bestseller. We're now selling this dress to the US every season in a different colour.

Why do you think it has become such a hit?
Every single woman needs a beautiful black dress in lace. It's a classic that if you pull out in five or 10 years time, it will still be relevant. As long as it has an amazing fit, it's timeless. I've moved around a lot in my life, and I've thrown away so many things in my travels, but I realised that I keep going back to key centerpieces in my wardrobe no matter where I move to; whether it's Korea, Australia or Shanghai. So, I want to create this for other women too; especially women, who like myself, don't have a size zero body, have kids, and juggle a busy schedule. It's about designing something that's forgiving enough, but still timeless and classic for the modern woman of today.

Where would you like to see women wearing your pieces? Do you think most women think of them as special occasion dresses?
It's actually for everyday. It's true that our pieces tend to be dressier, and a lot of people associate lace with high heels and an evening occasion, but I think you can wear a lace dress with gold gladiators. I think you can wear a lace dress with sneakers. I encourage women to get more returns out of their lace pieces and to dress them up and down.

Where do you source your lace?
We source our laces from Korea, Japan, Italy and China. So, we normally start off the creative process with sourcing, before thinking about inspiration and turning them into outfits.

What do you hope to achieve with Fashion Futures 2.0?
When we first started Aijek, the first store that carried us was in Shanghai. We even opened a second store in Shanghai before a Singapore retailer picked us up. Today, the primary market for Aijek is in Singapore, but it's also very important for us to be an international label, and to be seen as that. I think Fashion Futures is a great platform to promote Singaporean designers, and to hopefully introduce our brand to international retailers and major department stores.

Lastly, what is the story behind the name 'Aijek'?
Okay, so it's my Chinese name 'Ke Jia' spelt backwards. Everybody knows me as Danelle, and only my old primary school friends call me 'Ke Jia'. So, when we started, I really wanted a name that didn't mean anything, but it meant something to me personally. Sometimes when I see customers at the store and they call me 'Ke Jia', because they know the brand and its history, it's really special. People are wearing my clothes and calling me by my personal name. It's like an unspoken shared intimacy.

To celebrate and promote the three selected designers from Fashion Futures 2.0, as well as Fashion Futures 1.0 winner Biro Company, Buro 24/7 Singapore is currently showcasing a curated collection from these four local labels at our pop-up store in Scotts Square (6 Scotts Road #01-06) until 1 March 2016. Come on down and show your support.

Photography: Vanessa Caitlin
Fashion direction: Norman Tan
Hair and makeup: Marie Soh 
Lighting: Elinchrom, available at Cathay Photo