Singapore Fashion Week: 20 years in the making

Singapore Fashion Week: 20 years in the making

A new era

Text: Tracy Phillips

2015 sees the debut of Singapore Fashion Week. Not just a rebranding, SFW is the culmination of the entire fashion community to advance the local fashion industry

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

While I agree with Shakespeare that it's all about what something is, rather than what something is called, the problem with calling a rose by any other name is that it's confusing. That's how I felt about the titles 'Asia Fashion Exchange' and 'Audi Fashion Festival', the predecessors to this year's Singapore Fashion Week. They encompassed everything that typically happens at fashion weeks all around the world — the designer runway shows, trade events and parties — but it just wasn't called a 'fashion week'.

I learned this best while I was project director for the Blueprint Tradeshow for two years, one of the key events under Asia Fashion Exchange (AFX) that promoted local and regional designers. I remember a good proportion of all initial conversations with new overseas designers, media and buyers would be spent explaining who we were and what exactly each acronym stood for. All conversations would invariably include an Eureka moment when the person on the other line would exclaim, "Oh, so you mean it's Singapore Fashion Week!" and I would just have to agree, that for all intents and purposes, it was. I'm thrilled that in 2015, the rebranding means it can finally be called exactly that on record.

I'm not saying that every week-long fashion event should be recognised as a "Fashion Week" either. It takes time to develop an event that the whole industry can support and be a part of. It takes even longer for the acceptance and active participation of the global fashion community. I feel that Singapore Fashion Week isn't just a rebranding, it's more like a critical culmination of more than 20 years of effort by the fashion community to raise the profile and standards of Singapore's fashion industry.

It takes time to develop an event that the whole industry can support and be a part of. It takes even longer for the acceptance and active participation of the global fashion community.

Before Audi Fashion Festival came onto the scene to excite consumers with designer runway shows, Singapore's only fashion association, the Textile and Fashion Federation (TAFF), was already holding annual events to try to boost Singapore's fashion business. Chris Koh, honorary president of TAFF said that in the late 1980's their first event was called 'Fashiontasia'. Imagine that. The event was then renamed 'Fashion Connection' and then it was actually known as 'Singapore Fashion Week' for a few years. These shows and trade events were held on a smaller scale but grew over time and were eventually rebranded under the umbrella event, Asia Fashion Exchange. The most high profile of the AFX pillars was the Audi Fashion Festival; in essence, the fashion runway shows as organised by Tjin Lee and her team at Mercury Marketing and Communications.

It is now Lee, as chairman of Singapore Fashion Week, who is driving the local fashion scene forward. The goal is to move the focus from consumer-centric shows to include more industry development. And it's looking promising, if you consider that this year's lineup of fashion designers is the most star-studded to date: Diane von Furstenberg, Dion Lee, Thakoon and Victoria Beckham. It definitely seems like SFW's newly formed strategic alliance with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), a major coup,  has helped in attracting more renowned labels to show at SFW.

What I'm most excited about on the new SFW agenda is its aim to aid in the internationalisation of Singapore designers through its inaugural talent development programme, Fashion Futures. This will have the most far-reaching impact in the future, more than fashion shows and front row celebrity spotting. This will actually feed our homegrown designers, literally and figuratively. It's not going to happen over night but new initiatives like Fashion Futures are a step in the right direction, targeting established brands ripe for growth.

In the past, I think some grant programmes overlooked the highly diverse stages that labels were at: Some were export ready while others were still finding their wings. This is why there needs to be multiple channels developed so that brands at all ends of the spectrum can have access to the resources that are relevant to them. I'm hoping that the success of a handful of recognised designer-led labels under Fashion Futures could just be the catalyst we need for a homegrown fashion uprising.