Local designers are making their names beyond our shores by teaming up with international brands.

Ang Ku Kueh Girl

Like most Singaporeans, the cute and loveable Ang Ku Kueh Girl has caught the travel bug and is going places. Ang Ku Kueh Girl is part of a series of food characters created by Singaporean designer Wang Shijia. Previously, the series of merchandise which includes brooches, necklaces and totebags were only available in Singapore.

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But now, they are available at Singapore Airlines (SIA) KrisShop too. “SIA wanted an exclusive collection to commemorate SG50 with designs that are stylish and chic, which will appeal to the global and sophisticated traveller,” says Ms Wang.

Specially for KrisShop, Ms Wang and her team of designers created a pouch and a mini totebag – useful for carrying daily essentials while travelling. “We wanted something that travellers can use while they are on the go,” says Ms Wang, whose dream holiday would be a visit to Norway or Finland to see the Northern Lights. Ang Ku Kueh Girl is seen prancing on top of a row of shophouses in the design, to capture the heritage and culture of Singapore as part of the SG50 theme. “I’ve always fancied living in a shophouse myself so it was one of the first things that came to mind,” she says. “I thought that traditional shophouses, with their colourful history, contrast beautifully with modern-day Singapore with its new, high-rise and contemporary buildings, on many levels.”

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She adds, “Ang Ku Kueh Girl shows her spunk and sprightliness in her moves, akin to the nimbleness of a young nation, standing tall on the shoulders of pioneer giants.”

The two items come in black, for a stylish feel, and also to complement the golden silhouette of the shophouses. Gold was chosen to commemorate the golden jubilee. The mini-tote and travel pouch retail at S$35 each, and there are plans to sell them beyond August, which was the original time frame.

Apart from SIA, Ms Wang has also specially designed a set of merchandise for Changi Airport Group (CAG).

The group was on the lookout for local designers for a special edition of “Be a Changi Millionaire” contest to commemorate SG50 and “I thought it was meaningful to contribute to the nation’s celebrations together with one of Singapore’s most important icons,” says Ms Wang. “They were looking for prizes with a local flavour, designed by Singaporean designers who would understand local quirks and culture.”

The brief from CAG was to create a design that would incorporate memories of Singapore’s past, celebrate Singapore’s success, and dream of Singapore’s future with the essence of Changi Airport in its design. For this, Ms Wang created a tote bag, umbrella and cosmetic pouch, with Ang Ku Kueh Girl playing in a garden setting on them. “Singapore is the ultimate Garden City and Changi Airport has renowned gardens like the Butterfly Garden, Sunflower Garden, and Cactus Garden within its grounds. I was inspired by these gardens to create a set of premium gifts that showcase such beauty,” Ms Wang explains. She also elaborates that the tote bag has Ang Ku Kueh Girl on the outside, climbing up the ladder to peek into the bag. The lining of the bag is printed with the Vanda Miss Joaquim, sunflowers, cactus and Ang Ku Kueh Girl. “It shows a secret garden inside the bag,” says Ms Wang. “I wanted to show how the national flower can be incorporated into a whimsical and fun design too.”

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The items are primarily prizes for the instant-chance game, which is part of CAG’s “Be a Changi Millionaire” shopping promotion which runs till Oct 31. CAG has also set aside a limited quantity for sale at the event areas with prices ranging from S$15.90 for the cosmetic pouch to S$35.90 for the reversible tote bag.

“I certainly hope to work with more companies beyond celebrations for SG50, to promote Singapore’s heritage and culture locally and internationally. There is so much more that local designers can do, beyond designing for the local market,” says Ms Wang. “Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends can also be a good partner to bring a whimsical and yet grown-up look for products and promotions, bringing a fun side of Singapore to the world.”


Somewhere Else X GU Capsule Collection

The next time you buy a T-shirt from GU, the casualwear sister clothing company of Japanese no-frills label, Uniqlo, it could be a design that was created in Singapore. Local design studio Somewhere Else has designed a range of graphic T-shirts in collaboration with the Japanese fashion retailer. GU has always been on the lookout for global creative talents, and this time round, they were interested in collaborating with graphic designers.

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Somewhere Else was proposed as one out of three local design studios by The Largest Continent (TLC) a local fashion/lifestyle consultancy. TLC works with +81Creatives in Japan, which services Uniqlo and GU, and which are on the constant look-out for global creative talent for their next T-shirt range and marketing campaigns.

Singapore has always been on the +81 Creatives radar. Previously, the firm started out with a collaboration between Uniqlo and Singaporean fashion designers, such as Gilda Su. Soon after, +81Creatives were keen to work with graphic designers for GU’s collaborative launch with global designers. Out of the three design companies that TLC recommended from Singapore, Somewhere Else was picked for its unique point of view.

Somewhere Else is the only Singaporean studio to be chosen for this collaboration alongside international studios from France and Japan. This is the first time that the four-year-old design firm’s works are distributed on a large scale, in 295 Gu stores across Asia.

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“I’m absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity, seeing that we are a yet-to-be-established studio,” says Ng Yong (above), founder of Somewhere Else. “It was an unexpected but exciting project, and this is the first time our work has been distributed so widely and in multiple markets. Hopefully, this collaboration can pave the way for similar projects to come.”

Mr Ng says, “The brief given by GU is almost all-embracing – to develop a set of graphics in line with their direction of text, in addition to photography.” He adds that he had free rein to work around these parameters and took the chance to express the Somewhere Else studio and what it stands for. The T-shirts come in four different graphics and each in three different colours. “Further” which features a stretched custom typeface, captures the studio’s attitude about always wanting to move further and beyond the status quo. “Raconteur” is softer and more abstract, summing up what the studio hopes to do more of in the future. “Dharma Bums” is a reference to Jack Kerouac’s novel about seeking balance in the midst of energy and chaos, which Somewhere Else aspires towards. For the T-shirt “Tomorrow”, the graphics are made of abstract shapes, and the lettering is ambiguous – like what tomorrows usually are. “Each design presents a word that seeks to capture the ethos of Somewhere Else,” says Mr Ng. “There is also quite a fair bit left for the viewer to interpret on his own; you can’t make out with exact certainty what the photos are of. Each shirt is therefore unique in terms of what the wearer sees in it.”

He had only a “couple of weeks” to create the designs. Each T-shirt retails at JPY690 (S$7.50), and is available on the GU online store. Somewhere Else’s other projects include creating brand identities for clients such as Archifest, Blueprint and Food For Thought.

“For GU, the team just went out to have fun with the project. We needed to make sure that our designs would be unique, but still relatable to the GU audience,” says Mr Ng.

 7 Architects X Series 7

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – it’s an oft-mentioned truism but in the case of the iconic Arne Jacobsen Series 7 with its signature hourglass-shaped back, a group of Singapore-based designers has gone ahead to give it a new look.

To mark the chair’s 60th anniversary, W Atelier – a luxury bath, kitchen and furniture studio – invited seven designers to transform the chair, which is produced by Republic of Fritz Hansen. The Series 7 remains the most sold chair in Fritz Hansen’s history.

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Si Jian Xin (left) and Leong Hon Kit from WYNK Collaborative.

Gani Atmadiredja, W Atelier’s managing director says, “We wanted to affirm the contributions of the local design and architecture industries and recognise their achievements. This anniversary provided the perfect opportunity for this group of talented designers to come together and celebrate by doing what they do best: design.”

The seven who took part were Brendon Lim, design director of IMAJIN; Ministry of Design’s founder Colin Seah; WYNK Collaborative’s Leong Hon Kit and Si Jian Xin; Robert Greg Shand of Robert Greg Shand Architects; Sal Chua and Sam Ang, directors at Grey Canopy; Peter Tay from Peter Tay Studio, and Terence Chan, founder of Studio Terre.

Designers were given free rein to transform the chair, as long as the chair’s form was preserved. While most designers maintained the chair’s original height, WYNK Collaborative turned the dining chair into a high chair, by adding rungs to its legs. They called it the Horizon Chair, because, instead of being able to see only what’s in front of them, a user can – if desired – now see the horizon and beyond.

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Another chair that stood out was by Grey Canopy (above), titled Series 8,9,10,11…(Experiment on Curves vs Light), which has timber dowels, or solid cylindrical rods often used as pegs, attached to them. This concept probes the post-industrialised future of the Series 7 in the next 60 years.

With the dowels placed on the chair, sitting on it becomes impossible, hence the chair is hung up to be admired.

Meanwhile, Mr Seah from Ministry of Design (below), added an eighth layer to the original seven timber veneers, sheathing the chair in a chrome mirror film. Mr Seah calls the chair, Kamaeleon, as its chair changes colours like a chameleon with the surroundings. Asked what he would do with his chair, he quips that he may spend a lifetime polishing it.

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7 Architects X Series 7 is now on till June 30, at Republic of Fritz Hansen showroom, at W Atelier, 75 Bukit Timah Road



WHEN you fit out your home with stylish pieces from international brands such as Ligne Roset, Bolia, Environment, Saaz and The Rugmaker, chances are that Singaporeans Wendy Chua and Gabriel Tan had a hand in designing it. Canny Collaborations 9

Together with Argentinian Gustavo Maggio and Spaniard Sebastian Alberdi, the quartet who make up well-known design firm Outofstock has put its designer touches on pieces such as Ligne Roset’s Vanity Shelf and Black Forest table.

The designers have also received accolades for their work, including the Maison & Objet Rising Asian Talents Awards 2015, Consurso de Diseno Interior Buenos Aires 2013, the President’s Design Award in 2010 and Elle Decoration Spain’s Young Talent of the Year 2009. Their latest collaboration saw them head out to the beaches of Barcelona, all in the name of work. Outofstock created Animo, a sand play set made of bamboo fibre, a highly renewable natural source, which is an alternative to 100 per cent petroleum-based sand play toys. This set of toys was designed for French brand Biobu by Ekobo.

Ms Chua explains that the collaboration came about when Ekobo’s founders – married couple Bruno and Boo Louis – came to Singapore to visit an exhibition that Outofstock was also a part of. “We met and shared the same philosophy for ecological products and materials and started talking from there,” says Ms Chua. At that time, Ekobo was creating tableware using bamboo composite that is safe for kids. “We came up with ideas for a sand play set to further diversify the product range for Ekobo.”

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Founded in 2003, Ekobo is a pioneer manufacturing firm in ecodesign. Designed for play time on the beach or in the garden, Animo also act as moulds that borrow their forms from ocean creatures, to stimulate children’s imagination about a world of life under the sea, explains Ms Chua. The whole production process took more than a year to complete.

The set of four toys include Ray, a shovel shaped like a sting ray; Moby, a scooper which kids can also use to create whale forms in the sand; Turtle, a sifter so named because of its shape; and Peli, which is a water jug shaped like a pelican. The prototypes were tested for the right ergonomics, weight and interactive play with children.

Up next for the group, is a new furniture range for Bolia, which will include a dining table, coffee table and lamp, to be launched in August, as well as a new collection of rugs for The Rugmaker to be launched next year.


Lanzavecchia + Wai

TOGETHER with his Italian partner, Singaporean designer Hunn Wai has helped put the country on the international design map.

The graduate of National University of Singapore formed Lanzavecchia + Wai in 2009 with Francesca Lanzavecchia, who graduated from Politecnico di Milano. They first met at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where they were studying for their master’s in design.

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Her main interest lies in the relationships between objects and the human body, while he is fascinated with the interplay of materials, meanings and forms. Their first international collaboration was in 2011, when they designed pieces for the Mercedes Benz Home Collection.

At this year’s Milan Design Fair, they debuted three showpieces, including Taco – a side table with two table tops, one on top of the other – which was designed for Cappellini.

“We have a great supporter of our work and philosophy in Giulio Cappellini since we worked together for the Alcantara – MAXXI project ‘Home Sweet Car’ where he was co-curator, back in 2012,” says Mr Wai, of their collaboration. “We have subsequently worked with companies and brands he art directs for.”

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Following a successful collaboration with Nodus High Design Rugs in 2013, the duo launched Mutazioni 2.0 earlier this year. This second collection showcases two rugs, one with a dragonfly on it (above), and the other a salamander. Mr Wai says, “We had great critical and commercial success with Mutazioni 1.0, and were asked to do a second collection.”

They also started designing for Italian ceramics company Bosa. In January, Francesca Bosa, a designer in her family’s business approached Lanzavecchia + Wai to contribute their design for an exhibition at the Triennale Design Museum. The brief was to create a collection of ceramic objects with animistic and even apotropaic (having the power to avert evil influences) characteristics, of which the theme is obviously animality.

The two designed fox sculptures for the exhibition, which have since been made commercially available at the recent Milan furniture fair.

Mr Wai says they are now less star-struck about working with known brands than when they first started.

“Working with great brands opens doors to working with other clients. And on top of designing products, some clients have also asked us to get on board to dictate their creative direction,” he says.


Nathan Yong

AWARD-WINNING designer Nathan Yong is no stranger to international brands, much less having his products displayed and sold overseas.

Some of his clients include Design Within Reach from the United States, France’s Ligne Roset, Germany’s Domicil, and Italian brands such as Living Divani, Opinion Ciatti and Sphaus.

His works have been exhibited in furniture shows held in Shizuoka, Milan, London, Koln and Taipei, and he’s also appeared in international magazines such as Wallpaper, Monocle, Surface, Dwell and Habitus. Canny Collaborations 12

Yong is also the founder of Folks Furniture, which produces modern contemporary wooden furniture, and is also the co-founder of Grafunkt, a retail company that specialises in contemporary furniture brands.

His latest collection is done with Belgian brand, Ethnicraft, under the Nathan Yong label. Mr Yong says the collection, which includes dining tables, chairs, armchairs, and beds is a mix of metal and solid wood as key materials. “The idea is to get the best characteristics of each material to create a new archetype of furniture for the urban setting,” says Mr Yong. “Think key words like utilitarian, industrial, military, urban and raw; and colours such as rust, dark green, mustard, cream, graphite and oak.”

The collection will be produced in Europe, and distributed worldwide by Ethnicraft. It will be launched next year.

Elaborating on his choice of materials, Mr Yong says he likes wood for its tactile nature and warmth. “Our everyday activities revolve around wood – primarily as a raw material for furniture and products based on the unique characteristics, but there are so many other aspects to wood,” he says. “Wood has a story to tell. Cultural tradition has been a matter of course to use timber as a raw material in buildings, structures, interior fittings, furniture and the manufacture of articles for everyday use.”

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Using skilled tradesmen with ideas and solutions he hopes to pass on their know-how and techniques to form the modern manufacturing processes of today with a mixture of metal. “Part of the reason for this collection is also to create wooden furniture that is more sustainable. We don’t have to use wood for every part. Metal can be a good substitute for structural strength and to save the precious wood for parts that are more visible,” he adds.

Mr Yong feels that Singaporean designers “should not feel inferior about ourselves and should stop the colonial mindset. The rest of the world has moved on and has no baggage, so we should stop feeling inadequate.”


Rimowa X Art

GERMAN premium label Rimowa is known not only for its grooved suitcases but also for working with designers to put their personal touches on them.

Next week, it will launch its inaugural Pop Art collaboration in Singapore. At its store at Mandarin Gallery, the 12 designs by six homegrown personalities and six up-and-coming creative individuals will be on display.

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The six personalities include fashion designers Keith Png (above) and Kevin Seah, fashion photographer Geoff Ang, radio personality Rosalyn Lee, homegrown coffee purveyor Leon Foo, and stylist Willabelle Ong.

The six creative individuals are multidisciplinary artist Dee Chia, founder of Singapore Instagram @SGIG Ivan Kuek; Colin Chen, a founder of The General Company, advertising creative Wang Yuhui, and illustrator Candice Phang and aspiring tattoo artist Lee Wai Leng, who is better known as FleeCircus,

All the 12 designers had to encapsulate bits of Singapore into their suitcases to mark the country’s 50th Golden Jubilee.

Rimowa’s marketing and communications manager Mikeller Ho says, “Rimowa X Art is the fruition of celebrating creativity using our iconic grooved Topas case as a canvas. We have selected six renowned homegrown personalities like Geoff Ang, who are forerunners in their own respective industry, as well as six local up-and-coming creative individuals like Candice Phang. Each of them had to design on a Topas case, with their take on SG50.”

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Ms Phang titled her suitcase Garden of Puffs (above), as she wanted it to be a tribute to the country being known as the Garden City.

“The Garden of Puffs is a whimsical depiction of our flora and fauna. The fluffy and floral creatures that live in this garden portray happiness and are brought to life by the garden’s Chief, Mer-puff-lion,” she says. She uses a mixture of industrial and acrylic paint to create her piece.

Mr Png was inspired by the Singapore Armed Forces and selected a camouflage print with silver studs. The studs he says, represent the strength of Singapore’s Defence Force.

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Meanwhile, Mr Seah created an inner lining of a 19th-century print of old Singapore made for the interior of the suitcase.

Besides putting the 12 suitcases on show at the Mandarin Gallery from June 25 to July 30, the suitcases by the six personalities will also be on sale at S$5,000 each. Proceeds of the sales will go towards non-governmental organisation, Mercy Relief.

On working with an international brand, Ms Phang says, “because of the international recognition of the brand, it makes the collaboration an excellent platform for exposure. Even so, we should not neglect the new and upcoming brands, be it local or not. Collaborative efforts always make a personal journey a lot more exciting and that’s where you learn of things that may be out of your comfort zone.”

Like this? Read about the collaboration between Dom Perignon and three Singapore creatives

This story first appeared in Business Times on June 13