A Stubborn Bloom: Understanding Singaporean Life Through Fashion

by Keng Yang Shuen  /   April 26, 2022

There’s been a growing voice within local creative circles – one that talks about fashion not so much in terms of runway trends, aesthetic or GDP, but as a part of art, culture and the social fabric. For our April 2022 Humans Of Fashion edition, we spotlight the people who are broadening how we see and understand fashion and, in turn, are helping to shape Singapore into the truest and most sophisticated kind of fashion city. Here, the we speak to artist Stephanie Jane Burt and fashion educator-slash-researcher Daniela Monasterios-Tan who are using fashion to analyse Singapore society.

Helmed by artist Stephanie Jane Burt and fashion educator-slash-researcher Daniela Monasterios-Tan, the two-year-old A Stubborn Bloom has become an industry darling for the way it uses fashion, film and other forms of material culture to explore femininity. Its thought-provoking presentations are often whimsical, nostalgia-steeped and of course stylish affairs.

Credit:Photography: Angela Guo

The collective A Stubborn Bloom, founded by fashion educator Daniela Monasterios-Tan (left) and artist Stephanie Jane Burt, will release Elizabeth’s Diary: Teenage Love and Life in 1990s Singapore in May – a film that explores the lives of young women during the era through the way they dress

Cue the last – held at Objectifs in November 2021 – that gently poked fun at the sexist rigidity of home economics textbooks used in Singapore in the ’70s (the subject was compulsory for female students then). What the duo have lined up next can thus be said to be a natural progression.

Targeted for online release as a short film next month, Elizabeth’s Diary: Teenage Love and Life in 1990s Singapore explores the lives of young women in that decade through the way they dressed. Gen Z’s current obsession with the era’s style was what had sparked off Monasterios-Tan’s interest in the subject, but the project – part of the National Library’s inaugural Creative Residency programme – delves much deeper than the redux of goth glam or baby tees.

Credit:A Stubborn Bloom

Their previous work Home Economics with A Stubborn Bloom (pictured is a still from the film) was a gentle satire on young women’s education in Singapore during the 1970s.

Malls, for example, were the place for teens to see and be seen at, and helped birth several subcultures and their idiosyncratic wardrobe (google “Centrepoint Kids”). And while schools started introducing fashion design and merchandising courses only in response to the government’s push for technical education, Monasterios-Tan points out that if not for such institutionalised action, the local fashion industry might not be where it is today.

Among the collective’s research materials for their upcoming film on young women in ’90s Singapore and what they wore: local fashion publications of the decade, like Go Magazine.

She says: “There are so many forces that structure people’s choices and aspirations. Through Elizabeth’s Diary, we want to share how a lot was invested into our modernisation to put Singapore on the global map. At the same time, there was and is a desire to define a local identity…

The collective archives and investigates various modes of femininity through fashion, film and material culture on their Instagram page, as seen above.

The increase in conversations that move fashion away from solely being a commercial product and towards something of cultural value or self-expression shows that we are taking fashion seriously and that it goes beyond its retail value and symbol of status. I feel like this will allow us to appreciate it better and be more confident with our own relationship to it.”

Photography Angela Guo Art Direction Imran Jalal Hair Ying Cui Makeup Beno Lim, using Make Up Forever 

This article first appeared in the April 2022 Humans Of Fashion edition of FEMALE