The Asian Civilisations Museum On How Fashion Is Intertwined With Culture

by Keng Yang Shuen  /   May 7, 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, we talk to curator Dominic Low, who will be leading this year’s #SGFASHIONNOW exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

Two years ago, the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) underwent a refresh and repositioned itself as the national museum of Asian antiquities and decorative art here, extending its vast stores of historical artefacts to include contemporary discoveries.

The move has not only opened up its audience in terms of demographic, but also what’s granted visibility within its hallowed walls and perhaps best crystallising this new vision was its blockbuster SGFASHIONNOW exhibition.

Credit:Asian Civilisations Museum

The Asian Civilisations Museum’s new curatorial direction has recently been changed to include contemporary designs and objects; the landmark #SGFASHIONNOW exhibition (which focused on showcasing works by current Singapore designers) being a key example of that.

Opened last June, it marked the first time that the institution had dedicated a show to local, present-day fashion – a snapshot of works by currently practising designers. Despite mixed reviews, it remains in many ways a milestone: Besides the theme, how it was conceptualised was equally unorthodox with ACM roping in the Textile And Fashion Federation as well as students from Lasalle College of the Arts’ School of Fashion as collaborators. Come mid-year, a second instalment is set to show, led this time by
a yet-to-be-revealed student as well as ACM curator Dominic Low.

Credit:Angela Guo

The Asian Civilisations Museum will return with a second edition of its blockbuster #SGFASHIONNOW exhibition this mid-year and leading it is curator Dominic Low, who reminds us that fashion is one of the most visible barometers of time and evolving social norms.

Throughout our conversations, the latter – a scholarly 32-year-old with a soft spot for textiles and Dries van Noten – points out that fashion is one of the most visible barometers of time and changing social norms. “Fashion is a continuum – it has a past, present and future – and it’s important that the ACM represents that continuum,” he says.

He cites how Indian textiles were precious commodities in the 17th and 18th centuries when they were first exported to Europe, prized for their vivid colours and quality so much so that legislation was passed to prevent sales for fear of competition among European producers. Of course, today it is the reverse – clothing made in Europe is often perceived to be of better quality and challenging that Eurocentric sensibility so prevalent in fashion discourse today is one of the aims at ACM, says Low.

Credit:Asian Civilisations Museum

This look by Singapore label Baelf Design was inspired by the Jing costumes of Chinese opera, a common
form of entertainment especially popular in late 19th-century Singapore. Baelf Design founders Jamela Law and Lionel Wong put their own touch on it through their signature 3D printed motifs, bridging the traditional and the contemporary.

While he has to keep details of the 2022 chapter of #SGFASHIONNOW under wraps, the general MO underpinning it stays. “We are looking at a cross-cultural understanding of fashion in Asia rather than restricting it to national dress codes, for instance… We want to show how cultures interact to create new and original interpretations of fashion.”

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

A version of this article first appeared in the April 2022 Humans Of Fashion edition of FEMALE