Some 20 years ago, well-loved department store Tangs was considered a mecca for Australian fashion, with 22 designer and contemporary labels like Alannah Hill (the romantic alternative to Betsey Johnson), Living Doll (beach-meets-streetwear go-to) and Wayne Cooper (a red carpet favourite). As the years passed, that number dwindled till there were zilch though – word was that consumers just weren’t biting.
Fast forward to this March, and the retailer is giving it another shot with not just one, but four brands: C/MEO Collective, Keepsake, Finders Keepers and The Fifth Label, all incidentally designed and owned by Adelaide-based company Australian Fashion Labels. With clean yet feminine lines, and collectively covering day-to-night wear, the curation makes the section – located on level two – a one-stop-shop for the modern working woman. Adding to the draw: the fact that all four brands are frequently spotted on sexy yet sophisticated, social media-savvy personalities ranging from Jessica Alba to Aimee Song – exactly the sort of buzz that the recently revamped Tangs is looking for.
Other players in Singapore are further shaking up the range of Australian labels available here. Catherine Shen – a former marketing director in luxury publishing who moved here from Sydney in 2013 – launched online multi-label store The Well Dressed Society in February, specialising in brands from back home. What’s currently stocked: Sass & Bide, Bec & Bridge, and Camilla And Marc. Besides names that allude to duos, all three have gained a street-style following for their effortlessly hip clothes that score big on Instagram moments. Says Shen: “I want The Well Dressed Society to be the Australian answer to Net-a-porter.”
Existing retailers with a focus on Australian brands are upping the ante too. Mandarin gallery multi-label boutique Et-i-kit – owned by Singaporean June Huang – recently added the playful Alice McCall and Casper & Pearl to her stable of 20 mid-luxury labels. For the country’s famed coastal chic, there’s online retailer The Wyld Shop. Owned by Sydney transplant Kara Bensley-Austin, its range of brands that include Minkpink, Evil Twin and Somedays Lovin form the quintessential beachside wardrobe. Four years after its debut in 2012, the e-boutique has tripled its offerings and, according to Bensley-Austin, seen a steady increase in Singapore customers.
The appeal, says Australian Fashion Labels founder/creative director Melanie Flintoft, boils down to how the scene fills a sweet spot between the commercial and directional. “Our fashion aesthetic celebrates unexpected cuts, balanced layering and a creative mix of textures, proportions and fabrics,” she says. “It’s a versatile aesthetic as we draw inspiration from different regions, and make it our own.”
It also happens to be a look that suits the local climate, what with the Australians’ love for beach culture and the great outdoors. Says Sydney-based fashion consultant/social media influencer Margaret Zhang, a poster girl for brands like C/MEO Collective: “The fact that we have beautiful light and such a range of natural landscapes in Australia definitely impacts our design.”
The results are often clothes that are lightweight, never too fussy, and sexy without being try-hard. Cue C/MEO Collective’s silk top with billowing sleeves and generous shoulder cut-outs, or Bec & Bridge’s wrap midi dress with a sleek, dipping V-neckline. They’re almost always all-occasion-friendly, seasonless, and upgrades of wardrobe staples (practically all the brands and retailers mentioned here have a variation of the slip dress, classic white blouse and some great pants). Which also means they’re usually easy to pull off.
Says Alice Ho, who works in supply management and counts brands like Finders Keepers and Sass & Bide among her favourites: “The pieces are sharp enough for work and, if you’re going to an event after hours, you’ll still look like you know how to have fun.”
An adapted version of this appeared in Female‘s July 2016 issue.