Alfie Leong (below), the mastermind behind local label Mu and multilabel pop-up WE, talks about his unconventional aesthetic, his most recent collection for Mu and the new WE concept store.
Alfie Leong is an ideas man. He set up local fashion label Mu in 2004 and it’s become the go-to for well cut pieces with unconventional details such as giant pleats and adjustable folds and standout, wearable pieces such as full-skirted dresses in menswear fabrics.
One successful label isn’t enough for Leong, who was named Designer of the Year in the President’s Design Award 2013. In 2010, he started AWOL (All Walks of Life), which focuses more on draping. Like Mu, it’s known for unusual cuts in easy, wearable fabrics. “Everything I create is practical,” says Leong. “And you’ll never find them in fast-fashion stores.”
But Leong’s biggest contribution to the local fashion industry is, arguably, as founder and chief curator of WE (Workshop Element), a local multi-label outfit that stocks local designer labels such as Womb, Individual Expression, Elohim by Sabrina Goh, Reckless Ericka, Revolte as well as Leong’s AWOL and Mu. The pop-up store, which started out at Wisma Atria, moved to Westgate, and is now at 313 @ Somerset, has given up-and-coming names such as Sheila Sim of Sceneplicity a shot at the retail market without the hefty rental that’s the Achilles heel of so many local businesses.
Another WE concept, still unnamed, is making its way to Suntec City. Leong says: “It will be a shop-in-a-shop concept; we’re planning to launch end May or early June.” The 5,300 sq ft store in Suntec City Tower 2 will be home to four local labels – womenswear labels Revolte and Mu, bespoke men’s shoes label Atelier LLYR, and Happy Socks – and the first WE Cafe. Leong felt that a cafe would add a lifestyle vibe to the store, which will also be stocking Revolte’s upcoming line of children’s clothes.
Female talks to Leong about his inspirations, the trials of the fashion industry and his latest collection for Mu.
How long have you been designing clothes and what sorts of things inspire you?
I’ve been designing for over 23 years. Inspiration is difficult to explain – sometimes it comes as a series of events, sometimes in sporadic bursts. However, I love to see things from different angles. It allows me to see forms or silhouettes that may not be so conventional. Fabrics will do what comes naturally to them; during this process, something new may emerge.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Shortage of facilities and increasing rental and platforms, yet the same, possibly scattered pool of customers is shared by all the labels. It is very tough for designers or creators to find retail platforms. The increasing availability of low-end products encourage consumers to focus on trends without understanding quality. And with increasing costs, designer products become misunderstood as overpriced.
What about the biggest challenges you face as a local designer?
Educating both customers and the new generation of designers while running a business in Singapore is tough. I have to keep up with the ever-changing economy and I’m not getting any younger. It’s a struggle to balance my roles and keep up with everything, and that sometimes makes it difficult to create.
What’s your latest collection for Mu about? Tell us about some of the key pieces.
As usual, it’s about pieces with unconventional details. For the latest collection, I used pleated knit to create cardigans and long baggy pants made with pieces in different shapes. There’s a blouse with an attached sling bag – the blouse folds into the sling bag, which you can carry around. Another blouse has an extended folded yoke protruding from the collar; you can wear this facing the front or the back.
Mu is at #01-48/49 Bugis Junction. Both Mu and AWOL are at WE, #03-01, 313 @ Somerset.
Like this? Read about Carolyn Kan of local jewellery label Carrie K and her thoughts on the local design scene