Jackie Yoong is the lead curator at Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) – she heads the museum’s Fashion and Textiles gallery that opened last April.
On till December 19 and co-curated by the Textile and Fashion Federation as well as students from Lasalle College of the Arts, #SGFASHIONNOW is the institution’s first show dedicated to contemporary Singapore designers. Here, Yoong tells us why more inter-disciplinary collaborations within the fashion industry’s various factions are needed in order to develop the scene.
This ornate and ethereal number is from industry veteran Lai Chan’s Wanderluxe collection, exploring the reimagination of the “Singapore dress” and embroidered entirely with lace florals, tulle ribbons and beads.
“The ACM’s showcase is meant to be a snapshot of the current fashion scene but to me, I think we can call Singapore a fashion city because we have our own identity, history and future possibilities. When you ask this question, I imagined that perhaps you are asking (in comparison) to global fashion capitals. I’d like to put this question into context (below).
The noted fashion historian Christopher Breward put forth several criteria with regards to what makes a global fashion city including having a manufacturing base; specialists with local production skills; a developed media sector; a history of substantial fashion consumption; cross-pollination with other cultural industries like film and music; and a well-established fashion education system that includes not only schools, but also institutions like museums.
Close-up of Time Taken To Make A Dress’ design, worn by actress Constance Lau to the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians.
His theory was that all of these factors need to work in tandem to create a fashion capital like those popularly accepted today: Paris, London, New York, Milan and Tokyo. His book Fashion’s World Cities has been very influential, but a more recent publication Styling Shanghai (released last year, it explores the Chinese city’s fashion landscape) aims to challenge Breward.
And I found that inspiring because when you ask if Singapore can be considered a fashion city, it starts by asking what type of criteria are you using and secondly, are these criteria still relevant today?
Setting up the #SGFASHIONNOW exhibition
Instead of having a one-size-fits-all template, we need to look at each individual city and go ground-up from there. Speaking from the perspective of a museum curator, a big part of what Singapore style rests a lot on good quality, published research. We need more researchers to be interested in Singapore fashion and we need to publish more.
The media also needs to be involved (to help get the word out) and create ongoing discourse about what is happening in society now. This is what the ACM is trying to do with the #SGFASHIONNOW show.
An outfit from Indian fashion boutique Stylemart
Even though the #SGFASHIONNOW show is small (it highlights the designs of eight industry stalwarts including Lai Chan and Priscilla Shunmugam), it’s meant to be an experimental showcase. Hopefully, when there are more collaborations across the different parts of the industry and more segments of the public are engaged, we wouldn’t be faced with this eternal question of what is Singapore’s fashion style. The first question should be ‘What is it now?'”
A version of this article first appeared in the August 2021 The Great SG Fashion Book edition of FEMALE