What is Singapore fashion? The topic is one that might usually be met with derision or indifference but #SGFASHIONNOW, the exhibition series initiated by the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in partnership with Lasalle College of the Arts’ School of Fashion and Taff (Textile and Trade Federation) last year, is looking to expand that blinkered perspective.

According to the museum, the inaugural edition drew a sizeable crowd of more than 48,000 visitors over a six-month run, perhaps due to the fact that the topic focused on local contemporary fashion – a first for the museum and how an exhibition on such a topic is admittedly a rarity in Singapore.

Additionally, #SGFASHIONNOW marked the first time the ACM shared curatorial duties with external parties – namely Taff and students from Lasalle’s BA(Hons) Fashion Media and Industries programme.

Emerging photographer Ethan Lai is the co-curator of the #SGFASHIONNOW exhibition this year.

#SGFASHIONNOW’s second edition which opens July 8 and runs till Oct 16, is largely led by emerging photographer Ethan Lai – as a student from Lasalle’s BA(Hons) Fashion Media and Industries programme, he pitched the winning curatorial statement of “Architecture of Drapes”.

Lai worked together with ACM curator Dominic Low to present a total of 16 Singapore designers and brands for this sophomore edition, with the theme of exploring how each designer navigates the fashion space using draping techniques.

Credit:Asian Civilisations Museum

A work by Latika Balachander, which takes inspiration from the ability of skin to morph — expanding, drooping, and sagging.

The 16 names being exhibited include established designers such as Thomas Wee, Harry Halim, Max Tan and Ashley Isham, but a significant portion is also given over to highlighting emerging talents, such as Jon Max Goh (the winner of Singapore Stories 2021 – an annual fashion design competition organised by Taff), Lina Osman, Shawna Wu, Latika Balachander, and Bryan Yeo.

The roster does come across as more diversified this year; accessories and menswear labels such as Closet Children, Putri Adif, Josh Tirados Suarez and Biro have been included for the first time. That experimental spirit extends to the exhibition design as well.

Credit:Asian Civilisations Museum

A handmade corset piece by Putri Adif, using a batik fabric printed with floral motifs. For Adif, the body conforming quality of the historical garment serves as an empowering tool that amplifies the wearer’s confidence

In a nod to how identity is something that’s constantly been negotiated and evolving (rather than a monolithic entity), the exhibition design (by architecture studio Farm) goes for a more raw, unfinished approach – mannequins are propped on wooden slats for example, and walls resemble those found on construction sites.

“We show in this showcase 16 different designers and their different approaches to draping. The list is obviously not exhaustive and the showcase is not meant to be a survey or a conclusion in any way. Instead, we hope it will galvanise conversations surrounding the topic,” says ACM’s Low.

Credit:Asian Civilisations Museum

Bryan Yeo, currently a student majoring in knitwear at Central Saint Martins, created this upcycled calico dress inspired by the idea of daily rituals from his memory of his mother’s relationship with Catholicism. The design is meant to function as a portal praying altar (there’s a hidden wooden block incorporated into the dress), evoking the journey of a pilgrim.

“(That the curation of designers this year is more diverse) is a reflection of the issues that Singapore audiences and the fashion community hold dear today,” adds Low. “After all, #SGFASHIONNOW is an experimental showcase that is part of ACM’s efforts to engage with the fashion community to further the discussion of ‘What is Singapore fashion?’ as seen through the lens of Singapore’s port city heritage. A second and connected point is that Singapore is inherently multicultural. So it should come as no surprise that talent comes from multiple communities.”

#SGFASHIONNOW opens July 8 and runs till October 16 at Asian Civilisations Museum’s Contemporary Gallery. In conjunction with the experimental contemporary fashion showcase, members of the public can look forward to a series of student curator tours, interactive activities, and workshops focusing on fashion, craft, and design – available online and on-site.