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Tina Tan Leo brought international labels to Singapore. Now she's taking Asian style to the rest of the world with her own brand alldressedup, reports Gwyneth Holland

Gwyneth Holland portrait
Gwyneth Holland,

Until recently, Singapore was seen as a business and travel hub, with multinational companies opening offices, and international flights stopping over here, but recently the Lion City's profile as a fashion and design centre has risen, thanks to the efforts of Singapore style icon Tina Tan Leo, and her brand all dressed up.

The retail empire that Tan Leo set up with her husband Lionel Leo, The Link, now has branches all over Singapore, where locals and well-informed visitors go for a perfectly edited selection of international brands. 

'When we started 30 years ago, we brought in every brand under the sun: Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Prada, DKNY, Dolce and Gabbana - you name it, we got them in,' she says. 'But about five years ago, my husband pointed out that, even though it's wonderful to carry other people's brands and offer them to the local market, it would be difficult for us to provide anything outside Singapore unless we had something of our own.' 

Combining their background in art with their substantial experience in retail, the Leos decided to start alldressedup, aiming to showcase the wealth of design talent and artisan skills in the region around the world. 'Being surrounded by Asian culture and creativity, you realise that there's so much to offer in Asia, so much talent that I can tap, from artisans to craft techniques. So we wanted to do something different and something modern, always with an Asian sensibility, but never stereotypically ethnic.' 

This global outlook has manifested itself in every aspect of the brand. The Leos' love of travel, for example, is a key theme in the design elements of each collection and the way the pieces are constructed, 'the soul of the brand', as Tan Leo puts it. 

'When they travel, a person wants to move around. They want to be stylish and well-put-together, but they don't want to be constricted. You want to be feminine and sensuous, but never vulgar,' she says. 

A key element of Asian style and Tan Leo's vision is 'sensuality but in a way that is fluid and feminine; never showing too much'. Perhaps this is why alldressedup has been a hit with mothers and daughters alike (a trend echoed by favourite European labels such as Comptoir des Cottoniers and Cos). 

These pieces are a world away from the khaki, cargo pants and sweat shirts that blight many an airport. Instead, the collection captures the effortless breeziness of the golden age of travel. For autumn's Orient Express-inspired collection, luxe fabrics such as chiffon, silk and cashmere are loose and lightly layered, while easy jersey pieces are finessed with traditional eastern artisan details, from Peranakan lace to origami-style appliqués. Art Deco monochromes are tempered by the cobalt blues and rich burgundies of a Turkish royal harem, with the brand's signature elegant drapery contrasted with cinched waists and voluminous jackets. 

Although it has a very clear international outlook, the brand has probably had the greatest effect in its home city. 'Style has changed a lot here over the last few years, and I'm very happy,' says Tan Leo. 'Consumers weren't very adventurous with their style, and would stick to a head-to-toe look, which is now changing, because they are more open, more savvy and more confident. 

'People here are definitely more comfortable with their own style. They are so exposed to international news, they read all the international magazines, and yet they love alldressedup because it's an Asian product. It's made in Asia, it's designed by Asians and it's shipped from Singapore.' 

With very few Singaporean fashion brands succeeding outside of South-East Asia -London-based high-fashion designer, Ashley Isham being the notable exception - the growing profile of alldressedup on the world stage is remarkable, with stockists across Europe, America, the Middle East and Asia. 'Before, the old mindset was that if something was made in Asia, it's no good. But everything's made in Asia now,' says Tan Leo. 

With plaudits from style leaders including Vogue Italia editor Franca Sozzani, supermodel Heidi Klum and even Oprah Winfrey, the brand is going from strength to strength. 'I'm proud that Singapore could have an international brand,' says Tan Leo. 'That's great for everybody. I think we have opened up a very nice new hearth for the new generation of Asian designers.'  



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