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Singapore's top catwalk style sensations

With its glittering international shows and its growing community of cutting-edge designers Singapore is now the fashion hub of Asia, as Beth Druce finds out

Beth Druce portrait
Beth Druce,

The long association of international collections with Paris, Milan, New York and London has become so engrained that when a big name shows somewhere else it can be difficult to take in. However, a glance through the schedules of recent seasons of Singapore Fashion Week reveals that renowned fashion houses such as Chanel and Oscar de la Renta have done precisely that.

At Chanel’s show, Karl Lagerfeld (not one to do things by halves) constructed a vast, traditional-style Singaporean house in which to present the brand’s 2014 Cruise collection, an event attended by Carine Roitfeld and Dakota Fanning. In a similar vein, Oscar de la Renta’s closing show for Singapore Fashion Week attracted Kate Bosworth, brand ambassador for the SK-II beauty range.

The shows reflect the growth of Singapore’s fashion industry and consequently, in the past decade, retail space here has expanded considerably, with luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Givenchy opening numerous stores. Most significant of all is the development of the Marina Bay Sands mall and resort which cost US$5.7 billion to build and houses a host of fashion and high-jewellery boutiques, from Balenciaga and Céline to Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, Chopard and Versace.

Emerging talent
The country also boasts a growing community of designers such as Prabul Gurung, whose fashion-forward, feminine styles are applauded by editors and high-profile women including Michelle Obama and the Kate Middleton. Singaporean business tycoon Christina Ong is another example. Ong founded the multibrand boutique Club 21 in 1972 and today sits on the boards of numerous fashion labels. Club 21 is credited with bringing names such as Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten and Comme des Garçons to Asia. 

Of great influence, too, is Ethan K, a fourth-generation artisan from family tannery Heng Long (which is now owned by LVMH, the company in charge of Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy). His signature, jewelled leather bags take inspiration from Asian spices, dragon fruit and mangosteens. Interviewed by Suzy Menkes for The New York Times, the designer said: 'I see my task is not just to design beautiful crocodile bags to satisfy women’s desires, but also to share with my friends and family our genuine culture. We have to be proud of who we are, our heritage and what we stand for.’

Growing sophistication
Pride in Singapore is a driving force for Frank Cintamani, chairman of the Asian Couture Federation. Described by the Wall Street Journal as a ‘billionaire philanthropist and fashion leader’, Cintamani not only launched men’s fashion week in Singapore, but he also enabled the country to make fashion history as the only nation in the East to hold formal shows of the French haute couture collections.

‘Over the last few years, Singapore has emerged as a key centre for fashion retail in Asia and as one of the world’s recognised retail destinations,’ Cintamani explains. ‘This is recognition of Singapore’s increasing maturity in its retail landscape as well as its growing sophistication in the consumer market.’

Couture in Singapore may seem a world away from Paris, yet the grandeur of one of the Parisian show venues has already been recreated in the Marina Bay Sands convention centre, with a 67,000-square-metre set that echoes the staircase of the Opéra Garnier. On the couture show schedule, familiar French names such as Alexis Mabille and Stephane Rolland sit alongside Asian couture labels.

Time will tell how the initiative will progress and Cintamani is keen to focus on the major journey that Singapore’s fashion industry has made: ‘It has quickly established itself as Asia’s main fashion hub. Its ability to present an entire fashion season appeals not only to the Asian market, but also to a global audience. To date, that is a position no other Asian city has been able to achieve.’



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