Asian Civilisations Museum Museums Preview

Museum Musings: Asian Civilisations Museum brings fashion to their space with second edition of #SGFASHIONNOW

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) unveils the second iteration of #SGFASHIONNOW, an experimental contemporary fashion showcase where Singapore fashion takes centre stage. The showcase continues ACM’s efforts to engage with the fashion community to further the discussion of what constitutes Singapore fashion through the lens of the nation’s multi-cultural, cosmopolitan port city heritage. It is presented in collaboration with LASALLE College of the Arts’ (LASALLE) School of Fashion, and the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF) – a result of ACM’s tripartite partnership within Singapore’s fashion ecosystem.

The experimental showcase explores how each designer navigates the fashion space using their own language of draping. Based on a winning curatorial pitch by Ethan Lai from LASALLE’s BA(Hons) Fashion Media and Industries programme, it presents sixteen fashion ensembles and accessory pieces that offer a snapshot of Singapore’s fashion landscape, celebrating our diverse fashion senses and championing the next generation of contemporary fashion designers. The public can encounter the evocative works of designers Ashley Isham, Harry Halim, Latika Balachander, Lina Osman, Max Tan, Thomas Wee, and Jon Max Goh – winner of Singapore Stories 2021, an annual fashion design competition organised by TaFF, in collaboration with ACM. For the first time, accessories are being showcased to further expand the view of Singapore’s fashion industry, featuring pieces by brands such as Closet Children by Rachael Cheong and Putri Adif.

The jacket by Lina Osman belongs to LINAOTH’s 2022 demi-custom Heart On My Sleeve collection, and explores the co-existence of juxtaposing characteristics and the balance of being gentle yet strong. The garment takes on the customary shape of a tailored jacket with the basic pattern making and fabrication techniques inspired by the kebaya. 

Kennie Ting, Director of ACM and Peranakan Museum, shares: “I am pleased to share that the inaugural edition of #SGFASHIONNOW last year was well received, running for an extended six-months despite opening during the pandemic. This experimental showcase represents our interest in championing innovation in the space of tradition in Singapore, and we are extremely thankful for the strong support from our partners, donors, and importantly, the designers who have come on board with us to make this second edition of #SGFASHIONNOW happen.

The one-seam shift dress first appeared in Thomas Wee’s comeback collection in 2008, which was presented at the Singapore Fashion Festival. It is a design which he has since
produced on several more recent occasions, including variations of this signature look. 

I hope #SGFASHIONNOW continues to be a means to spark dialogue and conversation on the question, “what is Singapore fashion?”, from the perspective of our distinctive cross-cultural, east-west, port city heritage. Certainly, I hope the showcase demonstrates how much talent there is in and from Singapore! Do come by and tell us what you think? And hopefully, if this year’s edition does well, we can keep this project going for another year or even longer.”

This piece by Harry Halim is from the Spring/Summer 2022 SEDUCE&DESTROY collection which debuted in Paris. It embodies the opposing forces of seduction and destruction. For this collection, the designer destroys the normalcy of the fashion garment to recreate the look by exploring outside traditional tailoring.

ACM’s Contemporary Gallery is transformed into a construction site with an edgy, industrial finish, framing Singapore’s fashion identity as a work in constant progress that is generative, evolving, and open to change. Against this backdrop, #SGFASHIONNOW 2022 draws on parallels between fashion and architecture to explore how each designer navigates the fashion space using their own style and interpretation of draping.

The dress from Ashley Isham’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection exhibits the designer’s masterful construction with a complex micro-pleated panelled bodice accompanied by a pleated skirt. The lightly twisted shoulder straps belie the complex construction that holds them up. The beautiful silk jersey is signature Ashley Isham.

The pieces on display are organised around their visual similarities, allowing visitors to traverse from structural shapes to deconstructed silhouettes and finally breaking out into freeform garments. For instance, Lina Osman’s tailored jacket and structured balloon skirt merge classic tailored silhouettes and fluidity in drape to reinforce the contrast in characteristics. A one-seam shift dress reveals another side of Singapore’s “King of the Jacket”, pioneering contemporary fashion designer Thomas Wee. He repeatedly removed elements he considers unnecessary – zips, buttons, hooks, belts, joints – until all that was left was a single seam. Embracing the fluidity of draping, Harry Halim presents a piece from this SEDUCE&DESTROY collection, created by taking pieces of fabric and draping them around the basic silhouette of the garment, repeating the process until he deemed it complete.  

From LABAL’s Autumn/Winter 2020 collection Blurred Bodies, this piece takes inspiration from the ability of skin to morph – expanding, drooping, and sagging. Latika Balachander uses neoprene fabric to create volume and structure, while the satin fabric lining creates a draped look for a contrasting dimension.

As part of ACM and the community’s efforts to further discussion on Singapore fashion, the second edition of #SGFASHIONNOW showcases more voices and fresh perspectives by presenting designers from a diversity of cultural, as well as design, backgrounds.

This piece from Max Tan’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection Wanita, meaning women in Malay, was inspired by the extensive possibilities of the sarong. Tan reimagines heritage by adopting the wrapping identifiers of the cultural garment and incorporating it into a jumpsuit silhouette.

Designers featured include practising creatives based in Singapore, such as Thomas Wee, Max Tan, Keng How and Kage Chong, and Jon Max Goh; as well as Ashley Isham, Shawna Wu, and Harry Halim, who while based abroad, have had their fashion vocabularies shaped by their time spent in Singapore. Featured alongside industry veterans are emerging designers Lina Osman, Latika Balachander, and Bryan Yeo, who are representatives of a new generation. 

The showcase provides a peek into Singapore’s spirited fashion scene and spotlights the distinctive approaches taken by designers in their practices. For instance, Ashley Isham draws from the heritage of Southeast Asia to create timeless and elegantly vibrant pieces, while Max Tan draws from the design language of heritage garments to reinterpret tradition in his designs. This is an eclectic contrast to Latika Balachander’s Blurred Bodies collection, which takes inspiration from abstraction and exaggeration of human anatomy. Varying in choice of material and silhouette, when viewed together, these innovative creations illustrate the fluidity of fashion and the diversity of contemporary fashion design in Singapore today.

This one-of-a-kind corset piece is handmade 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.

The inclusion of accessories in this year’s showcase expands the conversation about Singapore fashion. Displayed among the garments are accessories by brands CHARLES & KEITH; GINLEE Studio by Gin Lee and Tamir Niv; Closet Children by Rachael Cheong; Putri Adif; and Joshua Suarez. 

The curation of this experimental showcase was done in collaboration with three final-year students from LASALLE College of the Art’s School of Fashion: Ethan Lai, Leonard Wong, and Vrinda Maheshwari. The student curators were given valuable guidance from LASALLE lecturers as well as access to respective ACM staff and departments, which allowed them to produce a comprehensive experience for the public to enjoy. An e-publication will also be available, consisting of content from the showcase, video interviews with the designers, and essays by the LASALLE and ACM project mentorship teams. It serves as a companion resource and a permanent digital record for this project, accessible via QR codes found in the gallery.

Professor Steve Dixon, President, LASALLE College of the Arts, elaborates, “We launched #SGFASHIONNOW in the firm belief that it would be more than the sum of its parts—that this partnership between LASALLE and ACM would generate new ways of thinking, creating, and curating, bringing together ideas from education, museum and industry. I am delighted that this has proven to be the case, and that we are building on the excellent work of 2021’s showcase to continue the conversation.” 

Photo Credit: Asian Civilisations Museum

#SGFASHIONNOW runs from 8th July to 16th October 2022 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. More information available here

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