Originating as Singapore’s definitive virtual fashion festival when it made its debut in 2020, The Front Row (TFR) returns for its third edition this September. And with the relaxed social distancing rules, for the first time – TFR will be going phygital, featuring a trans-digital world where virtual events cross over into physical space and intermingle with reality, hosted by venue partner Raffles City.
Speaking to Singapore’s ‘Godfather of Fashion’ Daniel Boey, the Founder and Creative Director of TFR enthused how excited they were to be featured as a key event of Singapore Design Week 2022, putting fashion firmly back into the spotlight again. “I’m actually really excited and ecstatic that we have a fashion component again, and unlike the fashion weeks and festivals we used to have in the past, TFR is bringing you a new way of presenting fashion,” says Daniel. “Covid has taught us we all need to be creatives and consumers with a conscience, and with TFR 2022, we’re representing the fashion of today and the industry of the future.”
There is no way we can ignore the digital component of fashion. I’m hoping it’s just the beginning of many exciting things to come that we can do for fashion, not just for us but other creatives too.– Daniel Boey
“All the things we used to do for fashion in the past are irrelevant and passé now, and it’s about time the focus turns back to the creatives, their process and the work they’re doing,” he adds. “With the pandemic, we realised that there is no way we can ignore the digital component of fashion, be it as simple as online stores, to NFTs. I’m hoping it’s just the beginning of many exciting things to come that we can do for fashion, not just for us but other creatives too.”
During the pandemic, TFR spearheaded a digital fashion revolution and proved that fashion can adapt and thrive in digital spaces, finding willing collaborators, creatives and an audience hungry for fashion, as they experienced the event through forward-thinking presentations, innovative talks, and strong messaging. This year, they’re taking their mission even further, embracing sustainability and eco-consciousness; unique, futuristic concepts; and the solidarity of cross-border designers and creatives who created a close-knot fraternity during the lockdown and continue to create ground-breaking new works.
It’s very important to keep evolving to remain relevant, and that has nothing to do with age and everything to do with skill set and interest.– Daniel Boey
“I may be known as the ‘Godfather of Fashion’, but titles and accolades are only as relevant as you and your skill set,” says Daniel. “I don’t get to claim that for myself if I don’t keep up with what everyone is doing, I have to keep up, I have to remain relevant and we can’t keep wallowing in the past. I need to set the way, and surround myself with people with skill sets I don’t have. So that’s why I have people who know XR and VR, which allowed TFR to become a reality during the pandemic. It’s very important to keep evolving to remain relevant, and that has nothing to do with age and everything to do with skill set and interest.”
Take for example how even though the world is opening back up again and an increasing number of physical activities are returning, TFR has continued to dive into the digital. These are represented in events such as Metamatters, a phygital exhibition of fashion X photography X artworks featuring content creators including Chuan Do and Frey (Singapore), MIRL Incubator (Singapore), Filbert Kung (Philippines) and a special cruelty-free collaboration between photographer Rui Liang, fashion designer Thomas Wee, and former Singapore top model Pat Kraal.
“This year, TFR is claiming the theme of ‘#FashTag’,” says Daniel. “While mainstream media is still important, over the last two years, it’s been proven that social media is a very important part of everything we do, and it’s opened up the possibility of everyone becoming content creators. From Instagram reels to TikTok, social media has been integral to pushing fashion to the general public, and represents an evolution from just still images, and has democratised content creation, representing the state of fashion today.”
“Back in 2020, I imagined the day TFR would become physical. But come 2021, and we saw how fast the tech world developed, and I had opportunities to work with companies like Louis Vuitton, that gave me a huge opportunity during covid and learn about the amazing possibilities of phygital,” adds Daniel. “I don’t think I’d be the creative I am today if not for such experiences, and how it opened my eyes to how much potential going digital had, especially with how it does not confine you to limited physical space, and it’s up to us to take advantage of both the physical and digital worlds to create best phygital event.”
Elsewhere, NFT showcase MADEINREALLIFE, curated by MIRL, features an upcycled couture gown with NFT elements created by Joanna Lim, one of the founders of MIRL. FashionAvatars is a phygital showcase of sustainable, eco-friendly, responsible underground Asian fashion labels, including Sean Sheila (Indonesia), Labels showcased include COVERMENOT (Indonesia), SEAN SHEILA (Indonesia), Tube Gallery (Thailand), Jude Ng (Australia), Ki Lee (Korea) and couturier Michael Cinco (Philippines) as well as fashion upstarts Outdwell (Malaysia) and A-Jane (Malaysia). And CovidCreatives is a showcase of virtual runway shows and fashion films created by fashion producers during the pandemic, as a tribute to their ingenuity to create ground-breaking work despite the limitations of pandemic restrictions.
We don’t want people to feel too intimidated to go in when they see all the ‘fashion-types’ already there, and I speak from experience myself, not being from a fashion background.– Daniel Boey
“We want to connect with younger audiences, but also, anyone interested in fashion. We chose a public space like Raffles City to bring it to the public, because we don’t want people to feel too intimidated to go in when they see all the ‘fashion-types’ already there, and I speak from experience myself, not being from a fashion background,” adds Daniel. “And at the back of my mind I don’t want to preach to the converted, I want people to walk by Raffles City and be interested in educating themselves. And even if they don’t want to be there physically, I have QR codes that take people to a digital realm to explore more. People don’t realise it, but this kind of phygital concept is already so integrated into our lives, like scanning a QR code to access a cafe’s menu. This really is the new normal, and a means for everyone to feel and experience a part of this festival.”
TFR is also especially focused on ensuring their sustainability angle, with eco-consciousness, season-less and cruelty-free fashion and beauty at the forefront of the journey towards being a more responsible creative and consumer. All creations presented in TFR 2022 do not use leather or fur at all, while sets and décor are made only with upcycled materials. In addition, TFR has collaborated with young Singaporean spatial designer Aaron Lim who will take over an existing Raffles City festival set, and upcycle it, to be used to host the exhibitions and shows on levels 1, 2 and 3 at Raffles City.
“Environmental concerns are especially important to us – with climate change, it’s easy to see how the world is going downhill so fast. I may not live to see it, but I still want to be environmentally sustainable and responsible, and make sure I broadcast that message in as accessible and non-intimidating a way as possible,” explains Daniel. “All our sets are up-cycled, and anything new introduced is eco-friendly, like organic paint to give our sets a new coat of paint, or even using repurposed yarn to create our physical banners. We try to minimise the environmental impact, with no brochures, no collaterals, and as far as possible, keep waste to absolutely zero. We even hand materials back to Raffles City to reuse, and are conducting workshops to show participants how to repurpose such materials. Singapore Design Week is also giving us their street banners, and we plan on doing something with them in 2023.”
Other sustainability-focused programmes include FashionFutureFaces, a showcase of works created by fashion students from Raffles Design Institute, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and LASALLE College of the Arts, with a strong emphasis on upcycling, eco-conscious and cruelty-free creations that are leather and fur-free as well as the use of XR to create fashion content. Or attend Cabines with A Conscience, a curated cabine runway presentations that showcase responsible fashion consumption, such as small batch production, circular economy shopping and the like, featuring an inclusive fashion cast that includes former top Singapore models aged 50 and above as well as street-cast talents handpicked by Daniel at Raffles City.
“Giving back is very important to me. Anyone in position to influence should influence with the objective of giving back. We all had mentors once, and if they weren’t forthcoming and generous, many of us wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today,” says Daniel. “With this position, I think it’s best to use it to build up the next generation for the industry to keep growing and thriving and improving. The best thing to have come out of Covid is how it brought us out of our comfort zones, and we were forced to rethink ways of doing things. “
In the past, industries as a whole have been very segmented and very tribalistic. There’s unity in strength, and I hope that TFR encourages others to continue forming communities who build each other up.– Daniel Boey
“During the Covid years, collaboration has proven that even more amazing things can be created with the right people. The industry may be competitive, but suddenly see collaborations like Gucci X Adidas and Fendi x Versace. If the big brands do it, why not us? So those that continue to collaborate, are people who open the hearts and minds of others with new concepts,” says Daniel. “And a large part of that boils down to empathy. Take for example how I’m a big advocate for cruelty-free fashion, but the people who listen to me need to empathise with my stand, and those that don’t, no matter how many scenes of fur farms you show them, nothing will change. We can only hope for more empathy, and to hope people can see how wonderful things can be made with people.”
“That’s why it’s been amazing to have Raffles City come onboard to support us, because they’ve believed in us since even before seeing the final product. It’s so important to get support like this, because otherwise our hands are tied, alongside with support from the media or our PR Agency Word Of Mouth Communications to help spread the word,” says Daniel. “In the past, industries as a whole have been very segmented and very tribalistic. There’s unity in strength, and I hope that TFR encourages others to continue forming communities who build each other up.”
Other programmes in the line-up include Void Deck Conversations, an open discussion platform where Singapore fashion schools share their inspirations and respective journeys in creating upcycled or digital projects. Look forward to special sessions, helmed by Susannah Jaffer of Zerrin.com on being a sustainable, responsible fashionista, and Daniel Boey himself, who discusses ageism, racism and size bias in the fashion industry. As part of Void Deck Conversations, TFR will also be promoting the #USEYOURHANDSCAMPAIGN, a unique and meaningful sharing session by three creatives who have made recycling, upcycling and sustainability the cornerstone of their business: Irene Kusuma, The Kang and Becky + Rosie.
“Looking ahead, I do hope to canvas for more grants and more sponsors, and perhaps fly in some of the international collaborators we’ve gotten closer with over the pandemic, but have mostly been working with digitally. But mostly, I really want to democratise the way people approach fashion events,” says Daniel. “In the past, fashion was seen as exclusive and reserved for certain people, but the thing is, fashion touches all of us, and everyone has some interest in fashion, otherwise we’d all be naked. We make active decisions to choose certain clothes, which were in turn influenced by ebbs and shifts in the fashion industry. That’s why I have non fashion people on the team, like architects and illustrators, and that’s in part, the spirit of inclusivity.”
In the past, fashion was seen as exclusive and reserved for certain people, but the thing is, fashion touches all of us, and everyone has some interest in fashion, otherwise we’d all be naked.-Daniel Boey
“That inclusivity isn’t just for show – like I want to represent older models, plus size models, darker skinned models. And one way of doing that is via putting them all in the same show, and perhaps even getting them to wear the same garment, but styled in different ways,” concludes Daniel. “It’s a chance for these people to come together as one and finally meet each other, and create a community, something that is only possible when you start letting more people in. It takes a village, and the coming together of people of different skill sets to create something special. For TFR, when you walk into Raffles City, I’ll have you know that my job was easy, but so many people on the ground was doing the real work and made such big decisions. And as we move forward, I hope that we create more together, and promote more inclusivity.”
Photos courtesy of The Front Row
The Front Row 2022 runs from 16th to 25th September 2022 as a phygital event both at Raffles City and online here