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Museum Musings: Andrew Gn – Fashioning Singapore and the World at the Asian Civilisations Museum

Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) presents Andrew Gn: Fashioning Singapore and the World, an exhibition that traces the fashion journey of one of Singapore’s most prolific designers and celebrates his major gift to the nation. This is ACM’s largest exhibition celebrating a contemporary Singapore fashion designer. Through five sections and over 100 representative works, it explores Gn’s roots in Asia, cross-cultural expressions of Asian and Western art in his work, and celebrates the distinctive aesthetics, craftsmanship, and global impact of the House of Andrew Gn. With an emphasis on inclusive and contemporary representations of Asia and fashion, the exhibition aims to celebrate local talent and inspire the next generation of designers. 

Mr Kennie Ting, Director of Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum, explains, “Andrew Gn: Fashioning Singapore and the World cements ACM’s shift into the space of contemporary fashion and design; and in particular, to exploring Asia’s impact on global fashion and design. For the first time, we are spotlighting a Singaporean fashion designer at the top of his game – we believe it is important to champion our own, and to tell young Singaporeans that we can succeed internationally in the creative fields. Andrew’s design philosophy blends east and west, beauty and comfort, innovation and tradition; and speaks directly to ACM’s curatorial focus on the heritage of cosmopolitan, cross-cultural, port cities in Asia. Andrew has maintained extensive archives documenting his successful 28-year career, and this exhibition honours an exceptional and unprecedented gift of 160 works from these archives. We invite the public to join us in rediscovering and celebrating Andrew Gn.” 

“While my label House of Andrew Gn flourished in France, it is Asia where my story began and where my roots lie. The exhibition presents a 28-year voyage, featuring cherished archival pieces that hold great significance to my story and work as a designer. I hope this gift of my archive to Singapore and the ACM collection inspires more people to embrace their roots and enrich audiences with contemporary fashion presentations celebrating the rich, diverse cultures and histories of Asia and beyond.” said Andrew Gn.

From North America and Europe to Asia and the Middle East, Gn’s luxury, ready-to-wear creations adorn powerful women in politics, high society, and the entertainment industry. Emma Stone, Fan Bing Bing, Maggie Cheung, Kareena Kapoor, Kit Chan, Lady Gaga, Lily J. Collins, Queen Rania of Jordan, Yang Mi, and many others have worn his creations — in print and screen, and from red carpet to royal catwalk. 

The exhibition reveals Gn’s diverse sources of inspiration, which include art, fashion, literature, film, and his Singaporean roots, and explores how they offer a wealth of access points to discover diverse Asian cultures. Echoing Singapore’s history as a cross-cultural port city, Gn’s works blend Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, and Peranakan influences. Many directly resonate with objects in the ACM collection, such as Chinese porcelain, Indian textiles, Indonesian batiks, Iznik ceramics, and other forms of hybrid material culture.

Gn is also inspired by vibrant natural imagery, adopting corals and butterflies as House Codes (distinctive visual elements).

With a couture-like approach to quality and fabrication, Gn’s ready-to-wear designs are designed almost entirely in-house – from fabric and embroidery to buttons and trimmings. The Contemporary Gallery on Level One evokes Gn’s atelier in Paris, where he develops designs and experiments with materials and techniques. His holistic design process reveals the exceptional artistry and craftsmanship that defines the House of Andrew Gn. This section of the exhibition is free for all ACM visitors.

“I remember watching my father bring back batik and silk from his travels, and mother would talk for hours about making a cheongsam, and I would be sitting there listening to them talking about the materials and the style. And my sister would subscribe to Hong Kong magazines where we’d get our first taste of high fashion. That is what started my journey of being a fashion designer I think,” says Andrew.

“Putting on this exhibition is like going back to school for high school reunion. I’ve presented my collections globally, but it’s first time I’m coming back to show it to you. It means a lot to me, and it’s very emotional,” he adds. “A lot of my work stems from my own Peranakan heritage, and I would remember things like my mother and grandmother struggling to pin on jewelled brooches. There’s always something influencing my subconscious mind through my experiences and interests, from reading classic Chinese novels to my imagination as a child.”

Says actress Sharon Au, a close friend of Andrew Gn’s who was also present to facilitate discussion: “I’ve always appreciated how he puts our Peranakan heritage and roots on a global platform, and there’s this dress he designed that Lily Collins wears in Emily in Paris with very clear Peranakan influences. Seeing it represented in Hollywood on a global platform means so much.”

“Around this time of year, Andrew would usually be at Cannes, and his presence there is so strong, dressing not only celebrities but also industry royalty,” she adds. “So the fact that he’s here now shows how important this is to him, for Singaporeans to understand the universe of Andrew Gn.”

Continuing ACM’s efforts to engage contemporary audiences through digital initiatives, the exhibition introduces a “Fashion Try-On” interactive — a multimedia experience that allows visitors to embark on their own fashion journey. Using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, visitors can collect motifs , such as butterflies and corals, across the various exhibition spaces. At the end of their journey, these can be used to create a personalised outfit that visitors can model at augmented reality kiosks in the Contemporary Gallery. These self-designed outfits can be kept as souvenirs in the form of printed and digital photographs. Visitors can also collect and learn more about the motifs at Take Flight in the Level 2 Foyer, a multimedia display by artist Koh Dawn that brings Andrew Gn’s watercolour butterflies to life.

ACM will also organise a series of complementary family-friendly programmes, guided tours, lectures, and weekend festivals. This includes a talk by Andrew Gn in conversation with Jackie Yoong, ACM’s Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles, and Circe Henestrosa, Fashion Curator and Head of the School of Fashion at LASALLE College of the Arts.

Photos Courtesy of Asian Civilisation Museum

Andrew Gn: Fashioning Singapore and the World runs from 27th May to 17th September 2023 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. More information available here

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