From this Friday, design, culture, and fashion enthusiasts can visit ACM’s first display of contemporary Singapore fashion, exploring creative practice in Singapore in the context of Asia’s cultural heritage. Branded #SGFASHIONNOW, the showcase is presented in collaboration with LASALLE College of the Arts’ School of Fashion and the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF) – a result of ACM’s first tripartite partnership within Singapore’s fashion ecosystem.
At #SGFASHIONNOW, visitors can encounter cross-cultural works and fashion-forward ideas by Singapore designers organised in two sections: the first is the curtain-raiser display ACM x TaFF, where four ensembles by Singapore-based finalists of fashion design competition Singapore Stories 2020 are on show at the ACM Lobby; the second, ACM x LASALLE, showcases works by eight practising local designers, including established professionals Andrew Gn, Goh Lai Chan, and Priscilla Shunmugam, whose works are mounted alongside Singapore Stories 2020 winner Carol Chen’s debut creation.
Kennie Ting, Director of ACM and the Peranakan Museum, explains, “As an exhibition, #SGFASHIONNOW is a first for us in many ways. It is our first display of contemporary Singapore fashion, and in typical ACM fashion, we explore creative practice in Singapore within the context of Asia’s cultural heritage. It is made possible by way of a first-time, multi-party collaboration between museum, community and industry – ACM x LASALLE x TaFF x Singaporean and Singapore-based designers. It is also the first time ever that the central task of curating an exhibition has been ceded by ACM curators – in this case to the School of Fashion students, with ACM staff and LASALLE faculty providing mentorship.
I hope #SGFASHIONNOW encourages new ways of thinking about the question “What is Singapore fashion?” from the perspective of Singapore’s essence as a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan port city. Having recently re-positioned ourselves as Singapore’s National Museum of Asian Antiquities and Decorative Art, the exhibition also represents our commitment to championing innovation in the space of tradition.
We are extremely thankful for the strong support from our partners, our donors, and the Singaporean and locally based designers who have agreed to come on board with us. In these challenging times, it is all the more important that we come together to support the talent we have right here in Singapore. In that light, I am pleased to say that #SGFASHIONNOW will return in 2022 and, depending on the public’s reception to the first two installments, we will explore if there should be more.”
Exploring Singapore’s diverse fashion identities
Visitors can engage with a visual dialogue on Singapore’s fashion identities at the anchor display #SGFASHIONNOW: ACM x LASALLE, located at the Contemporary Gallery nestled in the heart of the museum. As visitors make their way to the show by traversing through the Level 1 Trade galleries, they will discover how Singapore grew and thrived as an open port city by sharing cross-cultural flows and artistic exchanges with the region and the world. This context of a shared heritage informs this ACM x LASALLE display, where the diverse approaches and craftsmanship of eight Singapore designers takes the spotlight.
Focusing on the craft of making clothes, the works displayed engage with ideas of materiality and slow fashion (local artisans rather than industrial production, attention to eco-friendly materials, etc.), some representing notable moments in history, and all made in recent years. The chosen designers drew from the rich heritage of fashion, craft, and cultural ideas of Singapore and Asia.
In this snapshot of Singapore’s fashion landscape, emerging designers were selected alongside established veterans to create a developmental showcase to highlight contemporary applications of traditional craftsmanship and ideas for the modern, international audience. For instance, visitors will see Singapore’s cheongsam maestro Goh Lai Chan sharing the same space with up-and-coming designer Hu Ruixian of Studio HHFZ, who offers one of her own interpretations of what Singapore fashion can be. Experimental works like Baëlf Design’s 3D printed creation show a Singapore label’s take on the future of sustainable fashion, and its inclusion here points to the role a museum can take in supporting innovative ideas.
Rather than presenting one singular “Singapore” look or style, the display shows some of the wide range of approaches in craft and ideas taken by diverse designers in imagining Singapore fashion today. They are united by a shared commitment to making well-crafted fashion, and in their cross-cultural, cosmopolitan, experimental spirit, which has characterised fashion here in this multicultural, predominantly migrant nation for the past two centuries.
Collaborating with Singapore’s next generation of fashion creatives
In an unprecedented approach by ACM, the curatorial task of putting together this exhibition was largely ceded to five final-year students at LASALLE College of the Art’s School of Fashion: Gabrielle Yeo, Celestine Wong, Jessica Faustine Suwito, Felicia Toh, and Guo Li Le. Among three submissions, their proposal was unanimously selected by a diverse judging panel including Circe Henestrosa (Head, LASALLE School of Fashion), Ho Semun (CEO, TaFF), Tjin Lee (Founder, Mercury Marketing and Communications), and ACM’s director Kennie Ting. In response to TaFF’s winning work and three works in ACM’s collection by Andrew Gn, LAICHAN, and Ong Shunmugam selected by ACM Curator of Fashion and Textiles Jackie Yoong, the students proposed the central exhibition theme of “Craftsmanship” and proposed four designers’ works (Baëlf Design, Stylemart, Studio HHFZ, and Time Taken to Make a Dress) for display. The student curators were given valuable access to ACM’s resources, including curatorial and programmes staff mentorship as well as exhibition expertise, which allowed them to produce a comprehensive experience for the public to enjoy. Their roles included developing their curatorial vision, leading the exhibition design, and proposing programmes to run in conjunction with the exhibition. They will also give tours of the exhibition. An e-publication was produced by the students, consisting of exhibition content, 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 in the exhibition.
Steve Dixon, President of LASALLE College of the Arts, shares, “This collaboration with the ACM has been a fantastic opportunity for LASALLE’s students. Not only have they been able to put their curatorial ideas to the test with expert guidance from ACM, they have also gained valuable exposure to different facets of what makes an exhibition, from public engagement programmes to marketing. Partnerships such as this between industry and education play a crucial role in cultivating the next generation of Singapore’s fashion designers and curators. We look forward to many more opportunities to collaborate with the ACM.”
Creating Singapore-inspired capsule collections with ACM
At the ACM Lobby, visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the intricate details of the four ensembles of the #SGFASHIONNOW: ACM x TaFF display. Presented by 2020 finalists of Singapore Stories, Singapore’s national fashion design competition, the designs pay tribute to the heritage of Singapore fashion and envision its future. To help create their own Singapore-inspired capsule collection as part of the competition, finalists were given the rare opportunity to view exquisite textile pieces from the ACM stores housed at the Heritage Conservation Centre. The realised creations are hallmarks of #InnovationInTradition. The finalists were able to adopt a broader approach by considering Singapore fashion in the context of Asia’s rich heritage.
Semun Ho, Chief Executive Officer of TaFF, explains, “The partnership with ACM in Singapore Stories has been invaluable. It helps to bolster our efforts in creating a dynamic fashion industry with cultural appreciation. Through the learnings and interpretation from ACM artefacts, the Singapore Stories contestants are encouraged to create a truly Singapore-inspired capsule.”
“TaFF’s vision is to position Singapore as the innovative fashion hub of Southeast Asia through three key areas of focus: Technology and Innovation, Sustainability, and Asian Craftsmanship. These defined themes differentiate us in the global fashion context and highlight the uniqueness of Singapore as a multicultural city nation. Singapore Stories is one of the key programmes that TaFF has created to galvanise the community, with the goal of spotlighting and supporting homegrown and locally based fashion talents. Founded three years ago, the aim of the initiative is to encourage designers to delve into the history of Singapore fashion and arts, which, many a time, is a fusion of different cultures. TaFF is grateful to be able to participate in the museum’s #SGFASHIONNOW showcase as it provides the opportunity to shine a light on Singapore fashion,” she adds.
Fashion and Singapore women
Besides reflecting the pulse of society in time and space, fashion is also very much about the wearer and self-expression. The selection on display might appeal to a diverse range of women in Singapore and beyond, reflecting different ideas of beauty and nationality. For example, the donor of the Ong Shunmugam custom dress – the author Paige Parker – chose to wear the creation to the Cannes Film Festival, as she felt the design and colours expressed Singapore well. The actress Constance Lau chose to wear Time Taken to Make a Dress’s work to the red carpet premiere of the movie Crazy Rich Asians in San Francisco to represent her Singapore roots and support a local label. Labels like Studio HHFZ, with its youthful designs, appeal to many Singaporean women.
#SGFASHIONNOW is part of ACM’s focus on presenting innovation in the space of tradition, with the aim of sparking conversations around cross-cultural Asian identities, heritage, and craftsmanship. The exhibition opens on 25 June and runs through 19 December 2021.
In conjunction with the exhibition, members of the public can look forward to a series of student curator tours, interactive activities and workshops focusing on fashion, craft, and design – available online and on-site. Entry is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents.