Perhaps the most famous Singaporean designer, Benny Ong shot to fame in the 1970s for his elegant, high-fashion, evening wear and cocktail gowns. His list of high-profile clients includes the late Princess Diana, Queen Noor of Jordan and the Duchess of Kent. His lines are only available through sophisticated, upmarket stores, including Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Ave, both in Manhattan.
At the turn of the new millennium, Ong moved away from fashion, choosing instead to focus on contemporary art. His decision was influenced by the transience of fashion, frustrated with a situation he describes: ‘all that time and work you put into it is gone after a season’. Earlier in 2016, he exhibited some new art pieces inspired by the Laotian weavers he studied with over several trips to the country.
Like so many artists, Priscilla Shunmugam was not originally planning to be a fashion designer. After finishing high school, she was accepted to read law at the National University of Singapore and worked as a lawyer for a few years until her year abroad in England, where she studied fashion and dressmaking. Her signature look is a modern take on the Cheongsam, a traditional Chinese garment. She launched her first collection, Orientalism, in December 2010 and just two years later was named Singapore Designer of the Year at the 2012 Elle awards.
Jo Soh’s original womenswear label, Hansel, was inspired by her Jack Russel Terrier, leading to playful patterns influenced by vintage trends like mod dresses. Her combination of flirty designs with clean, minimalist backgrounds turned the heads of fashionistas worldwide for twelve years. Eventually, she caught the eye of Laura Ashley and made the difficult decision to discontinue her own brand in favour of stepping into the role of Laura Ashley Asia’s Head of Fashion.
Hayden Ng is unique as being someone who followed their dreams from a young age. He started on his path towards becoming a Singaporean fashion designer at just 16 years old. Success soon followed for Ng as by 1987 he was designing clothes for Miss Singapore Universe, Marion Nicole Teo.
More recently, Hayden started the ASEAN Fashion Designers Showcase. Nearly thirty designers participated in the showcase themed, ‘Design is for Everyone’. Aimed at celebrating the diversity and iconic design elements of the different cultures within the ten member states of ASEAN.
Carolyn Kan’s move into the world of fashion came via the corporate world. Like many others, she was told at a young age to follow a path that would lead to a stable income and therefore a comfortable life. In 2008, she quit a high-stress, high-profile position as managing director at M&C Saatchi.
During what was meant to be a year-long absence from work, she hosted secret dinners, dabbled in importing champagne and traveled to Europe. It was in Italy that she met a silversmith and Kan’s life blossomed. In 2009, she launched her jewellery line, Carrie K. After modest beginnings (the label earned less than $20,000 in its first year), Kan has reached impressive heights with her brand, having just signed a deal with Disney for a year-lobg contract to design a series of jewellery, starting with Alice Through the Looking Glass.
First launched in 2013, Dzojchen (pronounced doh-jen) is inspired by Scott-Blackhall’s Singaporean and British roots. Her brand wants to consider the how these Eastern and Western cultures conflict with each other in a practical and philosophical realm. She wants to challenge her audience by creating fashion that lies on a series of paradoxes and is somehow simultaneously East and West, feminine and masculine, striking and subtle. This unique aesthetic has led the Dzojchen label to the runways of Paris, New York and Singapore Fashion Week.