Is Jem Really The “Fashion Capital Of The West”?

JemFor so many not living in Jurong, the west of our city-state is really not a “capital” of any sort. It has been an industrial station since Jurong Industrial Estate was established in the late Sixties. In so many minds, it is still factory town. Even when public housing soon grew rapidly in the west as in the east, recreation sites came in the form of Jurong Bird Park and the Science Centre, and the MRT brought our attention to the little-known (and as industrial) Joo Koon, Jurong did not come to mind when one seeks social activities such as shopping.

That’s why it’s easy and timely for Jem to brand itself as a “capital” (and a “fashion capital” to boot!). It’s clever, of course, more so when Jurong had not enjoyed special eminence in the area of fashion retail and consumption. It’s a boon to the residents, too, and a boost to their self-esteem: Orchard Road has come to the suburbs! As a “capital”, Jem is, however, not a shiny example of distinction, whether in architecture or in retail format.

If you arrive by the MRT train, you won’t really get to see Jem from the outside. And you wouldn’t have missed much since the façade wasn’t designed to compete for the Pritzker Prize. The mall is linked to the Jurong East MRT station like twins joined at the hip. Once you’ve left the station, the entrance to Jem is an amicable grin, drawing you in like a shrine during a religious holiday. Inside, it’s really not difficult to navigate all six levels. The mall—opened in June last year and is Singapore’s third largest suburban shopping centre—is familiar and devoid of surprises. It is as you would expect a mall to be, nothing more, nothing less.

Those shopping for so-called Orchard Road brands won’t have to go far for, sprawling in linear orderliness on levels one and two, are all the fast fashion that you can speedily consume. Parents eager to doll-up the little ones can shoot up to level four for buyable cuteness. If Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a must-watch of the day, you won’t have to figure out where to go, just take the elevator to the topmost floor. The hungry will go straight to the food court in the basement, where, as expected, you’ll also be able to locate the supermarket. The beauty of Jem for many is that it is convenient, conventional, and comprehensible.

As if a necessary suburban jumble, the mix of clothing stores consists of the usual suspects, and will leave few average shoppers craving for more. All the recognisable brands are here, especially the large foot-print names: H&M, TopShop/TopMan, Uniqlo, Mango, M&S, Esprit, G2000, and Giordano. Presently, there are 30 fashion retailers in Jem. At Robinsons, the anchor tenant, you’ll get another 90 or so labels. If you’re buying clothes, you’ll be spoiled for choice, but if you’re in Jem for fashion, you may not be so indulged.

THP Pic 2This is why last night’s The Hip Parade, conceived to promote the mall’s seasonal offerings, was a surprise, and may bolster Jem’s standing as the “Fashion Capital of the West”, even if vaguely and momentarily. For something that was staged on a mere slip of a space between two malls—Jem and neighbouring Westgate Mall, the fashion show was far much more engaging than the Orchard Fashion Runway of two weeks ago. For a while, you forgot you were in Jurong.

Styled and choreographed by veteran show producer Daniel Boey, The Hip Parade may not be hip, but it was quite a parade. Almost an hour long, the show comprised nine “contingents”—the allusion to the National Day Parade was not lost. The models—including current SG pride Vivien Ong, who opened the show with the steadfastness of a parade commander—took to the runway in groups based on themes that reflected current fashion obsessions. What was unexpectedly agreeable was the on-trend styling (with mind-boggling 39 labels!) as well as the entertaining choreography, which, at one point, saw the brolly-wielding models, upon finishing their first sequence, gather at the start of the catwalk only to re-strut forward with umbrellas opened.

For those old enough, this was reminiscent of the first NDP that was staged in the National Stadium in 1976, when SIA’s Singapore Girls formed one of the many corporate and grassroots contingents. During the march past, the shapely, kebaya-clad girls sashayed past the grandstand, and, with incredible precision, hormat senjata-ed with their umbrellas, opening them up like sunflowers in sudden bloom. It was delightful, it was camp, and it was unforgettable.

Jem is at 50 Jurong Gateway Road