A Farewell Note

Vogue SG’s editor-in-chief confirms he’s leaving the magazine with a “final Editor’s Letter”

The rumours are true. Norman Tan, the Aussie editor-in-chief of Vogue SG is leaving the magazine. On Instagram four days ago, Mr Tan shared a photograph of “the last issue” of the title he has edited for the past two years, as well as the ‘Editor’s Letter’ he has penned to say goodbye. It is not a maudlin farewell note. In fact, it sounded rather cheery. And quite sweet, as he probably intended it to be, using cake as a fluffy metaphor: When he was young, he wrote, “the fashion industry seemed like a fantastical tiered chiffon cake, piled high with frosted cream and painted in bright pastel hues”. This is clearly not the pandan variety that many of us are familiar with—the unadorned, flavourful green kek. Till the end, Mr Tan continues to pitch himself as the well-dressed foreigner-made-good-here. And, 11 years after his arrival on our island, “not only is cake in the menu”, he was “allowed into the kitchen”. The Chinese saying 入得了厨房出得了厅堂 (referring to women who, when skilled in the kitchen, can do anything outside of it) comes to mind! And, as editor, “concoct(s) recipes for fashion stories… selecting the best ingredients to realise the most delectable creations”.

He continued—pâtisserie (still) in the picture: “It’s easy to see the finished meringue of a magical story and forget the long hours it took to beat those stiff peaks into action.” We now know with certainty that Mr Tan is no baker, just as some observers consider him to be no editor of fashion. Egg whites for meringues usually require between five to ten minutes of beating (Yotam Ottolenghi prefers the latter) to reach the desired stiffness. Never “long hours”. Even a home baker knows one can really take it too far. Over-beating—usually more than 15 minutes—can do serious damage to the meringue. In fact, working the balloon whisk over the egg whites for too long can cause a decrease in volume in the meringue, and the mixture collapses and may even look curdled. The structure of the egg whites is compromised and liquid will seep out. Not quite the “stiff peaks” Mr Tan was aiming to achieve.

Egg whites for meringues usually require between five to ten minutes of beating. Never “long hours”

According to our trusty Larousse Gastronomique, the meringue was the creation of a Swiss pâtissier called Gasparini, and the light, candy-like pastry (back then, it was meringue ordinaire, not the coloured and flavoured bites they are now) was a favourite of Marie Antoinette, who adored it so much that she apparently submitted herself to manual labour and made them with her own delicate hands in the kitchen of the Trianon. It is interesting that Mr Tan used the doomed queen’s favourite sweetmeat as figure of speech to describe his professional output. Was he saying that the editorial contents—or “delectable creations”—that he took “long hours… to beat” are, in the end, merely airy confections? Just as pavlova—the meringue-based dessert of his homeland—is, even when it could be, as he would say, “piled high” with fruit. Airiness aside, could the textual and visual stories he ran in the magazine be the editorial equivalent of empty calories?

Industry chatter says Norman Tan’s leaving Vogue SG is related to a particular trouble at the magazine (we are unable to independently verify this). Last month, the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) revoked the title’s license to publish and then granted them six months after Vogue SG appealed. According to MCI, the magazine “had breached the content guidelines for local lifestyle magazines on four occasions within the past two years, for nudity and content that promoted non-traditional families”. All of this happened under Mr Tan’s watch. Four days after he shared on IG that he would be leaving the periodical, he posted a slide show of “two years of Vogue SG covers”. Not a single one struck us as striking. Were we “too harsh”, as a magazine veteran wondered when we said we were not impressed? For his swan-song cover, Mr Tan featured Rina Sawayama, the Japanese-British singer-songwriter, dressed in an “animal-free YSL coat” and a pair of towering heels. (This isn’t the first cover featuring shaggy fur this year. On the August/September issue, Cardi B wore a similar.) Is the magazine really communicating with the readers here? How does a woman relate to another, cloaked like a street walker on Rue Saint Denis in winter? And why that Slime green for the festive season? And, does it all amount to “glory”, as the sole cover blurb states? Or were we not able to see that it was all confectionary fluff?

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