When actresses trust their designers—and stylists—too much
Elie Saab Vs Francis Cheong. Photos: Elie Saab and Mediacorp respectively
It happened again and, interestingly, with the same sought-after dressmaker. For the 2017 Star Awards (红星大奖), Pan Ling Ling (潘玲玲) wore a flounced gown by renowned designer Francis Cheong that looked like one by couturier Zuhair Murad. This year, best actress winner Huang Biren (黄碧仁) was also outfitted in a Francis Cheong dress. And on the red carpet outside MBS and on stage inside, the floor-length piece, too, looked rather familiar. It did not take us more than five minutes to recall that what Ms Huang wore last night bore an astonishing resemblance to a gown seen in the Elie Saab autumn/winter couture collection of 2021 called Buds of Hope. A quick check on FF Channel’s YouTube account (while the Star Awards was on our television) confirmed what we suspected. The dress seen on the broadcast of the nation’s sole TV acting awards did indeed look disconcertingly similar to what Mr Saab presented for a show that did not travel to Paris that year due to the pandemic. It was not the most spectacular outfit in that collection and we almost forgot about it, until yesterday evening.
But that sleek dress that Mr Saab put out two years ago did leave an impression because it was one of three aesthetically similar gowns that were unlike the rest of the 63 looks for that just-emerging-from-lockdown season, or what could be considered the Beirut-based house’s signature. Mr Saab incorporated rather extreme sexiness into the trio by way of wide slashes incorporated diagonally across the finely-contoured bodices and the trumpet skirts. As a result, it showed considerable skin. And the bands held strikingly and securely to the bodies, clinging to and covering where they needed to, even when the models strutted somewhat purposefully. The gown that resembled what Ms Huang had on could be described as a bandage dress of sort, but it did not constrict the body in any way. It was, admittedly, a show-stopper that could swish beautifully on a red carpet while maintain the wearer’s modesty, which is not, as we have seen, a requisite these days.
Huang Biren, admittedly, did not look bad in that dress; she probably was not aware that what she had on first appeared elsewhere. On Facebook, Francis Cheong, who now mainly resides in Johor Bahru, congratulated Ms Huang for winning (it was her fiftth best actress Star Award in her 35-year career), and “wearing my 2023 spring couture (sic)”. It is not known if Ms Huang picked Mr Cheong as the designer of her 晚礼服 (wanlifu or evening attire). It is possible that the partnership was facilitated by Annie Chua (蔡宜君), the “principal image stylist” at Mediacorp and the Star Awards’ key fashion figure, as the designer did thank Ms Chua for “the collaboration”. Nor, do we know who among the them picked the Elie Saab piece for inspiration. There’s no missing Mr Cheong’s cleverness this year. He created not a total facsimile; he changed the sole sleeve to the left and used skin-coloured fabrics—nothing nude—to create the slashes so that Ms Huang bared little. And there was not a trace of embellishment! Going to local dressmakers to tailor a cheaper version of couture gowns is not an unknown practice. Many attendees of gala events here love such costumiers. But unlike, say, the Icon Ball, which is primarily a closed-door affair, Star Awards is broadcast to the world through Mediacorp’s YouTube page. And some things do stand out. Lookalikes, especially.
Update (11 April 2023, 17:30): Two hours ago, Annie Chua shared on Instagram her support for Huang Biren with a set of seven photos and a comment: “Thank you for the 💯 trust ❣️You totally slayed it both on & off stage! ❣️”. Replying, Ms Huang wrote: “Thank you very much for helping! Two consecutive years by you and won! You are superb!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️”. Two hours later, with another set of six images of different people, which included one that saw Ms Huang carrying her trophy, Ms Chua added, “Making 💚Memories 💚 & Be 💚The Best 💚Version of Yourself 💚”. Amazing
Update (11 April 2023, 23:00): Francis Cheong has removed the congratulatory message and the photograph of Huang Biren wearing his “spring 2023 couture” (dress) from his Facebook page
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