Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Can one take the place of the other? And is black tie “semi-formal attire”?
A week before the annual design competition Singapore Stories reveals the winner at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), Singapore Fashion Council (SFC, or the former Textile and Fashion Federation), sent out (still under TaFF) a follow-up to the invitation (received one week earlier). The accompanying digital handout was a photo-aplenty explainer to the dress code spelled out in the invitation: “Singapore Glamour (Black Tie or National Dress)”. SFC assumes the invitees would not know what the dress code demands, so they sent out this curious guide, explaining what they meant by the oxymoron ”Singapore Glamour”, although they did also say: “Feel free to bring your own interpretation of Singapore Glamour to the celebration.”
According to SFC, Singapore Glamour is either black tie or national dress. As it turned out, we do learn something new every day. And black tie, in case you have not already grasp, is “a semi-formal attire convention typically represented by a dinner suit or dinner jacket (tuxedo)…”. In the latest issue of British GQ, the magazine states that “first of all, the dress code suggests a formality that transcends the standard suit and tie of the business/lounge/wedding suit”. Transcends, GQ says, which means it rises above the semi-formality of the suit guys wear to a high-powered bank meeting, to the opening of an art exhibition, or your best friend’s nuptials. Sure, black tie isn’t as lofty as white tie, but it is not “semi-formal”. SFC has clearly their own (Singaporean) ideas.
And the national dress? Many of us assume that no one is concerned with the national dress any more since the attempt in the ’90s to establish one—the Singapore Dress, morphing to the Orchid Dress, both met with an unfortunate demise in 2002—yielded no definite results. National dress is now mostly taken to mean traditional ethnic dress as those listed in sg101.gov.sg. But, as SFC puts it, the “national dress is an alternative to black tie and entails formal attire from different cultures”! Could they be saying that, for the guys, you can substitute a “formal” batik shirt for a “semi-formal” black-tie suit? Or are we too daft to comprehend this Singlish of fashion? When a dress code is so unclear and boldly flippant, why bother with one?
The Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore has a new moniker
The Textile and Fashion Federation of Singapore or TaFF is no more. In its place is the Singapore Fashion Council (SFC). The name change was announced in July and the new moniker took effect on the 28th of that month. But TaFF has kept relatively low-key about its rename. As of now, the TaFF website remains as it is, although under ‘About Us’, they have started identifying as SFC. Their social media accounts continue to sport the old name. Email communications are still sent out under TaFF. We were told that there would be a media announcement some time this month. Until then, one of the official events that comes under the new name is the upcoming Singapore Stories—the ‘Finale Runaway’ will be staged under the banner of SFC at TaFF‘s favourite museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, on 28 October. Presumably, this would allow SFC to be inaugurated with a major, museum-worthy show.
The renaming of the 26-year-old TaFF came two months after their “retail showcase” Design Orchard was “relaunched”, following a cosmetic makeover of the space in May. Now, with the SFC, it is likely that the former TaFF is looking to refresh its positioning, and show both members and the public that the organisation is keeping abreast with the times. The name change, to some industry observers, is overdue. TaFF was formed in 1996, the year our once-laminated NRICs (‘boomers’ might remember) was no longer usable. In the present, nearly post-pandemic era, when the ‘textile’ component of the industry is wanting, the old moniker was not only unwieldy, it sounded rather bygone. It didn’t help that TaFF was referred to as a federated body, which has a decidedly pre-1990s ring. One designer told us that whenever he referred to TaFF in its full name, he would think of lianbang (联邦, especially in Hokkien), which means federation, in particular, the Federation of Malaya (1948—1963). Some years back, when we attended Bangkok Fashion Week, a Thai designer asked us if the garment industry on our island was so big that it came under the stewardship of a federation. We could not provide a convincing reply.
Our island’s sole “trade association”—as TaFF referred to itself—that supports the industry was, in fact, the result of the 1996 merger of the Society of Designing Arts (SODA, co-founded by Dick Lee in 1975) and the Singapore Textile & Garment Manufacturers’ Association (STGMA, founded in 1981). While both bodies did organise fashion events during the hey days of SG fashion, such as the hugely popular SODA Shows and STGMA’s Singapore Fashion Week (the first, not the 2015 version, staged by Mercury M&C), co-organised with the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board [pre-STB]), their influence appeared to be waning. By the time TaFF was formed, the fashion industry here was quite different from what it was in the ’70s and ’80s: manufacturing was rapidly facing what the media then called a “sunset”. STGMA likely found itself to be an extraneous entity, especially when, according to DOS figures, manufacturing output has declined, so had global export. Between 1980 to 1999, we went from 19th biggest exporter of apparel in the world to the 28th.
TaFF has largely been a relatively quiet industry supporter—at least in the public eye—until in recent years, when it began to manage the Cocoon Space at the Design Centre in 2018, and create the annual design competition Singapore Stories, an event “to promote, support, and develop the local fashion industry”. A year later, it launched The Bridge Fashion Incubator (TBFI) to “groom early stage fashion, beauty brands and related tech startups to refine and validate their products, services or solutions, and commercialisation strategies”. In 2020, after the failure of its predecessor Naiise, TaFF was appointed as the operator of Design Orchard Retail Showcase. Thereafter, they launched their first e-commerce site, the One Orchard Store with merchandise found in the Design Orchard retail space (it is not known why Design Orchard did not get its own e-shop). There was also TaFF Talks, “a series of intimate conversations” with known industry names, such as Guo Pei, Joe Zee, and Andrew Gn. TaFF had been really active.
Singapore Fashion Council, the former TaFF, is housed in Design Orchard. File photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD
Now as Singapore Fashion Council, the organisation has not really released its mission statement, although on the current TaFF web page, it does say that SFC will “bring together leaders across multiple sectors to bolster the fashion industry both in Singapore and internationally” (such as facilitating the Singapore Stories 2020 winner Carol Chen’s Paris debut?). In addition, it “actively works to develop the entire industry, positioning Singapore as a key partner in Southeast Asia centred in technology and innovation, sustainability, and Asian craftsmanship”. For all the industry-speak, the name change still aligns with their marketing language heard before and frequently used by its executives. The question that many of those we have spoken to is now asking: Will there be real change?
The Singapore Fashion Council could be mistaken as a part of DesignSingapore Council, the Singapore Economic Board agency—established in 2003—“that promotes design”. While those that DesignSingapore Council’s support is multi-disciplinary, with eyes mainly on architecture and urban design, it does acknowledge fashion, as seen through the prestigious President*s Design Award (P*DA)—past recipients of the Designer of the Year category include Andrew Gn (2007) and Alfie Leong (2013). It is also tempting to see Singapore Fashion Council modelled after the British Fashion Council, the organiser of London Fashion Week. Therein lies the poser for SFC: Would a fashion council do without a fashion week that showcases the talents it purports to support? Or, is a sole retail outlet and an e-shop sufficient? It is unlikely that anyone in the industry here would hold SFC against the BFC or compare Singapore Stories with P*DA. Yet, how would they address the skeptics? One industry veteran said to SOTD, when asked about the new name, “it’s like giving a crumbling house a fresh coat of paint without repairing its foundation.” Perhaps, as in the business of fashion, all it matters is that someone buys a new dress.