Southeast Asia is known for many things – great food and amazing shopping among them – but fashion designers haven’t always ranked high on the list. It’s been a while since we had something worthwhile to brag about in the fashion department, unless you count exports such as Vivienne Tam, Andrew Gn and Manish Arora, who funnily enough will be debuting his first collection for French brand Paco Rabanne in October.
However, now that the luxury market has moved its focus to this part of the world, savvy Asians are getting their creative juices flowing. Recently we’ve seen numerous homegrown brands hit the international scene with huge success thanks to their unique style and wearability.
One of my favourites is Raoul, which is already a regular on the pages of Vogue and Elle. What many people don’t know is that it was founded by longtime Singapore residents Douglas and Odile Benjamin nine years ago. It wasn’t so glamorous from the outset – it began as a shirting company along the lines of Thomas Pink – but underwent a major revamp two years ago, complete with a new team of young designers and a renowned international stylist. Their collections today feature edgy yet minimalist styles that are giving brands such as Céline or Carven a run for their money, thanks to their timeless yet modern look (first picture). It’s also about luxe fabrics given a contemporary spin through clever design and layering different textures.
Also from Singapore is Alldressedup, which reminds me very much of Marni, thanks to its eclectic, boho vibe. It was founded in 2005 by fashion maven Tina Tan Leo, who, like Joan Burstein in London, brought European designers to the city more than 30 years ago. While Raoul could easily be mistaken for a French label, Alldressedup pays homage to its Asian roots with a contemporary collection that combines elements of eastern and western influences. It’s predominantly about easy-to-wear silhouettes such as loose dresses and tops, accented with intricate, sometimes ethnic-inspired details that are quirky yet chic.
Also playing on the east-meets-west aesthetic is Tabla from Hong Kong. It was originally a fashion boutique stocking Indian brands, but owner Tania Mohan began designing her own line of resort wear a few years ago which has since become a favourite with style icons such as Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd. It’s all about simple silhouettes – blouson strapless dresses (third picture), kaftans and tunics – decorated with the craftsmanship that India is known for, from intricate threadwork to antique embellishments and beading. The look is glamorous without being over the top – her popular Goddess dress, for example, can take you from poolside to dinner in a flash. Swimwear is also planned for next season.
Eurasian designer Lisa Tsang may have Chinese and British roots, but her LisaT cashmere line is closer to couture thanks to its exquisite fabrics (its all about Loro Piana wools), structured silhouettes and complicated techniques. Inspired by the golden age of couture and 1950s shapes, her vintage-inspired designs also feature edgy fashion detailing such as pleats and origami folds. Her empire is growing, too, with the recent addition of LisaT Spa, a line of lightweight knits perfect for resort or holiday wear.
Last but not least is Cipher, which is actually the brainchild of Canada native Collin Thompson, who moved to Hong Kong in 2007. Inspired by the films of Wong Kar Wai, the line combines urban culture and streetwear into a luxurious lifestyle brand perfect for city dwellers. They started off with hip trainers (they have just added women’s styles) and are working on denim and fragrances next year. The unisex bags and small leather goods were launched a few weeks ago and are understated yet luxe – the pouches are made from Hermès leather, while the 12 bag styles feature a dark palette of black, navy and grey suede (bag, second picture; trainers, fourth picture). In the words of Thompson, it’s all about fashion for those who are anti-fashion. Sounds like a Margiela in the making already.