updated 25 May 2011, 01:19
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Mon, May 23, 2011
The Business Times
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Catwalk kudos
by Melissa Lwee

BIGGER, better and bolder, with a stronger Asian presence - that's what was promised of Audi Fashion Festival 2011 (AFF 2011), which is part of the annual Asia Fashion Exchange.

But as the seven-day affair (May 13 to 19) came to a close on Thursday, and the lights shut down for the final time this year, the million-dollar question remains: Has it lived up to that promise?

In many ways, the answer is yes. With the Asian fashion market rising in prominence, this year's AFF managed to attract some bigwig brands, with most interviewed indicating that being a part of AFF 2011 was a good way to gain exposure in the region.

Among these names were the French house of Emanuel Ungaro, which brought along its creative director Giles Deacon to close the festival, and the family-run Italian fashion powerhouse Missoni, which did the opening show.

The latter's marketing director, Vittorio Missoni, who was in town with his sister Angela and niece Margherita, told BT Weekend: "We believe that this is a great opportunity because the Asian market, and especially the East Asian market, is very special. And Singapore, in particular, is very exciting to us. It's alive, very fresh and has great potential."

Insider favourites

Indeed, according to Reinhold Carl, managing director of Audi Singapore (the festival's title sponsor), AFF has been gaining traction within international circles. "During this year's shows, the designers told me that the AFF is already getting recognition in the international fashion industry," he said. "It's very clear evidence for us to hear it from the people within the business."

Another plus point about this year's AFF was that it brought together an eclectic showcase of fashion insider favourites.

There was iconic Thai label Greyhound and its creative director Bhanu Inkawat, for one, who "brought the best of Thailand" to Singapore, and London-based celebrity favourite Antonio Berardi, who believed that it was "a nod to TriBeCa" (Berardi's local stockist) that his label had been invited to show at AFF.

Berardi's fellow London-based designer Erdem Moralioglu, who won the inaugural British Fashion Council/Vogue British Designer Fashion Fund last year, rounded up the list.

The designers were quick to praise the efficacy and professionalism of the organisers this year. "The production has been top-notch, castings have been great, there is a fantastic team working here," noted Mr Moralioglu, who has a regular spot at London Fashion Week.

Throw in a strong Lion City presence in the form of shows from local labels alldressedup and Raoul, as well as young designers from LASALLE College of the Arts and those under the Parco next NEXT scheme, and it's clear that the organisers were not only professional but also plucky enough not to rely on the more commercial, recognisable brands that would pull in crowds but not push the envelope.

To that end, they were rewarded with the attendance and attention of the international fashion media, as a total of 70 representatives from around the globe turned up. These included Vogue TV China, WWD Japan and WGSN.

Meanwhile, gave the festival a shoutout when AFF kicked off, while influential blogger Sasha Wilkins of Liberty London Girl ( updated readers from the shows' front rows.

Local audiences, too, lent their support to the event, most notably for home-grown labels. Many of the glitterati were out in full force for the alldressedup, Francis Cheong and Raoul shows - testament to the growing respect that locals have for Singapore brands.

And those brands gave back. Said Douglas Benjamin, chief executive officer of FJ Benjamin, which founded Raoul: "This (Fall/Winter 2011) collection was the one that launched us in an impactful way in Europe and America as it got us into stores like Selfridges, Brown Thomas, Saks Direct and Joseph St John's Wood. During the show at AFF, it really made people sit up and take notice as they really loved it.

"I'm very pleased because I think they knew we were making waves overseas but I think many didn't realise exactly how far we have grown as a brand until they saw the show on Wednesday."

However, that's not to say there weren't areas where the festival could be improved.

The decision to bring in the houses of Emanuel Ungaro and Missoni, for example, may have seemed like no-brainers at first, what with their impressive history and credentials. But in hindsight, one wonders if they were the best choices.

For instance, the former's Fall/Winter collection, its most current, had not been a hit when it was launched during Paris Fashion Week earlier this year. And its reappearance on Thursday only proved that - talented though Giles Deacon is - more work has to be done before the creative director finds his feet at Emanuel Ungaro.

As for the house of Missoni, its Fall/Winter collection of knits and heavy clothing was decidedly beautiful, but whether it should have been sent down the runway in a hot, humid clime the way it looked in Milan is another matter.

While there is something to be said for sticking to your guns and showing the collection the way it was originally meant to be done, Missoni's AFF show might have worked better if a bit more thought went into the styling of the outfits. For example, the heavy pieces could have been restyled in a way so as to show how they could be relevant to Singapore consumers.

Yes, there are those who would want to replicate the runway looks when on ski vacations in St Moritz or Gstaad, but it would have been nice if some thought had been spared for the everyday fashionista as well.

Perhaps the Missonis could have taken a leaf out of the books of young Mr Moralioglu, who was was smart enough to realise that throwing in fresh pieces - exclusive to his local stockist Club 21 - would be a good way to keep people interested in watching a show that had been done before.

Or Mr Berardi, who made it a point to showcase some pieces that will soon be available at TriBeCa.

There was also disappointment when, 10 days before the show, it was announced that Nepalese designer Prabal Gurung would not attend the festival. Much of the hype, when the AFF line-up was announced earlier this year, had revolved around the Singapore-born, American-based designer, so naturally some excitement fizzled out with his non-appearance.

To make things worse, the designer-less show comprised uninspiring pieces from Mr Gurung's older Spring/Summer 2011 collection.

All in, as with every major event, there were highs and lows. But overall, the festival did a good job of raising fashion's profile, both here and overseas. Now in its third year, it has come a long way since it was launched in 2009.

Moving forward, however, AFF must continue to evolve. Its growing reputation and an increasingly sophisticated audience demands that it ups its game next year, both in terms of the brands showcased and its ability to serve as a platform for emerging Asian talent.

As Audi's Mr Carl points out: "With the Audi Fashion Festival, we can style (Singapore) to be a great city of fashion alongside giants like Paris, Milan and New York.

"But to really find our place, it's important to breed Asian talents to be unique and truly noteworthy on the global stage. A successful Audi Fashion Festival can serve as that crucial stepping stone for the careers of these young people."

But, he adds, to "achieve those lofty targets require efforts from many parties, from fellow private enterprises to Government agencies and even the media".

"At the end of the day, when something good comes out of the investment, the country benefits and we all benefit."

This article was first published in The Business Times.

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