updated 8 May 2012, 18:26
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Tue, Apr 24, 2012
The New Paper
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Flying the flag with fashion
by Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

SINGAPORE - More Singaporean designers are sending their designs sashaying their way overseas.

And they are doing well, even in saturated fashion markets like London and Tokyo.

One of them is local fashion darling JoSoh, who launched her label, hansel, at the Mercedes Australian Fashion Week in 2003.

Back then, hers was the only Singaporean label to show alongside seven Australian labels.

"The response to our debut show was amazing," recalls Ms Soh with a smile.

That may well be an understatement.

Pictures of her debut collection were carried in all the Australian newspapers the very next day, with hansel being touted as a label to "watch for".

Then a shop bought up her entire collection. An Australian showroom also offered to represent hansel in terms of sales and public relations, and the business blossomed from there.

hansel - which Ms Soh describes as "having a sense of playful fun" - characteristically uses bold and quirky juxtapositions of shades and patterns.

It is now carried in hip boutiques in Australia, Singapore, Japan, Kuala Lumpur and New Zealand.

Her designs have also been in fashion and design shows in Taiwan, Thailand and the UK.

"It was amazingly lucky for us to have broken into these markets," says Ms Soh.

She has garnered positive reviews from the international press and won fashion design awards in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Prestigious UK-based design and lifestyle magazine Wallpaper also featured hansel in its annual "Secret Elite" label directory in 2007 and 2008.

But Ms Soh, 36, remains firmly grounded when talking about her fairy-tale success.

It didn't come immediately, she said. She only managed to work up the courage to start her own label after working with big designers like Tristan Webberafter her graduation from fashion school in London.

Ms Soh's creations have also caught the eye of several celebs.

American pop star Katy Perry was spotted wearing one of Ms Soh's designs during her Australian tour, and so were the all-girl band The Veronicas.

Kiwi actress Emily Barclay took to the red carpet at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival in a hansel dress.

Ms Soh is among a new pack of rising Singapore designing stars.

Adam Lambert wore a jacket by local label Reckless Ericka at a Boy George party in London, while a member of band Kasabian wore a knit polo t-shirt by SIFR.

Singer Rachel Yamagata was spotted at local designer Nicholas Wong's store in Marina Square.

Mr Wong, 39, who won the Mercedez Benz Asia Fashion Award in 2004, started out studying graphics and interior design before switching to fashion.

Now he oversees two labels, nicholas, launched in 2004, and SATURDAY, launched in 2009, and his clothes hang in stores in New York, London, San Diego and Shanghai.

Other Singaporean designers making their mark overseas include Ms Goh Ling Ling, 38, of local bag label Ling Wu (her bags are carried in boutiques in the US, France and Japan); Mr Eugene Lin, 30, who set up his eponymous label in London in 2009; and Ms Danelle Woo, 33, whose label Aijek has enjoyed popularity in nothern Asia.

Most say that going overseas has helped them expand and gain credibility.

Some, like Mr Lin and Mr Wong, lament that some Singaporeans fail to appreciate home-grown designers.

Mr Lin notes that there's a hunger for new and upcoming designers in Europe.

"Singaporeans are more willing to spend on food and electronics than on fashion, and locally-based designers are treated like second-rate citizens, which is a real shame," he says.

Mr Wong says: "There is definitely a need to expand elsewhere, be it for sales opportunities or brand credibility and exposure."

But they are all proud to be Singaporean. Take Aijek's Ms Woo for instance.

She left her job as a PR director in Shanghai in 2010 to start her label.

Although the 33-year-old, who studied marketing in university, had no formal fashion design training, her designs are so popular that almost every design in her debut collection has sold out.

She had a customer from Brazil who bought almost the entire collection.

She also remembers a Greek customer who picked up an Aijek skirt in Hong Kong.

But after spilling juice on it, the customer bought another two pieces of the same skirt in case of more accidents - just because she loved the design so much.

"It makes me very proud whenever I tell my stockists or customers that Aijek is a Singapore label, which is not something they expect.

"They usually have the impression Aijek is from Europe because of its understated aesthetic and clean lines."

"People don't naturally associate fashion with Singapore immediately like they would with New York and Milan.

"However, I'd like to change this perception as Asia is now stepping up.

"We're next in line, and I'm proud of my Singapore roots, which have brought me to where I am today."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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