Our 20 hottest fashion scene shakers

Here’s our pick of Singapore’s game changers – fashion-label founders, an up-and-coming model discovered on Instagram and the real influencers behind It girls and celebs.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Photography Winston Chuang
Photography Winston Chuang

Here’s our pick of Singapore’s game changers – fashion-label founders, an up-and-coming model discovered on Instagram and the real influencers behind It girls and celebs.

Photography Winston Chuang
Photography Winston Chuang


Founder of Keepers

She isn’t just the founder of famous local jewellery brand Carrie K. Carolyn has also become the champion of Singapore designers and artisans. Last September, she brought them under one roof at Keepers: Singapore Designer Collective, a pop-up store that has had an impressive run at Orchard Green. Originally slated to run for five months, it surpassed expectations with 90,000 visitors in that span of time, instead of the 5,000 they had expected. Because of this, Keepers’ lease has been extended until January 2016.

Before it was a fully fledged store, Keepers started as a quarterly open-to-the-public affair hosted by Carolyn at her jewellery workshop in Bukit Timah. She curated a mix of designers and artisans, from hatmakers to mixologists, to suit different themes. Th e reason? To encourage people to interact with independent designers. “When you pop into someone’s atelier and spend time talking to the craftsmen, you’re able to appreciate the work so much more,” she says.

Last year, she took things a step further by teaming up with the Textile and Fashion Federation (Taff ) Singapore, so she could work with local designers like Dzojchen, Peirwu and Gin Lee, who were starting to have an overseas presence. Carolyn wanted to introduce these designers to Singaporeans, and with the support of government agencies Singapore Tourism Board and Spring Singapore, the Keepers store was born. Taff takes care of Keepers’ operations now, while Carolyn focuses on curating the brands.

At Keepers, you’ll find brands like Arc, Aijek and In Good Company, bag label Ling Wu and hatmaker Heads of State Millinery. Prices range from $50 to $400 for clothes.

Designers are thrilled with the impact that Keepers has made. Labels like Elohim by Sabrina Goh and Whole9Yards have had more visitors at their workshops and online stores, and Keepers has even become a venue where Taff and the Design Singapore Council hold business crash courses for designers, off ering lessons in fashion merchandising and overseas expansion.

Carolyn isn’t stopping here. She’s working on a permanent location for Keepers, and on fostering even more local support. “My longer-term goal is for people to be proud to say: this was made by a Singapore designer.”

Photography Winston Chuang
Photography Winston Chuang

BRYAN TAN, 24, assistant brand and operations manager of boutiques Salon by Surrender and Christian Dada and MAE TAN, 20, social-media influencer

They’re both under 25, but this stylish sibling duo is shaking up the retail scene here. He curates Salon by Surrender’s cool brand mix, while she’s an Instagram star (@marxmae) who has more than 55,000 followers.

They took the reins at super-hip multi-label store Surrender at Raffles Hotel Arcade in 2013, when their dad bought it. Later in the same year, they opened the store’s more sophisticated cousin, Salon by Surrender, which now has branches at Th e Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and in Shanghai. Salon specialises in under-the-radar brands like American labels Buscemi and Public School.

A year ago, the duo convinced their dad (who has the distribution rights to watch brands Richard Mille, Franck Muller and Roger Dubuis in Asia) to buy Japanese haute street label Christian Dada. Th e brand’s designer was looking for someone to help expand the label beyond Tokyo, and Bryan and Mae couldn’t resist the opportunity. So this September, the duo will be opening Christian Dada’s first overseas store at 268 Orchard, a new mall beside Knightsbridge.

The five-year-old brand has a cult following in Japan and is known for edgy streetwear pieces like bomber jackets and vests with couture-like embroidery and brocade – just check out the styles that Bryan and Mae are sporting here.

While Mae is still in her second year at Lasalle College of the Arts as a fashion communications student, she plans to join the business full-time when she graduates. To celebrate Surrender’s 10th anniversary this year, the pair is in talks with some of Salon’s labels to design limited-edition collaboration pieces that they will launch over the course of the year.

Photography Winston Chuang
Photography Winston Chuang

NADIA RAHMAT, 24, the “Marc Jacobs girl”

Yes, she’s that girl who clinched one of 11 coveted spots in the Marc by Marc Jacobs (MMJ) Spring/Summer 2015 advertising campaign.

Thanks to that, UK modelling agency Nevs contacted her just a week after the images were released – and Nadia is now the only Singaporean represented in its portfolio of 280 models.

Nadia, who is of Malay, Arab and Indian descent, went to London in April for castings with respected fashion photographers like John Rankin.

It all began last year when she gamely submitted a photo of herself – signature braids, henna tattoos and all – through Instagram, using the casting call hashtag #castmemarc. Hers was one of more than 400,000 entries, but within days, she got an e-mail from the MMJ team informing her that she had been shortlisted. “I thought it was a scam!” she says. It wasn’t. Within a couple of weeks, they invited her to New York City for the final casting round, where she met Marc Jacobs himself.

“I was so nervous – I thought (the MMJ team) would cut my hair. But I had travelled all the way to New York, so it was go hard or go home.” It turned out that the spunky hopeful didn’t have to worry: the MMJ team loved her hairstyle and nicknamed her “braids girl”. For the record, Nadia’s signature look is inspired by British singer-songwriter FKA Twigs.

Although she is still referred to as the “Marc Jacobs girl”, she accepts it as a compliment. “It’s a privilege to represent Singapore for such a big brand and it’s very humbling.” For now, she’s not planning to venture into full-time modelling while she juggles being a final-year communications student at SIM University and an event coordinator at Super 0.

“I want to keep my options open first. My plan is to try as many new things and gain as many contacts as possible before I decide which path to take!” she says.

Photography Joel Low
Photography Joel Low

Neo Lirong , 28, celebrity stylist

She is best known for working her magic on the red carpet. She’s been in the business for nine years, and her clientele reads like a roll call of established stars as well as the cream of the up-and-comers: actresses Rui En and Ya Hui, singer Olivia Ong and actor Romeo Tan. This year, Lirong added veteran actress Chen Liping to her list.

And it’s not just a matter of racking up an impressive list of names in five years (her fi rst client was Rui En in 2011). Th e celebrities under her wing have become some of the most talked-about – think Rui En at this year’s Star Awards, wearing that glittery dress by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad, whose embellished creations are a hot choice among Hollywood A-listers like Jennifer Lopez and Taylor Swift.

Lirong is also quick to credit Rui En for her own success, for the two have struck up a close friendship and see eye to eye on what looks good on the actress. But not all red-carpet looks get approval from critics. When Lirong recently dressed Liping in a menswear-inspired outfit – a corset worn around a longsleeved shirt paired with pants – the look drew flak for being “passe”.

But Lirong takes such criticism in her stride. “As a young stylist, I don’t let it get to me. Not everyone can agree with my sense of style and it’s impossible to please everybody.” So we know she means it when she tells us that she admires celebrity stylist Mel Ottenberg, who is known for styling pop singer Rihanna in edgy and memorable looks.

We’ll be looking forward to more red-carpet magic from Lirong, that’s for sure.

Photography Veronica Tay
Photography Veronica Tay
Photography Veronica Tay
Photography Veronica Tay

SANDRA CAMERON, 45, founder of public relations agency Pardon My French, and CHUA CHIN CHIN, 30, founder of public relations agency The Arm Collective

Th ey aren’t your typical PR folks. Beneath the cute headband and behind the quirky spectacles, they share a common passion for helping cult brands and under-the-radar labels in Singapore – even if Sandra and Chin Chin do head separate agencies. Chin Chin, who worked as a manager and buyer at multi-label store Front Row for seven years, is your go-to person for eyewear brands like Karen Walker, House of Holland and Frency & Mercury.

The Arm Collective, which Chin Chin founded two years ago, already has 14 fashion clients, including brands like Palladium Boots and Happy Socks.

Over at Pardon My French, which was started in November 2013, Sandra and her work partner Sharon Wong represent eight clients (as at the time of this intervew), including Dr Martens and hip multilabel store Kapok. Sandra credits her 10- year career, during which she worked as a freelance fashion stylist and later as a project manager for fashion trade show Blueprint, for giving her a broader view of the industry. Sandra’s passion for representing smaller brands stems from wanting to help them grow, she says.

She helps connect her clients with other brands or suitable stores. “(Because) most of the time, smaller brands tend to focus on the creative side rather than the business,” she says. Though their motivations are different, what they both bring to the table are practical solutions for young brands.

“Fashion PR is not just about connecting people but also making sales at the end of the day – we’re always thinking about how to sell a brand,” says Chin Chin.

Photography Veronica Tay
Photography Veronica Tay

VELDA TAN, 28, fashion blogger and founder of Collate The Label

You know her as Instagram star @belluspuera, with more than 120,000 followers. Now, she’s also the founder of Collate Th e Label – her second fashion business venture after e-store Love, Bonito (which she’s no longer involved with, and which has morphed into a million-dollar business).

Collate Th e Label debuted at Singapore Fashion Week two months ago – the socialmedia darling showed alongside designers like Victoria Beckham and Diane von Furstenberg. And the label’s off to a good start with its pre-Fall 2015 collection of jumpsuits that feature sheer panels, and the pencil-dress silhouettes that Velda’s known for wearing.

Celebs like Jeanette Aw and Rosalyn Lee turned up at Singapore Fashion Week in looks from the collection, and a green peplum dress ($239) sold out in two days.

The pieces, made of crepe, knit and bonded satin, are sold online at www.collatethelabel.com, starting from $109. Velda says she decided to start Collate when she realised there was a gap in the market for “quality pieces at affordable prices”.

That realisation came after she did holiday courses in fashion design and business management at prestigious schools Central Saint Martins in 2013 and the London College of Fashion last year. It seems things have come full circle for Velda – she tells us that when she was in secondary school, she would spend her free time playing with HTML codes and creating websites just for fun.

So what’s next for the fashionista? She aims to open a brick-and-mortar store for Collate The Label and give the brand international exposure with her e-store.

Photography Winston Chuang
Photography Winston Chuang

TONG OH, 35, freelance visual merchandiser, and LING CAI HONG, 25, freelance prop-master and costumer

Here are a couple of rare fi nds in any retail industry: two people hopelessly in love with their labour-intensive and timeconsuming jobs.

Two years ago, they teamed up with a common goal, and together, they’ve styled retail windows for shops like Front Row and Headline Seoul, and also done styling for homes, offices, cafes and film sets.

Their roles complement each other like yin and yang. Tong Oh, who has had stints at fashion companies Pedder Group and Club 21, takes care of the backdrops and the main props that make up the scene.

Cai Hong pays attention to the little things. “She thinks of the details that complete the story, like petals on the floor,” says Tong Oh. Though the job sounds fun, the hours are punishing.

Cai Hong has done projects that have lasted two months with only one rest day, while Tong Oh has worked for days on two hours of sleep. But Cai Hong is unfazed by the gruelling schedule – she becomes so passionately engrossed in prop-making that time simply flies. “If I see a piece of wood, my head starts filling up with ideas to enhance it.

I can’t stop coming up with ideas and I just want to put them all out there,” she says. Passion is what sees Tong Oh through tough challenges too. Case in point: He once flew 12 mannequins and 300 pieces of costume jewellery to Jakarta for a store opening, and ended up being interrogated at the airport for five hours.

The reason? He was suspected of smuggling and tax evasion. “Another person could have bailed (on the project) but I don’t believe in a plan B. We go to crazy extents to get it right because what we work for is the end result,” he says.

Photography Joel Low
Photography Joel Low

FLEX CHEW, 29, visual projection artist

We’re not just talking about old-school visual projections here. Flex is known for designing beautiful and evocative visuals – just check out our fashion spread, She’s Come a Long Way…, where he has complemented every look with a futuristic background visual.

He’s not just known for designing edgy motion graphics, but is also well versed in cutting-edge visual techniques. Clients have sought him out for projection mapping (art installations where buildings or walls are used to display large-scale videos or animation).

Most people who do projection mapping are able to handle only one of the two stages required in this process: designing and keystoning (where visuals are adjusted to fi t the huge display surface), but Flex is able to do both – which makes him a firm favourite among event planners.

In 2011, luxury brand Hermes hired him to edit, design and project a video of the brand’s history, including dynamic motion graphics, on the facade of its watch boutique for the opening of its store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

Later that year, sports brands came knocking, and he was tasked to create and project cool, funky graphics for an Adidas fashion show featuring the brand’s Y-3 and Stella McCartney collaboration lines.

In the same year, Fila flew him to Beijing for its 100th anniversary event, to do an installation that would complement a runway show. He has also been exploring ways to introduce lasers and mirrors to runway shows, and incorporate projection mapping onto store-window displays. “Th e possibilities are endless,” he says.

Photography Veronica Tay
Photography Veronica Tay

LEROY ZHONG, 32, founder of watch brand Hypergrand

If you haven’t heard of Hypergrand watches, it’s about time you did. Th e brand is just two years old, but its patterned Nato straps have made it a massive hit here and abroad. Nato what, you ask? We’re talking about those nylon straps originally used on military watches issued by Britain’s Ministry of Defence in the ’70s.

Now, these straps come in fun patterns that are all the rage. Thanks to Leroy’s ingenuity, Hypergrand was the first watch brand in the world to make the nylon finer, so it became possible to have intricate patterns like tartan, houndstooth and florals on them. The straps are even interchangeable – you can own one watch face (from $160) and get several straps ($49 each) to mix and match.

The most impressive thing about Leroy’s success with Hypergrand? He never studied watchmaking, but has always had a keen interest in timepieces – taking chronographs apart and putting them back together was his hobby. In fact, he was working at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, when he decided he was up for a challenge.

So in 2011, he quit his job, spent two weeks in watch factories in Hong Kong to learn the ins and outs of the business, then started his first watch brand: Edypoi (the brand still exists but is no longer producing new pieces), which offers minimalist timepieces priced from $489 to $980. Hypergrand is in a different price range, with all its watches under $500.

Leroy debuted the first collection at the right time – July 2013 – when Nato straps began trending. When he launched the first batch of 500 watches, Hypergrand became the first local brand featured on Hong Kong-based fashion news website www.hypebeast.com and it snowballed from there.

The first batch sold out in two weeks, and Leroy broke even just one month after operations began. Since its launch, Hypergrand’s rise has been meteoric. Its watches are now stocked in the United States and 24 countries in Asia and Europe.

It has more than 500 points of sale worldwide (including hotshot retailers like Urban Outfi tters), with more than 450 of them being brickand- mortar stores. The brand’s monthly revenue is a six-figure sum that just keeps growing.

All Hypergrand watches rolled out from this month are also getting a design update: a slimmer case and straps with coloured borders.

Photography Winston Chuang
Photography Winston Chuang

MIKI GAO, 25, hairstylist

You probably wouldn’t guess it, but beneath Miki’s friendly gaze and smile is a super media-shy girl (she turned down our interview requests several times before finally agreeing).

The doe-eyed hairstylist is highly recommended by her boss, Kim Robinson, who assigned her to style Hong Kong singer Sandy Lam’s hair in 2009 – just after Miki was promoted from an assistant to a fully fledged hairstylist.

She is also a trusted fashion adviser to her It girl clientele, which includes socialites Jaime Chua and Kim Lim. At Kim’s recent outing at the Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2015 show in Paris, the tycoon’s daughter had thought of turning up in a top-to-toe Louis Vuitton look.

But Miki, who accompanied her to the French capital as her hairstylist, urged her to swop the fashion brand’s grey suede boots for silver high-top sneakers.

The look, posted on Kim’s Instagram (@kimlimhl), received more than 2,300 likes. Miki is a stylish girl herself, often decked out in edgy ensembles consisting of black tops with cut-outs, ripped jeans and platform sneakers.

And though she serves high-profi le clients, she loves her highstreet brands like Zara and Asos. Besides being a go-to person for both hair and fashion tips, Miki is also sought after for bag art – she uses leather paint on bags and passport holders from Louis Vuitton, Goyard, Prada and Hermes.

She draws everything from initials to cartoon characters on them. Th is hobby began six years ago when her client, Jaime, requested that Miki do an illustration on her Hermes So Black Birkin bag.

Since then, her clients have tagged her work on Instagram, and word of Miki’s talent has spread. She gets so many requests (she has lost count, she says) that she now accepts them selectively through e-mail. Each design, which she charges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for, takes a week to a few months to complete.

Photography Veronica Tay
Photography Veronica Tay

ANN KOSITCHOTITANA, 39, owner of fashion label HLS (Headline Seoul)

Don’t let her petite frame fool you into thinking she’s fragile. This feisty businesswoman has already chalked up three significant achievements in Singapore’s retail scene since moving here from Los Angeles in 2004. First, she’s known for curating brands for iconic multi-label boutique Front Row, at Raffles Hotel Arcade. Second, she has managed to court under-the-radar brands like cult French label A.P.C. and Thai brand Flynow, and opened standalone stores for them here. Most recently, her three-year-old high-street label HLS (Headline Seoul) became a massive hit in South Korea. Th is year, the CEO of Seoul Girls Collection – South Korea’s biggest fashion and music event – so loved the brand that he made HLS the opening show and got K-pop girl band EXID to model its clothes. HLS also debuted at Lotte, South Korea’s largest chain of department stores, with a 10-piece capsule collection that sold out in one week. What makes HLS such a hit? Th e brand specialises in using the spongy neoprene fabric that K-fashion fans are crazy about. It sells these trendy neoprene pieces at pocket-friendly prices from $109, compared with at least $200 in South Korean stores. HLS also mixes fabrics like wool and cashmere with metallic yarns, and caps the prices at $99. Such friendly price points have helped Ann to expand HLS in the last two years to nine Asian countries, including Th ailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China. What’s next? Introducing the brand to the US market (she worked as a business consultant in New York for six years). “We want to show the world that a tiny, capable team of four from Singapore can create a successful international fashion brand.”

Photography Joel Low
Photography Joel Low

JOEL LOW, 35, photographer

You’re looking at fashion photography’s next big thing. Industry insiders from art directors to fashion editors seek him out for his lighting, which has been described as super-modern.

Psst… It’s the reason we’ve been working with him on our covers too. His personal fave so far? Our March 2015 cover, which he describes as “fresh and eye-catching”.

What sets him apart besides his use of modern strobe lighting, which makes his photos pop and look more 3-D? It’s his knack for making even simple portraits look fashionforward, which is why he’s the go-to photographer for local celebrities – a quick scan of his portfolio at www. joellow.com turns up familiar faces like celebs Zoe Tay, Fann Wong, Stefanie Sun and Kit Chan.

What’s even more impressive is how quickly he’s made a name for himself. In the five years since leaving his full-time photography job at a media company, Joel has been enlisted for high-profile commercial campaigns like Tangs’ Christmas ads last year, and beauty ads starring Rui En this year.

He often references works by famous fashion photographers like Steven Klein (known for his gritty and edgy fashion ads) and Mario Sorrenti (famous for his sexy and provocative images). While Joel prefers to keep mum about the number of requests he has had to turn down, he admits that he’s privileged enough to work on a different project almost every day.

And he is so passionate about his work that he says he can see himself doing this for quite some time. “I’m hard on myself to evolve, but I’m really happy doing what I’m doing now. It’s entirely possible for me to continue doing this for the next 10 to 20 years.”

Photography Joel Low
Photography Joel Low
Photography Joel Low
Photography Joel Low

JACLYN TEO, 37, SVEN TAN, 35, KANE TAN, 33, and JULENE AW, 37, co-founders of In Good Company

You could say that this is Singapore’s fashion dream team. All four of them – Sven and Kane (designers), Jaclyn (sales and marketing director) and Julene (operations director) – were formerly from the now-defunct Alldressedup, the successful local label that scored prestigious stockists like New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue.

After leaving Alldressedup three years ago, they started In Good Company (IGC) and took a chance with a completely diff erent retail model: producing capsule collections three times a year (in January, May and August) that are all about modern, seasonless wardrobe essentials at pocket-friendly prices (from $119).

“From one capsule collection to the next, the idea is to add more pieces that fi t (in with) what our customers already own,” says Sven. Another surprising move? Th ey launched a Mini Me line, for girls aged three to eight, at the same time.

“We knew we didn’t just want a (womenswear) label, we wanted to develop a lifestyle concept,” Jaclyn says. IGC has also become known for its artistic collaborations – like the quirky bunny-shaped bags made with Hong Kong designer Hoiming and funky doodle-like prints on tops and dresses by Malaysian artist Kuanth. These moves have paid off .

IGC began as an online store (www.ingoodcompany.asia) but is now stocked at Kids 21, Tangs and hot multi-label haunts like Kapok and Keepers – and they’ve achieved all this before IGC turns three in December.

According to its designers, another key to IGC’s rapid success is getting fabrics right from the start. Cotton jersey pieces (from $159) are bestsellers, and the fabric is made in a mill in Hong Kong exclusively for IGC. It doesn’t hurt that the brand’s draped tops, structured jackets and cropped pants are age-defying too.

Kane says it’s not a problem for his mum and sister, who are 22 years apart, to share these clothes. As the co-founders have discovered that more people are falling in love with their brand, a brick-and-mortar store is on the cards.

They also plan to take IGC overseas with standalone lifestyle stores in countries like Hong Kong, Indonesia and Australia.

Photography Joel Low
Photography Joel Low

JOSHUA CHEUNG, 29, fashion stylist

He is the sought-after stylist for ad campaigns and magazine spreads, and is also a personal stylist to the famously stylish Dr Georgia Lee.

This month, you’ll see his work in high-profile print and TV commercials for Ion Orchard and the new airport mall, Jewel Changi Airport. He has also styled Her World’s covers, including this issue’s, featuring singer Stefanie Sun.

Joshua may be one of the most in-demand stylists in Singapore now, but as a young boy, he never dreamt of becoming one. He became a stylist’s assistant at 18 because his school required him to fulfi l an internship. But he soon fell in love with the job, and when the internship ended, he continued working after school and on weekends.

During his national service, he even sacrificed his days off to prepare for shoots. Industry veterans became aware of his talent and hard work, and recommended him for commercial assignments.

At 19, he scored his first paid job: styling an eight-page wedding catalogue for The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. Since then, he has pushed himself to work harder. He loves a good challenge. “I like that the process isn’t easy and that fashion isn’t all about glamour,” he says.

In fact, he’s more comfortable staying out of the spotlight. Under his sleeves are tattooed stars – one on each shoulder – which remind him of what a friend once called him: a hidden star.

He’s determined not to let his achievements get to him, and his third tattoo – a couple of bands circling his forearm – reminds him to stay grounded, disciplined and grateful.

“My mentors remind me never to get lost in the fame that comes with getting good at what you do, and I really believe in being kind to everyone, from assistants to clients.”