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Fashion

What is Singapore men’s style? Five Lion City tastemakers on the things that define the city’s identity

Because of Singapore’s year-round summer and high humidity, men used to favour comfort over style. Air conditioning and the internet changed that. The Lion City’s smartest gents tell us about the latest direction of menswear

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2018, 8:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 10:08am

In a tropical country like Singapore, where the temperature regularly exceeds 32 degrees Celsius and humidity can reach 96 per cent, it’s challenging for a man to dress stylishly. Nevertheless, after decades in which Singaporean men’s style was characterised by T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, there’s been a resurgence of interest in sartorial finery.

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With Singapore being one of the richest nations in Southeast Asia, and boasting some of the best luxury shopping in the region, the country is, unsurprisingly, home to a lot of male fashion lovers.

To get a sense of what constitutes contemporary Singaporean men’s style and how it is evolving, we spoke with five key tastemakers – gentlemen shaping the way men’s style is created, communicated, consumed and experienced in the Lion City.

The publisher

Wei Koh, co-founder, Revolution Press

“Whether it’s clothes, shoes, cars, wine or watches, Singaporeans are quick studies and when they get into something, they geek out to the max, they really want to know every detail. Over the past decade, coinciding with the lifespan of my magazine, The Rake, there’s been a very rapid assimilation of information and knowledge. You have a whole new generation of young people dressing in a really stylish, classic way and appreciating craftsmanship. I’m quite proud when I see all these Singaporean men decked out sartorially on social media nowadays.

“Guys like Kevin Seah have really helped nourish an interest in tailoring-oriented clothing in Singapore. I applaud him because he was the first to think that he could make a viable business out of modern bespoke tailoring here and help form a community around that.

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“In many ways, Singapore reminds me of America in that there’s a sense of self-invention – you can create who you want to be – and tailoring is one of the most potent means at a man’s disposal when it comes to doing that.

“The climate here does make it difficult to dress up, which explains why most Singaporean men will consider a watch the most important element of their style. Per capita, Singaporeans probably consume more watches than any other nation. They’re also very forward thinking in their choices – for many important newer brands, like Richard Mille, Singapore is where they first gained traction. Singaporeans can make those avant-garde choices in their consumption of luxury items because they’ve done the research and gained the knowledge to step outside the norm.”

The tailor

Kevin Seah, creative director, Kevin Seah Bespoke

“I’ve really seen Singapore style mature over the past five or six years – guys have started to at least put on a blazer when they go out for events or a meeting. Years ago, even for a wedding, very few men would wear a jacket. Now, with social media, travel and international magazines, people here are getting exposed to a more classic, elegant way of dressing, and they’re better informed about styling.

“Comfort remains very important to Singaporean men when they dress up. Still, with air conditioning, there’s really no reason why you should go to someone’s house or go out to dinner without a jacket – it’s pure laziness and shows a lack of respect.

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“It’s difficult to sum up what constitutes ‘Singaporean style’ or ‘Asian style’. There’s no typical ‘Asian style’ today. With our new, more fashion-forward range, Kevin Seah Black, we’re subtly integrating elements of old-school Oriental design, like Mandarin collars or cues from the kimono, but without making it like a costume. That is a very fine line. It’s easier for Asian guys to carry off those looks, but Western clients are steadily becoming more attracted to Asian styling. An Asian guy can appreciate Italian suits, so why not an Italian guy appreciating Asian culture and wanting to mix that styling with a traditional European aesthetic?

“The vast majority of Singaporeans, though, are very brand-conscious and gravitate to big European luxury labels, rather than supporting home-grown talent. How do we turn that around? It takes generations, gradually cultivating an appreciation for true quality, craftsmanship and uniqueness, over and above blatant brands and logos.”

The fashionista

Norman Tan, editor-in-chief, Esquire Singap ore

“Defining modern Singaporean men’s style? That’s a tough one. It’s such a hodgepodge of different influences and priorities. Everyone dresses for their particular purpose that day – not according to seasons, because it’s always so bloody humid. If a guy has an interview, he might be wearing a three-piece suit; and yet, he could be walking side-by-side with another guy in board shorts and a polo because he’s heading down to Sentosa Island.

“In recent years, men globally have become more adventurous when it comes to cut and colour, and Singaporean men are no exception. There is less shame or embarrassment to care about what you wear or experiment with ‘androgynous’ fashion, for example.

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“Because we have people from different backgrounds, experiences and ethnicities all living harmoniously on one small island, our style is an ever-shifting experiment of colour, prints and silhouettes. Maybe it’s throwing a blazer over a kaftan, rocking tailored trousers with leather sandals, or a mandarin-collar shirt worn under a bomber jacket. We are constantly learning from each other, mixing and matching with established luxury brands as we go.

“Today’s fashion-fluent Singaporean man will be queuing up for Nike x Off-White sneakers; still buying Balenciaga; has stopped buying Vetements; is willing to take out a small loan for anything with the Kaws bee motif from the recent Dior men’s show by Kim Jones; and can’t wait to see what Riccardo Tisci and Hedi Slimane will do at Burberry and Céline respectively for spring/summer 2019 come September. Street wear, of course, is huge: it feels accessible and practical, and speaks to our foundational desire to be comfortable.”

The host

Loh Lik Peng, hotelier & restaurateur, Unlisted Collection

“Our best attribute is to be unconcerned about having a definitive national identity. Singapore style can be whatever takes your fancy, so long as it fits the moment. We can dress in batik, saris, cheongsams, morning suits or Hawaiian shirts and nobody accuses us of cultural appropriation, whatever our actual ethnic background.

“We can unashamedly fill our homes with European antiques or Peranakan furniture and not have to worry about what anyone else thinks. I think this is because we are conditioned to think of ourselves as multiracial and so ‘Singapore style’ is merely an amalgam or component of any of the races common to modern Singapore.

“We might be more cosmopolitan and outward looking nowadays, but basic tastes have probably not changed so much. Perhaps the average Singapore man has become more conscious of his fashion choices but that does not mean he has necessarily become more stylish. The average Singaporean, and I count myself as one, to a fault dresses down. The key attribute has always been our weather. Singapore is too hot and humid for anything but the lightest clothing. That is the reality for most of us. Unless we travel, we only wear summer dress.

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“What is different is that more men are now aware that fashion changes with the occasion and the proper gentleman should dress for the occasion. So, for example, if I go to black-tie or garden events I now see more people dressed appropriately. The default lounge suit that almost everyone wore to any occasion is less common now.

This applies to almost any sphere of life, from dining habits to shopping preferences, so I guess the average gentleman in Singapore is more sophisticated in his style now. But he’ll still wear a loose fitting T-shirt, shorts and slippers whenever he can get away with it – which in Singapore is, let’s face it, almost all the time.”

The retailer

Kozo Kawamura, proprietor, Colony Clothing

“There’s a great desire in Singapore for menswear mixing classic European tailoring, exotic, tropical Southeast Asian style and minimal and sophisticated Tokyo cool. The Singaporean man is very well travelled and this blend is perfectly suited to his lifestyle both at home and abroad. The main change I’ve seen happening in recent years is that Singapore fashion used to be either high fashion – big luxury brands – or fast fashion. There was very little in between.

“I think other styles are being adopted now, such as brands that are still very high quality but also represent good value and that are perhaps not quite so well known or obvious. And then of course, there has been a great increase in the demand for men’s classic style. In Singapore, increasingly, people like to wear suits and jackets.

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Singaporeans are sensitive to trends from the fashion capitals, but at the same time they are always seeking something that suits the tropical climate, their lifestyles and body shapes. I recommend always choosing garments that are in keeping with the way you live your life, rather than simply what’s ‘on trend’. Singapore has an interesting mix of the city and resort lifestyle, and the clothing men wear here reflects that business/leisure blend.

A mix of East and West, work and play, tropical resort and urban professional: I think this is the way forward for Singapore men’s style. I love this country partly because it’s always summer – I’m a big fan of the summer season – but also because of this fascinating mix we have here of contrasting but complementary cultures and lifestyles, the blend of Asian and European culture, history and ethnic backgrounds. That all contributes to making Singapore style truly unique.”