Worth­while ex­per­i­ment

Sin­ga­pore-based fash­ion la­bel Ong Shun­mugam won the Grand award at the de­sign For asia awards 2013.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - STYLE - By NADINE FER­NAN­DEZ star2@thes­tar.com.my

EAST meets West, and then meets East again through the women’s wear la­bel Ong Shun­mugam, in an imag­i­na­tive mar­riage of the tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary.

Founded by Malaysian de­signer Priscilla Shun­mugam, the unas­sum­ing la­bel ousted the com­pe­ti­tion from a record 970 en­tries from 19 coun­tries, across 18 de­sign cat­e­gories, to re­ceive the high­est hon­our of Grand Award at the De­sign For Asia Awards 2013.

The win is the first in­ter­na­tional award for the three-year-old Sin­ga­pore-based la­bel and makes Priscilla the first fash­ion de­signer from Malaysia to bag the Grand Award.

It brings to a close another year of mile­stones for Ong Shun­mugam af­ter the open­ing of its sec­ond re­tail space in Sin­ga­pore and the pre­mier of the la­bel’s fifth col­lec­tion “When­ever I Fall at Your Feet” at the Fu­ture Fash­ion Now plat­form.

The col­lec­tion tran­sited from the run­way into a full-scale ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Sin­ga­pore, mak­ing Ong Shun­mugam the youngest fash­ion la­bel to have a ded­i­cated fea­ture there, with the pa­tron­age of Sin­ga­pore Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong.

“I think it speaks more about the readi­ness of those around us, and those with in­flu­ence, to have faith in the cal­i­bre of de­serv­ing work, no mat­ter the cre­ator’s age, back­ground or years of ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s im­por­tant to dis­tin­guish that I didn’t come from within the fash­ion in­dus­try, so when I started this la­bel, I had no con­nec­tions or ex­pe­ri­ence,” said the de­signer of her win.

“Ev­ery sin­gle per­son who has been re­cep­tive and sup­port­ive to­wards Ong Shun­mugam has done so, not be­cause of who I am, but be­cause of my work. At the end of the day, it re­ally doesn’t mat­ter who takes home th­ese awards. Ev­ery fel­low de­signer I know works just as hard and strug­gles just as much as I do. It’s the fact that some­one both­ers to keep track of what we do that mat­ters most.”

Priscilla said that peo­ple re­sponded pos­i­tively to what they saw at the awards. She de­tected a spike in the la­bel’s sales and height­ened me­dia in­ter­est as well.

The de­signer ad­mit­ted she was a lit­tle ner­vous about her work be­ing scru­ti­nised by the panel and found the judg­ing process in­cred­i­bly in­tim­i­dat­ing.

“My de­sign process has never been one by the book and I never re­ally thought it could be ac­cepted by such a tough crowd. Plus, this is the first time I’ve put my­self out there for an in­ter­na­tional award. Who knew?” Priscilla said.

The 32-year-old de­signer has been based in Sin­ga­pore for the last 12 years. Hav­ing had to start out from scratch, she felt that the coun­try, fondly known as the “lit­tle red dot”, has al­ways been fair to her.

“It’s never handed any­thing to me on a plat­ter, but per­haps, that has made all the dif­fer­ence. By the time I drew up the con­cept for the la­bel, I knew I had some­thing

rather ‘ex­per­i­men­tal’ on my hands and I needed a so­ci­ety that was ready for it. I felt Sin­ga­pore was the right place and the right time.

“It’s strug­gling with not just a post-colo­nial iden­tity, but an im­mi­grant so­ci­ety that keeps evolv­ing – a per­fect set­ting to stage the kind of ques­tions we like to ask. I al­ways felt KL would have to wait a while, not that it wasn’t im­por­tant, but that I would come to it when it was ready for the la­bel,” she ex­plained.

Plans to cross the cause­way are still on the draw­ing board at the mo­ment, she re­vealed. With a cus­tomer base that has been grow­ing slowly, but steadily, in the past year, she is con­vinced that the time is right to en­ter the Malaysian mar­ket this year.

“If we have it our way, we’ll prop­erly launch Ong Shun­mugam in KL and women here will be able to shop for our pieces in per­son!”

Priscilla de­scribes her la­bel as “con­tem­po­rary Asian women’s wear” and strives to push the bound­aries of how peo­ple view tra­di­tional wear.

“Some­time in my late 20s, I be­gan to no­tice the po­si­tion­ing of fash­ion clas­sics such as the cheongsam or the ke­baya as be­ing stuck within lay­ers of am­bi­gu­ity and con­tra­dic­tions. On one hand, while the tra­di­tional dress still ex­ists, it’s in­creas­ingly con­fined to cos­tumery. On the other hand, it seems to need val­i­da­tion from a brand or de­signer in the West be­fore it can find a place in the cur­rent fash­ion sys­tem,” said Priscilla, who is of Chi­nese and In­dian de­scent.

“That’s when I re­alised I wasn’t em­bar­rassed to wear my cul­ture on my sleeve. The prob­lem was, I just couldn’t find any­thing that I could re­late to. I didn’t want nos­tal­gia or kitsch, yet I also didn’t want some­thing repack­aged in the West and sold back to me. My dis­con­tent­ment with all th­ese sit­u­a­tions keeps me in check with ev­ery ex­per­i­ment I make.”

In the near fu­ture, she hopes to hit the fash­ion weeks circa Lon­don, Paris and New York later this year to test out three years of hard­work, ded­i­ca­tion and ed­u­ca­tion. The la­bel is also look­ing around for an ad­di­tional re­tail lo­ca­tion in Sin­ga­pore, and hopes to ex­plore neigh­bour­ing mar­kets like Malaysia, In­done­sia and Hong Kong.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to when I can ob­jec­tively sense, ei­ther through crit­i­cal or com­mer­cial feed­back, whether the la­bel has achieved and main­tained a style that is clearly iden­ti­fi­able, in­flu­en­tial to some ex­tent and con­sis­tent over the years. I also hope we reach a point where the brand is able to fully un­der­stand how its de­signs are con­nect­ing with cus­tomers. With the re­lease of ev­ery col­lec­tion, Ong Shun­mugam should keep try­ing to chal­lenge con­tem­po­rary Asian aes­thetic and pro­voke peo­ple to think. I just have to keep the mo­men­tum go­ing,” she con­cluded.

Other re­cip­i­ents of the Grand Award in past years were Shigeru Ban Ar­chi­tects (2011), Shang Xia (2011), Ap­ple (2010) and Sam­sung (2009).

Priscilla Shun­mugam hold­ing her prize at the de­sign For asia awards 2013. Stellar: as the name of the

col­lec­tion sug­gests, the Prints Charm­ing

range is full of vi­brant hues and

tex­tures.

Ong Shun­mugam Fall/Win­ter 2013.

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