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Interview with Singapore veteran fashion designer Frederick Lee

January 30th, 2011 Test Shoot Gallery No comments

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The Team

 

Photography / Soon Tong
Fashion Direction / Ashburn Eng
Make-up / Mav Chang
Hair /  Annie Tay
Model / Nastya Kolganova & Vilma P (Upfront Models
Text / Luth Seah Zhiqiang
Milliner / Frederick Lee
 

 
Local veteran couturier Frederick Lee established himself as a household name by creating costume pieces for countless of notable local events; from the National Day Parade to the recent Youth Olympics Games. In addition being an extraordinary bridal and evening gown designer, not many know that he is an outstanding milliner as well! Test Shoot Gallery is honoured to present a series of one-of-a-kind millinery works that Frederick Lee produced specially for our shoot! Along with this amazing opportunity to admire Frederick’s work, we bring you an exclusive interview with the man as well. By Luth Seah Zhiqiang 

 

 

 

 

TSG: Give us a glimpse into your background and how did you get your start in the industry? Have you always been interested in it since childhood?

I believe that fashion design flows in my blood. As a kid, I made paper clothing for my paper dolls while my peers were playing outdoors. That also fed my love for fantasy and weaving stories with elements plucked from legends, myths and magic. But I truly began my design career in my early 20s as a self taught designer by creating and making garments for friends.  From then on, my confidence in designing grew along with my flair for the unusual. I also enjoy and am intrigued by the elegance which inspired me to look for perfection and glamour in old-hollywood. Think Dietrich and Crawford in Balenciaga, Schiaparelli to Garbo and Davis in Vionnet or Dior, their positivity exuberant art-decor flamboyance.

Personally, I find it beautiful when mundane materials maneuvered with the proficient and perfect skills of haute couture to become unequivocally beautiful garments. Even from a young age, I knew I wanted to be a couturier. 

 

 

TSG: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Rather than to worry about finding the next best-selling commercial designs, I prefer to create clothes that reflect different moments or dreams. I believe in individuality and diversity. I create and ignore the conventional, avoiding the rituals of seasonal demands. Wearing a Frederick Lee’s couture piece will bring together extravagance, glamour, wit and originality. I make clothes for the feminine, confident, and seductive woman who is enchanted by bold new ideas; A women who never has a dull moment in her life.

 

 

 

TSG: What, or who inspires you and influences your work the most? (e.g, the revolutionary cuts that highlights the femininity of the body in your work?)

There are many great fashion designers that have inspired and influenced my work. Top of my list is Spanish-born french couture designer, the late Cristobal Balenciaga, who was credited as the one who changed the silhouette of womenswear. Balenciaga was revered as a couturier of couturier who created astonishment with his collections and the mastery of his cuts. I respect that kind of integrity and his creative ideals.

 

 

 

TSG: What do you like most about the age we live in?

In the age we are living now, everything is possible. We’re constantly exposed to stories about people who become stars over night. So there’s a high possibility that everyone will be famous at least for 15 minutes in your lifetime.  However, because of that, many people lost their sense of reality. They lack personality and imagination in living their lives.

 

 

 

TSG:  What is the quality that makes your hats come to life?

The traditional characteristics of a good hat are wit and style. They are hard to achieve as wit can easily be reduced to vulgarity and attempts at style frequently result in meaningless extravagance. I realise that only by breaking the rules can highly imaginative, stylish hats be created. What gives my hats indefinable but immediately recognized spirit is “control”. 

No element is allow to overrun the others in the overall design. Shapes, trim, and lines are all given equal consideration in order to produce millinery that is deceptively unique and memorable.

 

 

 

TSG: Would you identify yourself as a conceptual or romantic designer?

The definition of conceptual design is subjective. I believe that conceptual designing comprises the creation of an idea, the exploration of the intentions of that idea, and the representation of it. Thus, I guess I’m a conceptual designer!

 

 

 

TSG: Besides designing for your own evening wear and bridal lines, you work as the director of costumier for large-scale events such as the Singapore National Day, Youth Olympic Games & many other theatre productions as well. How do you manage your working process to fit the time-line? Would you consider yourself as a workaholic?

We have all experienced that appalling sense of having far too much work to do but too little time to do it in.  We can choose to ignore this, and continue to work unreasonably long hours to stay on top of our workload. The alternative is to work more intelligently by focusing on the things that are more important. While this may seem obvious, in the hurly-burly of a new, fast-moving, high-pressure role, there’s often times where something can be overlooked easily. 

Prioritizing helps me to get the greatest return from the work I do, and keep my workload under control. Although the term “workaholic” usually has a negative connotation, it is sometimes used by people who wish to express their devotion to one’s career in positive terms an I’m one of them.

 

 

 

TSG: What are the difficulties faced being a designer today?

To become a fashion designer one must be willing to work hard and handle rejection. Rejections are unavoidable in this industry; it’s perseverance despite the rejection that is more crucial.Though the fashion industry can be exciting and alluring to some, it might be a different story behind the scenes. I like how TV shows like Project Runway gives a realistic depiction of the type of criticism you can expect. The main problems most designers have are  missing connection to their potential customer base ; missing exposure and a downward spiral of low volumes. If you don’t have enough customers, you won’t be able to sell and
produce enough pieces. Industry manufacturers will then be less interested in working with you and you might end up working with far more expensive tailorshops. High production costs lead to horrible selling prices and low customer conversion. As a result you receive more rejections from boutiques to stock your products.

 

 

 

TSG: What does the term beauty mean to you?

Beauty to me is feeling good about yourself, as well as enjoying the pleasure and joy that life gives you; A smile, a nice twinkle of ones eyes, a fragrant body, a nice clean outfit. Beauty is when you know you can go anywhere in life having the right clothes, or even the wrong clothes worn in the right way.

 

 

 

TSG: How important is it for a celebrity to wear one of your dresses, from a business point of view?

Although fashion designers can achieve celebrity status on their own, the designers often seek assistance from celebrities in other industries to help launch their labels.

As a fashion designer, the goal is to have the celebrity wear your pieces when they are captured on film and on the red carpet. Keep in mind that the images taken will often end up in a magazine, newspaper, or on television. Either way, this will help publicize the designers brand. In addition to having movie stars and pro athletes wear designer fashion on a daily basis, it is equally or more important to have glamorous celebrities appear in your designs at fashion week events. To be a successful designer, you can not simply put on a fabulous cat walk display of beautiful models and stylish accessories. It is very important to have the room full of photographers, fashion editors and celebrities.

 

 

 

TSG: What has been your best career or fashion moment so far?

One of my fashion moments will have to be able to create the costumes for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games Singapore 2010. I was challenged and inspired to create new costumes for the international event that inspires global unity and national pride; an event that celebrates youth in sports, as well as marking a new chapter in Olympic sporting history.

I’m still waiting for that fashion moment because everyday is still a learning experience. In fact, I believe my best work will be when im 60!

 

 

 

TSG: Do you think haute couture will keep on existing in future?

Today, the haute couture is neither haughty nor supernatuated, it is an aesthetic essay in which cherished and extraordinary skills are practiced. It remains a discipline of ultimate imagination, unaccountable to cost, with the paradox of being the fashion most cognizant of its ideal clients. It is a dream for quality in an era of industry and its succession.

I still strongly feels that Couture persists in providing us with a paragon of the most beautiful clothing that can be envisioned and made in any time.

 

 

 

TSG: What is your idea of elegance in a woman? 

A seductive, confident, glamourous and feminine women. Fashionable, yet not trendy. She understands what kinds of clothes suits her body.

 

 

TSG: Besides platforms like Singapore Fashion Festival to create awareness, what kind of support do you feel home grown labels need?

In the words of Vivienne Westwood, “Fashion is very important, It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well”.

Indeed, the undercurrents of Westwood’s  philosophy holds true for Singapore as well. The Singapore Fashion Scene has not just arrived ; it has arrived unbelievably well in the past few  years. The Singapore Fashion Week (SFW) and Singapore Fashion Festival (SFF) not only have launched many young and budding designers, they are also the most supportive and friendly platform that enable designers to have complete exposure to the media, domestic and international buyers.

Both SFW and SFF – with active  participation from fashion designers, fashion houses, jeweler, models and sponsors – have generated a lot of interest and optimism in the local fashion industry. With the platform getting bigger and better, no one’s complaining.

  

  

Frederick Lee  is located at No.2 Jalan Klapa, Singapore 193314 Tel: +65 6323 4372

Interview with the trio behind the fashion label “Reckless Ericka”

June 22nd, 2010 Test Shoot Gallery 1 comment

  


 

The Interview

The trio behind the label “Reckless Ericka”, Afton Chen, Ruth Marbun, and Louis Koh, have proven that they are showing no signs of slowing things down. From launching a new line “Odds by Reckless Ericka”, to the opening of their first boutique “The Reckless Shop” at the Stamford house recently, it is almost safe to say that they are nothing less than being ambitious. Telling us more about the label and the philosophy of their new line, the different tastes of music that they prefer, the trio-force behind Reckless Ericka reveals it all in our exclusive interview.  By Luth Seah Zhiqiang 

  

TSG: How would you describe your design aesthetic? 
  

Balancing classic tailoring with the edgy use of silhouettes and colours, and constructing avant-garde silhouettes with classic details. Infusing edginess and quirkiness into our brand’s identity and core.
 
  

TSG: What is the philosophy behind the new line “Odds by Reckless Ericka”? 

‘Odds by Reckless Ericka’ is a chic, casual and street styled womenswear. Odds features drapes on jerseys that stresses on the basic silhouette, yet enhances the femininity of a woman. In this, we hope it will capture the youthfulness and energy of women. It is priced to reach out to the general masses. 

 

 

TSG: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and where you’re from, your environment while growing up?

Afton: I am Singaporean. Part of my childhood was spent in Kaohsiung (Taiwan) where I had some of my best memories. The school that I had attended (Kaohsiung American School) had nurtured the creative side in me with various projects and skits. I enjoyed designing my own costumes for the skits and that was when I discovered the fun in designing and clothes making. My parents have been amazingly supportive of me to pursue my dreams to allow me to continue my work and I am thankful for their love. 

  

  

TSG: Was becoming a fashion designer what you always wanted to do in your life?
 

Afton & Ruth: Yes, it’s what we’ve always wanted to do.

 

 

TSG: Your designs have won you a sort of celebrity fan base that includes Adam Lambert, Sara Nuru, Rebecca Tan and Nadya Hutagalung. How do you feel about it?

We’re really glad to have the wonderful opportunity to be able to work with talented artistes like them. It was definitely a great experience.

 

 

TSG: Who has been the greatest influence on your career and who are your favourite designers?

Afton: Aitor Throup. I admire his fascinating work that pays huge attention to the anatomy of the human body, and his illustrations are really intriguing. My other favourite designers would be Ann Demeulemeester, Paul Poiret, Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen, Elsa Schiaparelli and Mihara Yasuhiro.
Ruth: My parents are my greatest influence for my career. It may sound cliché but it’s them that made me who I am today. To name one of my favourite designers would be Vivienne Westwood. I admire her madness and passion in everything she believes in. 

 

 

TSG: How did You, Ruth and Louis meet?

Afton: 3 of us met in school!

 

TSG: Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure who has guided or influenced you?

We are truly grateful to Nic Wong and Daniel Boey. 

 

 

TSG: How different is working on your own, compared to working with others?

When working on your own, you have to be conscientious in managing your time as the line blurs between your personal life and work. A lot of overtime work involved, but we love our brand!
 

 

TSG: Do you think the best creative work is developed in private without too much outside influence?

Afton: Creative work is best when there’re more heads involved in the thinking process because the design will turn out to be a melting pot of styles, cultures and artistic viewpoints.I don’t have a fixed, single object of influence or inspiration, because inspiration is the strangest thing! It comes from everywhere, in any form and best of all, it springs up when you least expected.
Ruth: I think the best creative works are always the ones that come sincerely from the heart with all the passion. 

 

 

TSG: Who would be the ideal public ambassador for the brand? And why?

Afton: Patti Smith.
Ruth: Karen Elson will be great. Simply because I love her. With Jefferson Hack. That will be awesome.
Louis: Johnny Depp, he is quirky!
 

 

TSG: How do you find your materials, and what goes into your decisions when putting them together?

We make bi-annual trips overseas for fabric hunting. We wouldn’t want to limit ourselves so we keep an open mind while looking. We love the challenge of piecing the materials together and set the mind ticking and decide when we have everything in front of us. 

 

 

TSG: In no more than five words, what does beauty represent to you?

Afton: Confidence. 

 

 

TSG: What is your choice of music?

Afton: Swing big band arranger Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, and British rock from the 60s and 70s (The Beatles, The Kinks, Joy Division, The Who, Queen, Siouxsie and the Banshees). Music has always been one of the sources of inspiration for me. There’s always something about the musical arrangements, vocal harmonies, and lyrics that intrigues me in a way that I can’t simply put it to words.
Ruth: I’m more a band person though I listen to many kinds of music. I’m into the oldies, a bit stuck in the nineties, and love to surprise my self with new ones. To name a few: Bob Dylan, The Smiths, The Kinks, Jamie T, Two Door Cinema Club. And I love to sing and dance to music!
Louis: Pop rock, because it keeps me happy. The Killers :)
 

 

TSG: If you could live in any time period, what period would you choose and why?

Afton: I love it now but if I had to choose, it would be the Roaring Twenties. I am fascinated with the sudden dynamic changes in the social, arts, music and fashion scenes that are so different from the Victorian lifestyle. This was also when modern fashion was created and I would love to attend Marchesa Casati’s masquerade balls.
 

 

TSG: What’s the best and worst thing about being a young designer in Singapore?

Best: The Singapore retail industry today is definitely opening up to young local designers and labels and there has been great support from organisations like SPRING Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board and Design Singapore backing our industry. Worst: We yearn for more acceptance and better education about local designers to the consumers.

 

 

TSG: What has the industry taught you?

Afton: To have hope, as it is a positive expectation of good!
Ruth: Many things. How to be tough on decisions and compromise at the same time.
Louis: Taught me to be truthful to the brand and it never hurts to go the extra mile. 

 

 

TSG: In your opinion, what’s a designer’s role in the current economic climate?

It’s easy to lament and blame the effects of recession, but instead of doing so, a designer should look into re-branding or restructuring to appeal and stay above the crowd.

 

 

 

 

Stockist / Link  

Reckless Ericka
The Reckless Shop                                     Stamford House, #01-03 Tel: +65 6338 8246

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