SINGAPORE - Home-grown tailor and costume designer Azni Samdin was doing what he does best when he was announced as the winner of the Best Makeup & Costume Design Award at the Golden Horse Awards last Saturday night (Nov 21) - sewing at his studio in Aliwal Street.
The 50-year-old, who won for his work on local drag musical comedy film Number 1, found out the news from a stranger who messaged him on social media with the simple words: "You won."
Azni recounts the happy moment in a telephone interview with The Straits Times: "I was going to stream the ceremony live, but the Wi-Fi in my studio was a bit spotty, so I thought, 'Okay lah, never mind.'
"Then at around 7pm, I got a message from a complete stranger who told me I had won. And I was like, 'I won?'
"A while later, my phone started buzzing non-stop with messages from friends and the cast."
He adds: "I was so shocked and happy, I couldn't sew anymore, so I went out to have a little celebratory dinner."
He shares the accolade with Malaysian stylist Raymond Kuek, who did the hair and make-up design. Kuek collected the award onstage in Taipei with director Ong Kuo Sin.
Number 1, now showing in cinemas, was also nominated for Best Leading Actor for Mark Lee, who did not win.
Azni, who studied graphic design at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) and learnt how to sew at Bunka Fashion School, founded his own bridal wear studio in 2015.
But he has long had ties to the local entertainment scene.
In the 1990s, he was a television producer and later joined talent agency Music & Movement, helping to style and design concert costumes for pop stars like Tanya Chua and Sandy Lam.
He has also been doing freelance styling for programmes on local television channels like Suria.
Even so, he never considered the Golden Horse Awards - the Oscars of Chinese-language cinema - to be within reach.
"When I heard I was nominated, I felt like I was floating. I still feel like that because from a young age, I've known the Golden Horse and the people who appear at the ceremony are like my 'ou xiang' (idol in Mandarin)," says the long-time fan of Mandopop stars such as Lam.
A lot of hard work went into Number 1.
Azni designed more than 35 pieces for the movie, which has various song-and-dance drag queen performances. While he has a team of tailors, he personally put on the finishing touches on the costumes.
"Things like the headpieces, earrings - a lot of it was handmade. A lot of the actors in the cast don't have earring holes, so I had to make clip-on earrings for them," he says.
It was not his first experience with drag costume design.
While studying at Nafa, he worked as an assistant stylist in the now-defunct cabaret club Boom Boom Room, where local drag queen Kumar got his start.
Azni says of designing drag costumes: "We have to understand what the performance is about, when the costume will be used, and also whether the wearer feels comfortable. Because with the inner pieces, like the bras with sponges, the stockings, the heavy wigs and thick make-up - we want to make sure the wearer isn't bogged down by the clothes and it's still easy to move around and dance."
Given the quarantine requirements for travelling to Taipei and back, Azni, who is divorced with a son, chose not to attend the Golden Horse Awards ceremony.
But he has imagined what it would have been like at the event.
He says: "I think I would have cried. Even just watching a clip of the team collecting the award, with the camera panning to Mark, his wife and the cast tearing up, I teared up too."
Number 1 is showing in cinemas.