SINGAPORE – While most fashion shows around the world had to pivot to a virtual format during the pandemic, local fashion festival The Front Row has done the opposite.
After debuting in 2020 as a completely virtual affair, it is staging its first physical edition this week.
Happening from Friday to Sept 25, the festival, named #FashTag, is a key event for this year’s Singapore Design Week.
One can only imagine the frenzy of logistics that goes into turning a virtual festival physical.
Luckily, organising and producing a fashion show is all in the wheelhouse of creative director Daniel Boey. Nicknamed the godfather of Singapore fashion, the 57-year-old has been producing fashion shows since 1990.
At this interview with The Straits Times at Raffles City Shopping Centre, the venue partner for #FashTag, he admits that he previously laughed at the word “phygital” when he first encountered it producing Louis Vuitton’s spin-off fashion show here in February 2021.
“But I think it’s such an important word now. We can’t go back to the things we did in 2019. The world has evolved and we’ve learnt new skills. All of us creatives have been finding new ways of presenting our work.”
And people have missed physical events, he adds. This year, visitors can attend four runway presentations he calls “cabine shows”, as well as workshops, talks and physical exhibitions supplemented by QR codes that take one virtually into the creators’ worlds.
A bevy of Singaporean and Asian designers, photographers and creatives will have their works on show.
There are photographs from local photographer duo Chuando & Frey; an NFT (non-fungible token) showcase by metaverse art collective Mirl; and fashion works from familiar names including Thai fashion label Tube Gallery, Singaporean couturier Thomas Wee and Indonesian label Sean Sheila.
The phygital format allows the festival to gather creatives from around the world without having to fly them and their collections in, says Boey, making it a more sustainable affair.
The cabine shows are the main event. But instead of revolving around a brand or designer, they are styled around themes.
For example, Silver Is The New Black is an age-inclusive show featuring retired top local models who are older than 50, including former supermodel Pat Kraal; while Circular Economy explores circularity in fashion, with the models swopping outfits with one another mid-show.
Another show – Diverse, Fluid & Inclusive – will feature an inclusive cast of plus-sized and gender-fluid models, and even several ordinary folks that Boey talent-spotted at Raffles City Shopping Centre.
The models will assist in styling the looks from the show with clothing from tenant brands in the mall. It is a departure from how brands would usually dictate what they want on the catwalk, says Boey, but this way, more of the model’s “style and identity end up on the runway”.
Asked about the commercial decision to partner a mall and move away from the festival’s initial focus of spotlighting local designers, he says this year is about the other cogs in the fashion ecosystem.
“I may be featuring an international brand, but I’m interpreting it through a local model’s voice. At the end of the day, fashion is not just about the designers – it’s also about the photographers, stylists, models, hair and make-up team.”
He has also done away with a formal catwalk, opting to turn the mall into one big runway. Models will pose for “tableaux” around the first two floors – a format that “caters to the social media generation and gives it fodder”.
It all ties back to The Front Row’s original intention as a virtual festival: to give everyone front-row seats.
“I’m hoping that it democratises the entire industry of fashion, rather than have everybody sit down – where whether you sit in the front row, second or third row is so politicised,” he says.
Having many smaller shows also makes it less intimidating for people outside the fashion industry to join in or just spectate, he adds, reflecting on his own experiences. While he may be a mainstay in the local scene today, he considers himself a former fashion outsider.
“I got into fashion only after university. But before that, it was very intimidating to walk into Hemispheres (a multi-label store of Singapore designers), or any place where all these fashion people were,” he says, recalling how he would not dare to sit by the stage of a show and instead watch it from a few floors above.
“I figured, why can’t anyone who has an interest in fashion have access to it?”
In that same vein, the talks – spanning issues from sustainability to biases in the fashion industry – will be more informal sessions bookending the corresponding shows, so audience members can stay on to listen.
He adds: “I’m generalising, but I always found most of what Singapore Design Week does very elitist – taking over an art gallery or shophouse. It can be quite intimidating for a non-practitioner to step in. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it in a public space, to bring design to the people. I don’t want to preach to the converted.”
Info: #FashTag runs from Friday to Sept 25 at Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road. For more information, go to https://str.sg/wKhr