Singapore Fashion Week

Dedication to detail

An outfit by Singapore couturier Goh Lai Chan at Singapore Fashion Week.
An outfit by Singapore couturier Goh Lai Chan at Singapore Fashion Week.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
An outfit by Singapore couturier Goh Lai Chan at Singapore Fashion Week.
Goh Lai Chan.

Although Singapore couturier Goh Lai Chan has been a significant presence in Singapore fashion for over two decades, he will stage a runway show only every five years or so.

Speaking to The Straits Times three days before his glamorous new collection opened Singapore Fashion Week (SGFW) 2017, the 55-year-old designer explains that his catwalk shows are a rare occurrence because he can get a little "obsessive".

"When I do a show, I really agonise over it. So even though I have customers' orders to work on, I still think about the collection. If I do a show every year, customer orders would really suffer."

The bachelor's dedication to his craft and customers can be observed in all facets of his work. Not only does he print his own fabrics, but the beadwork and intricate embroidery on the garments are also done by hand.

This devotion to detail is evident in the 24-piece collection he brought to the event.The apparel, which deviated slightly from his signature qipaos, included a mini denim cape with Peranakan-inspired floral embroidery and a yellow sari-like top paired with a bold red batik skirt.

Also beautiful was an intricate white lace gown with a panelled top and silk organza skirt. The sheer panels on the dress were inspired by the glass frames of a greenhouse, says Goh.

The designer and owner of label Laichan is certainly a perfectionist. Once he decides a piece does not fit the narrative of his collection, he has no qualms binning it.

"Initially, I crocheted the front of a piece that was meant for this collection. It took me seven to 10 days,'' he says. "But when I put it together with the other completed pieces, I realised it didn't fit. It felt too isolated. So I threw it away."

But why not keep it for another dress? He laughsand replies: "No lah, how to? I wouldn't even use it as a coaster."

Goh shares that there were other finished pieces that he discarded because they were just not right or "looked a bit old".

Even the presentation order of the collection, which took about four months to complete, went through multiple incarnations.

"The sequence of the collection is important. Every night before I slept, I would display the 24 pieces in two sets of 12 on the floor at home. I would look at them and think 'okay, this is great'. Then in the morning, I would look again and think 'no'."

He decided to take part in SGFW this year because Ms Tjin Lee, a personal friend, had invited him. The businesswoman is the owner of marketing and communications agency Mercury M&C, which organised SGFW.

The pieces he showcased will not be for sale. He will keep all 24 for his archive - though customers can have them made to order if they wish.

Though obviously passionate about fashion and certain about his own stylistic sensibilities, Goh did not study fashion.

He did real estate management at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, thinking that he would go into property development, but soon realised that he did not have the capital to do so.

That was the moment he decided to go into fashion. "I thought fashion was accessible, there was a market for it and it was fun."

In 1982, he opened the bespoke The Dress Shop at Liang Court and it garnered a strong Japanese clientele.

When Raffles Hotel Arcade opened in 1991, Goh set up a boutique there for his eponymous label Laichan. He closed The Dress Shop soon after.

In July, Goh moved his boutique to Paragon after Raffles Hotel Arcade closed for renovations.

Each month, he makes 20 to 40 custom pieces which can cost more than $15,000 each. A basic short qipao sold off the rack starts at $780. Goh says his patrons are about evenly split between Singaporeans and foreigners.

His loyal customers keep him busy - he works six days a week for about 12 hours a day. While 14-hour days do happen, the designer does not consider himself a workaholic.

"People have said that I am. But I love it so much. The work is so fulfilling, fun and passionate. I think it is in the mind. I don't get Monday blues. I love Mondays because it is the start of the week."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2017, with the headline 'Dedication to detail'. Print Edition | Subscribe