My Bag

Fashion designer Alfie Leong wants Singaporeans to push the fashion envelope

ON HIS BAG:  My brown leather MCM clutch was a gift from the creative director of MCM Korea when I visited the showroom in 2014.

I have a lot of different bags and which one I carry depends on what I am doing that day. I carry this bag when I have
ON HIS BAG: My brown leather MCM clutch was a gift from the creative director of MCM Korea when I visited the showroom in 2014. I have a lot of different bags and which one I carry depends on what I am doing that day. I carry this bag when I have a day of meetings. It holds exactly what I need, which isn't much. But on days when I am out buying fabric, I need something big with a handle which can hold the weight of my purchases.ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

Clothes should make people happy and express their personality, says fashion designer Alfie Leong

Singaporean fashion designer Alfie Leong has been in the industry for so long that his abstract, geometric style - once considered avant-garde when he arrived on the scene in the mid-1990s - is now de rigueur.

He, however, feels that fewer people today are willing to take fashion risks or wear distinct styles than they were 10 to 20 years ago. They prefer big brand names or fast fashion to individual designs, he notes.

"I wish more Singaporeans would wear clothes which make them happy and show their personality. Don't be afraid of colour or even if you are wearing black, wear it with an interesting hairstyle or unique accessories. Clothes should be a way to show the world who you are," he says.

He enjoys designing for people who are adventurous in their style, such as socialite Susanna Kang, whom he has dressed for numerous events.

His designs and labels BSYM (formerly Mu) and a.w.o.l. (it stands for "all walks of life") - known for their structured folds and drapery, unique cuts and fine details - have represented Singapore at the Beijing Fashion Week and have been presented at Singapore Fashion Week, the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival and the Singapore Fashion Festival.

He also won the President's Design Award for Designer of the Year in 2013.

  • Things in his bag


  • KIEHL'S ULTIMATE STRENGTH HAND SALVE 

    The factory where I work can be dusty and the air full of fabric fibres which irritate my skin and inflame my eczema, so putting on moisturiser is very important. I probably apply this cream, or another lemongrass-scented moisturiser I bought in Thailand, at least three times a day.

  • SNAKESKIN KEY HOLDER 

    This was a gift from a colleague who bought it on a trip to Indonesia. It is not something I would have chosen for myself, but I have grown to really like it and its mix of colours. It is simple but meaningful.

  • PHONE CASE

    I really like my McGoth Killstar phone case. It is made of rubber so it is functional and easy to hold. It is also the perfect size to protect my phone, but still fits in my pocket.

    This idea of the dark, evil side of French fries makes me laugh and it is popular with my nephews and little cousins. They always ask to see which case I have and I choose my cases for their amusement.

  • RED TORTOISESHELL GLASSES

    I buy these glasses in bulk online at Alibaba. They are cheap and have no brand name, which does not matter to me. I buy two dozen at a time because I am always losing them.

    I am far-sighted and need my glasses when I am reading, sketching or sewing. But as soon as I am done, I end up taking them off and leaving them somewhere I do not remember, so I like that these wrap around my head and clip at my nose.

    They are so convenient but, somehow, I am already down to my last five pairs.

But the 47-year-old bachelor seems less interested in accolades and media attention than continuing to create bold but wearable clothes. Many of his designs are a highly technical and seemingly contradictory combination of sharp angles and soft drapery.

He draws inspiration, he says, from the restrictions of the body - "Two arms and legs, a front and back, the form of the body is not going to change, so how can I challenge myself to make a new silhouette?" - and the visually striking garments of renowned designers such as Alexander McQueen, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano.

It was his desire to push the envelope and encourage people to show their character through their clothes that Leong accepted a commission from Raffles City mall to design a capsule collection inspired by SpongeBob SquarePants, as part of the American animated series' year-long international campaign called SpongeBob Gold.

Raffles City presented his 16-piece collection on Nov 30. It is on display at the mall's ground floor near Robinsons until next Tuesday.

In his signature style of combining angles and drapes - he uses denim and acrylic fabric and swaths of SpongeBob print - the collection represents three phases in the life of a couple: from the reckless ecstasy of young love, to growth and stability in work, and then spreading love and happiness through children.

"Originally, I thought SpongeBob was just a kids' show, but as I learnt more about it, I realised that I liked the message of positivity and being true to yourself," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2017, with the headline 'Be bold and push the fashion envelope '. Print Edition | Subscribe