The best of Tan Yoong's bridal creations

Fashion insiders remember the couture pioneer for his visionary designs and skilful craftsmanship

The late Tan Yoong was known for his award-winning designs, intricate craftsmanship and glamorous wedding gowns.
The late Tan Yoong was known for his award-winning designs, intricate craftsmanship and glamorous wedding gowns. PHOTOS: TAN YOONG/ INSTAGRAM

Hailed as Singapore's first famous contemporary fashion designer, the late Tan Yoong was known for his award-winning designs, intricate craftsmanship and glamorous wedding gowns.

The 66-year-old pioneer of couture in Singapore died last week. The Straits Times understands from several of his close friends that he fell at home and hit his head. A family member found his body last Tuesday.

The media-shy and private designer entered the fashion world after winning Singapore's Her World Young Designers Contest in 1978.

He started an eponymous, luxury made-to-order clothing line with a boutique at Lucky Plaza in 1983.

Stylist Lionnel Lim says of his long-time friend: "He really puts a lot of time and effort into each ensemble. Every piece is personal. Every piece is unique.

"He didn't just sketch a piece and leave it to his atelier seamstresses to interpret. He was a hands-on designer. He would personally drape, nip and tuck on the tailor dummy." 

Indeed, the fashion pioneer remains an inspiration for many aspiring designers here.

The Straits Times revisits some of his most memorable creations.


Pure linen couture dress, 1984

The wide and high shoulders of the 1980s are interpreted with a sharper edge, using folds of linen, in this avant-garde piece.

Singapore fashion designer Mae Pang, 31, who has an eponymous label, says Tan Yoong was ahead of his time.

"The dress displays Tan's incredible skills to mould strips of linen, a crisp woven fabric, into a piece with such fluidity," she says. "The design also accentuates his appreciation of the female form and his conceptual side in an experimental form."

Priscilla Shunmugam, 35, founder and designer of Ong Shunmugam, says this is one of Tan's most memorable pieces.

"The linen strips are precise in their placement and they really flatter the wearer. I love the kookiness of the styling in this image."


Embroidered mini dress, 1990

Intricate embroidery is made to look structured and bold in this uniquely daring piece, which was handcrafted with an intricate fabric that Tan created with a craftsman in India.

Stylist Lionnel Lim says the dress was "definitely one of Tan's favourites".

According to him, Tan made the dress because a client wanted something to match a pair of ornate heels, a gift from her husband.

"The fabric is embroidered goldwork with metallic silver threads that took months to complete in India," Lim says.

Goldwork is the art of embroidery using metal threads.


 Cheongsam gowns, 2004

The pale turquoise and fresh yellow cheongsam gowns look modern yet timeless, combining an elegant silhouette with a traditional Chinese collar.

The pieces are made with French lace, embroidery and beading.

David Wang, 53, a fashion retail and brand consultant and designer, says the intricate lace and beadwork are some of Tan's "finest work". "I feel that Tan Yoong was first and foremost an artist. Like art, his creations only appreciate with time."

Stylist Lionnel Lim says the dresses' antique lace cutouts and beadwork created a 3D texture. "Despite the multiple layering, the silhouette doesn't look heavy," he adds.


Layered ball gown, 2008

This lush yellow-gold gown was made elegant with layered pleats and stayed extravagant because of its luxurious taffeta fabric.

The style is reminiscent of Belle's evening gown in the 1991 Disney animated classic, Beauty And The Beast.

Singapore fashion designer Mae Pang says the detailed folds of the piece were no doubt "painstakingly cinched".

"The dramatic back of this rich golden canary gown screams old Hollywood glamour. The perfectly cinched pleats make it a perfect head-turner."


Couture gown with flower, 2009

Inspired by the natural folds of petals, Tan incorporated an orchid-like flower into this taffeta and duchesse satin gown.

David Wang, 53, a fashion retail and brand consultant and designer, says the clever design exudes an "effortless elegance". "The floral motif morphs into the gown, giving one the impression that the wearer is covered by a huge flower."

Stylist Lionnel Lim says the dress was a departure from Tan's usual fluid and ethereal style. "He was trying to do something different and voluminous."

The dress also highlights the designer's style of using inspirations from nature and animals.


Frilled wedding dress, 2011

The asymmetrical design visually elongates the body while showing off the female form.

The mermaid cut of the dress, along with the layered skirt, also adds dimension and movement to the piece.

Tan also combined silk, organza and lace in the dress to create a soft and ethereal vibe.

Designer Mae Pang says the dreamy silhouette would make any woman feel incredibly beautiful.

"This piece epitomises Tan's flair and visionary approach in his use of light and translucent fabric layered to perfection."


Silk and lace cheongsam, 2011

The sheer look is currently hot on the runway.


Luxury Italian brands Dolce & Gabbana and Fendi and British label Alexander McQueen used sheer fabrics in their Spring/Summer 2017 collections, with translucent dresses and lace skirts.

These bold cheongsam, made by Tan more than five years ago, were clearly a daring choice ahead of their time.

The evening gowns, made with silk, lace and crystal embroidery, exude an air of mystery, but Tan made sure the dresses were not too dark by adding pops of bright floral colour.

Designer David Wang says the cheongsam are "stunning interpretations of the Oriental dress".

"They are traditional yet far from predictable. You can see his mastery in handling the colour combination, fabrics and delicate beadwork."

Wedding dress with graphic lines, 2014

Tan contrasted a sheer and soft tulle skirt with sharp and distinctly graphic lines of fabric to create a dynamic texture on the classic mermaid-cut dress.

The bias draping of the skirt creates a visual flow to the silk and taffeta gown.


Stylist Lionnel Lim says the subtle draping and pleating is Tan's iconic design style.

"The piece de resistance of the gown is the swirling detailing that Tan painstakingly cut and laid out to create the fluid pattern."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Tan Yoong's gowns of art'. Subscribe