"Wait! Where am I?"
While I was in Singapore last week, I took part in a Symposium on the Globalisation of Haute Couture organised by Fidé Fashion to kick off their French Couture Week. One of the subjects we touched upon during the panel discussion is the effect of Western fashion and luxury brands' overwhelming presence in Asia.
Singapore, like other Asian capitals, is awash in Western luxury, premium and mid-range fashion brands. Walk through any of the bright, brash upscale shopping malls such as The Shoppes At Marina Bay Sands (part of the Marina Bay Sands Resort) and the effect is disorienting. For all you know, you could be in Vegas or Dallas or Toronto. To put it bluntly, it seems to be sucking the oxygen out of the local design scene leaving very little room for Asian designers to establish a foothold. As a result, you need to look long and hard to find examples of local design and even then, you may not find much.
Not surprisingly, this wave of European luxury washing over Asia also seems to be having a perverse effect on creativity. Following the symposium, I had a chance to chat briefly with various members of the local fashion and design industries. In speaking with Lionel Roudaut and Emily Wills, both members of the Faculty of Design at the Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore, they related to me how they struggle to impart a sense of cultural pride in their students: "All they want is to replicate McQueen. Even when we give them an assignment that requires them to interpret their culture and history, they complete the assignment and then go right back to replicating McQueen. It's frustrating."
It certainly wasn't always like this. In the mid-18th century for instance, wealthy French and British aristocrats splurged lavishly on Asian design and luxury goods. To possess fine Chinese porcelain or Japanese lacquered cabinets was considered the height of refinement and sophistication for courtiers and those who sought to emulate them. A brief walk through Musée Nissim de Commando in Paris or the V&A in London is a testament to this.
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by what I found. As a consumer, when I go to Asia (or anywhere else for that matter), I want to feel transported. I want to experience the local point of view not just on fashion but on design, architecture and culture generally. I certainly don't want to travel half way around the world merely to find the same brands and merchandise I can find at home. If fashion and design are indeed a reflection of a culture or a bellweather of sorts for society, then what does it say that the globalisation of Western luxury and fashion seems to be stifling Asian design and creativity?
The Luxe Chronicles
N.B. In keeping with my policy of full disclosure, round-trip travel to Singapore and accommodation at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel were paid for by Fide Fashion. No further payment, gift or remuneration were offered or solicited.