When you think of Singapore nowadays, you’re more likely to picture the Marina Bay Sands dominating its skyline than its more traditional symbol, the Merlion.
There’s a reason for this: the city-state, which has long been the ideal in urban planning for Southeast Asia, has become a model for modern design as well, as evidenced by UNESCO designating it a Creative City of Design in December 2015.
In our coverage of Singapore Design Week, now in its fourth year and featuring over 100 events that ran from March 7 to 12, we discovered why Singapore is well on its way to becoming the design capital of Southeast Asia.
1. They are in tune with the latest trends.
Drones delivering groceries, digital showrooms — pretty soon, the brick-and-mortar furniture fair may be replaced by a virtual-reality program, but in the meantime, the International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS), which featured 428 exhibitors from 35 countries, as well as related events like the ASEAN Furniture Show and NOOK Asia, offered a myriad ways to learn about and view the latest trends in the design world.
At IFFS, the biggest trends in we observed in furniture and lighting were green, sustainable design, the use of recycled materials, bold geometrics and tribal patterns like Aztec and modern Moroccan, and on-trend fashion fabrics like velvet and crochet.
2. They value innovation.
At SingaPlural, an annual design exhibition where Singaporean brands collaborate with global companies, Uniqlo tied up with Machineast and Roots to explain its AIRism quick-dry technology by way of a humidifier, and a Where’s Waldo-type game that lasted 10 minutes — the time it takes AIRism fabric to dry.
At the “Innovation by Design” conference in Hotel Fort Canning, speakers like Chelsia Lau, chief designer of Ford Motors’ Shanghai Advanced Studio, talked about how Ford is addressing the needs and preferences of the female market in designing its automobiles: “’Female’ doesn’t equate to pink or cute cars anymore,” she said. “We like exciting exterior design and more attention to detail in the interiors.”
3. They are forging a recognizable identity via “super studios” and strong brands.
Hip brands like Supermama started in Singapore. Founder Edwin Low put together a collective of five local designers for his Singapore Icons Studio Project to immortalize images like the Merlion on Kihara porcelain plates. Other designs like Gangster Kitties and a new Star Wars collection were offered at a popup store in SingaPlural.
Another Singaporean designer making a global impact is Carolyn Kan with her Carrie K. Jewellery. Disney tapped Kan to design a jewelry line for its latest blockbuster, Beauty and the Beast. (Read the full story, “Beauty and the Beast told through Bling” on Philstar.com.)
4. They collaborate with the best designers from all over the world.
French maestro Philippe Starck designed our hotel, M Social in Robertson Quay. Starck, whose popularity reached its apex in the ’90s, updated his modern aesthetic for Millennials with M Social’s highly Instagrammable interiors (they even post the best guest selfies on the hotel website), communal tables in the lobby and restaurant, and Aura, a robot that can deliver bottles of water and towels to your room.
IFFS collaborated with another maestro, Giulio Cappellini, to curate a pavilion showcasing “The Italian Hospitality.” The space, which was set up like a hotel lounge, featured all-Italian products.
“In the past we produced standard products but now it’s important to customize products,” Cappellini said. “Design creates bestsellers, but very good design creates long sellers.”
5. They actively seek out and promote promising talents.
Each year, Furniture Design Award Singapore vets hundreds of entries and narrows them down to 12 finalists. This year, while the top prize went to Hiroki Sakamoto of Japan for his “Yokan Chair,” one of the Top 12 was JP Lasco, a young Filipino designer from Cebu (see sidebar) for his “Bench Screen.”
Ito Kish, the award-winning Filipino designer who’s been featured in the pages of Elle Décor USA’s “What’s Hot” section twice, was also at IFFS to promote his furniture. “The Japanese love my collections,” claimed Kish. “There’s a rhythm to it, according to them.”
IFFS also commissioned a Philippine pavilion from 15 of our companies: Antigua De Madera, Ecohome Arts, Eva Marie Arts & Crafts, My Souvenir Banig de Basey, Natural Carpet Industries, Nelson’s Furniture by Donny Co, Rojo Muebles, Rowilda’s Handloom Weaving, RU Garcia Furniture, Silay Export Crafts, Tinukib Foundation, Tumandok Crafts Industries, Venzon Lighting, Vivo Handicrafts and VGC Wooden Articles.
“We’re bringing back Filipino culture and getting farmers in on artisanship,” said Romulo Tapel II, an industrial designer for DekoStyle Product Design Services.
6. They incorporate good design into every aspect of living.
Even in dining, a favorite Singaporean pastime, la, design is a priority. Local architectural firm DP Architects launched its own restaurant, Redpan, in partnership with culinary company Grub to serve modern local food.
Candlenut, the only Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant in the world, moved to a new location in Como Dempsey designed by renowned architect/designer Paola Navone, featuring Peranakan tiled floors and lighting from striking fiber chandeliers.
Pastry chef Janice Wong’s flagship restaurant at the National Museum is a visual feast for sweets lovers, with chocolate paintings on the walls and tables — covered in glass so you won’t lick it.
A nocturnal highlight of Singapore Design Week is the iLight Festival, in which the promenade along Marina Bay is dotted with light installations by local design schools and global artists.
7. Their government has the political will to support design.
Singapore has a National Design Centre and a national agency for design, the DesignSingapore Council, to which designers can look for support. Working in concert with the Singapore Tourism Board, the Singapore Furniture Industries Council, DesignS, International Enterprise Singapore and SPRING Singapore, the country has all the resources to use design for economic growth and to better the lives of its citizens.
In the Philippines, designer Ito Kish says, “The only way the Philippine government can help is to push Filipino designers as talents so that they can become designers for companies” at home and abroad.
8. They prioritize and implement urban planning.
At “Frontliners in Action,” we saw how local architects plan and create better living environments for Singaporeans. Comprising three exhibitions first mounted at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Singapore chose not to show buildings but how eight architects reimagined spaces like “Limit/Limitless,” where MKPL Architects turned a narrow space for public housing into the concept of “living in a park,” a “Parking Day” where roads are freed up for the public to bike and picnic in, and “Empowering Design,” which proposed how to engage end users, including the elderly.
9. They’re also an emerging force in fashion design.
SingaPlural also introduced us to local labels like Catch, whose mission is to make luxury clothing more affordable by using natural fabrics like silk, which is then digitally manipulated and printed.
Onlewo, a lifestyle brand with menswear and accessories, specializes in fabrics printed with Singaporean images like shophouses, which it turns into men’s shirts and furniture upholstery.
10. They offer a myriad of venues for design and trade to converge in the city.
Undoubtedly ideal for MICE, Singapore also offers unusual venues to stage events like the F1 Pit Building and Gilman Barracks, in which Wallpaper magazine mounted its annual “MultipliCity” exhibition. Now in its eighth year, MultipliCity brings together unusual pairings of designers and manufacturers to handcraft one-off luxury lifestyle objects.
“Wallpaper has built up really great relationships with all the best designers and manufacturers in the world,” said Tony Chambers, Wallpaper’s editor in chief. “We thought, rather than just report on design and lifestyle, let’s put people together that don’t normally work together and ask designers to step out of their comfort zone and do something really special that is research and development-led.’”
Hence projects like “Paper Passion Perfume,” a collab between Karl Lagerfeld, Geza Schoen and Gerhard Steidl that features a perfume capturing the scent of freshly printed books; and “Shoe Tree,” a modular storage unit conceived by footwear designer Beatrix Ong and Samuel Chan’s furniture collective Jointed + Jointed.
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