Andrew Gn, the only Singaporean fashion designer on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar speaks about how the industry has evolved over the past three decades.
In your opinion, how has the fashion industry evolved over the past three decades since you first started in the business?
When I started, fast fashion had not become the mass phenomenon it is now. With their strategies of continuously offering new styles in order to attract customers more frequently into their stores, these new actors have commanded a change of pace in the industry, more collections, a much higher turnover of designs, and probably some market saturation and customer fatigue. Another significant change has been the ever-increasing role of social media, spreading looks and trends around the globe like wildfire, thus pushing true designers to fight for their own identity. And lastly, the interconnection of fashion and show business, with showbiz stars becoming promotional vehicles for fashion, or even turning themselves into fashion designers, with varying degrees of success.
Although Singapore isn’t known for its fashion scene, how have you created an international fashion brand that’s worn by high-profile celebrities? What were the keys to your success, and what were some of the preconceived notions about Asian fashion designers that you’ve had to overcome?
From the beginning, I’ve not been designing with a specific geographical market in mind, but for any woman around the world who loved beauty and refinement. This is why my house has grown a very international clientele, attracting celebrities and their stylists from the West as well as the East. I don’t feel that I was ever perceived as an “Asian” designer, but more as a Singapore-born designer who chose to establish himself in the West.
Why have you chosen to be based in Paris, and why would fashion designers choose to be based overseas versus in Singapore and vice versa?
I first came to Paris as a young boy. I was so enthralled by the city that I told myself that someday I would live there. I came back to Paris after my fashion studies in London, New York and Milan to take my first job with Emmanuel Ungaro. And I’ve stayed on because I believe Paris does remain the fashion capital of the world. Here I can find the talent, resources and savoir-faire to produce my collections with the degree of refinement I’ve always been yearning for.
Describe to me your sources of inspiration, especially history, art and nature, and how that has influenced your work. Do other fashion designers use similar inspiration?
I can’t really speak for others, but for me, art, history, nature and flowers are (besides food!) major passions. When I turned 15, my father gave me a complete set of Les Histoires Naturelles by 18th-century French naturalist Buffon. I treasure these books, they have inspired me on several occasions. I love visiting museums and art exhibitions, whether classic or contemporary. I am an avid collector of ceramics and textiles. All this, plus a profuse image library within my head, are my sources of inspiration.
Why is it important for you to draw from your Asian roots and heritage in your collections?
I was born and educated in Asia. My Asian heritage comes naturally in my designs. My father was a merchant and was traveling a lot around Southeast Asia when I was a child. He would bring back for my mother wonderful hand-dyed batiks from Indonesia, beautifully woven and embroidered kimonos from Japan and amazing silks from China. My mother would then go to her tailor and have them transformed into dresses, suits and cheongsams. These childhood memories are still very vivid and bring me constant inspiration, as you can see from some of my very recent collections.
What do you think younger designers are looking at for inspiration these days?
It seems sometimes the inspiration comes mainly from the immediate and the obvious. This may be due to too much instafashion on social media. When streetwear and sportswear get so ubiquitous and overwhelming, it becomes harder and harder to differentiate designers and brands.
As the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, are we progressively seeing more fashion designers mixing East and West in their creations?
Today, the East sees the West and reversely just by the touch of a smartphone. It is inevitable that both creative worlds and influences will become more and more closely intertwined.
What are your thoughts on the growing presence of Asian designers on the global fashion scene, as compared to European or American designers? Does this signify a new-found openness of the fashion elite and changing perceptions towards Asia’s talented fashion designers?
Yes, there are definitely more and more Asian designers coming up, and I think this will continue because of the phenomenal size and strength of Asian markets, commanding for their own customer aspirations and creative process.