Reflections on re:collections

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Heather I’anson-Holton (16A01E), Alex Tan (16S03B) and Karen Cuison (16A01D)
Photos by Li-Ann Hoong (16A03A) of Raffles Photographic Society

Snaking ticket booth queues stood testament to the high level of anticipation surrounding Raffles Runway’s Singapore-themed spectacle. Aptly named re: collections, it celebrated Singapore’s 50th birthday and Runway’s 10th year as an official CCA.

Audience members were greeted by delicate paper moons and stars suspended from the entrance of the Albert Hong Hall. Puffs of dense smoke permeated the entire room, undercut by vivid, shifting beams of multi-coloured light and a throbbing bassline courtesy of DJ AK. Two strips of blue fluorescent light flanking the runway took it from drab to dazzling. The show’s shimmering, otherworldly atmosphere was a clear indicator of what was to come.

Psychedelic pre-show lights (photo: Raffles Runway Instagram page)

Outfits followed loose themes, including urban isolation and entrapment, comfort and change. The photo booklet created by Runway organized the garments by times of day. This ambiguity created the impression of a lack of cohesion – but this was understandable, with so many designers with diverse styles. If anything,  the ambiguity stimulated dialogue, giving audience members the space to interpret garments freely. The diversity also showed the magnitude to which Runway took to their overall theme, reflecting the individuality of the Singapore experience.

Workmanship was generally of a high standard. The garments showcased a breadth of technical expertise: from the pleats and braiding in Xiao Wei’s dress (15S06J), to the intricate beading in Teo Kai Wen’s (15S03H) poufy garment, each piece demonstrated delicate craftsmanship and a careful eye for detail. Ang Xue Ling (15S03F) mentions, “Some people managed to finish theirs over the December holidays, and some took a whole year.”

Photo 1.
A bright, well-constructed orange maxi dress. (Designer: Xiao Wei)
Photo 2
Intricate beading, immaculate poufiness. (Designer: Teo Kai Wen)

Designers’ interpretations of the SG50 theme were varied and refreshing, personal yet relatable. At the same time, the clothes resonated with one another, linked by their common inspiration. Some designers made use of tangible, recognizable icons, but the results were anything but predictable. Lim Wan Ling (16A01D) juxtaposed a city skyline against a lake to stunning effect, while Lim Ee Sing (16S07B)  tastefully drew upon the MRT system to create a costume that looked simultaneously familiar and alien.

A garment inspired by Singapore’s skyline. (Designer: Lim Wan Ling)
A quirky twist on our MRT system went into the designing of this dress. (Designer: Lim Ee Sing)

Other designers employed more abstract ideas. Megan Goh (16A01D) tried to replicate the ‘comfort and safety’ of HDB flats in designing her cape dress with soft, pastel fabrics. On the other end of the spectrum, Huang Zhoudi (15S06J) chose to highlight Singapore’s darker side with her gothic garments.

Soft colours reflect the comfort and safety of the HDB flats which most Singaporeans reside in, in this dress designed by Megan Goh (16A01D).
Gothic glamour from designer Zhou Di.

re: collections featured thoughtful collaborations. The senior batch of Modern Dance put up an energetic, dynamic performance, while behind-the-scenes clips from Film Society demonstrated an acute sensitivity to the mood and intent of the artists. It also lent the audience a glimpse into the clamour before the glamour – including, but certainly not limited to, setting up audio-visual equipment, planning venue layout, and liaising with lighting technicians. Overall, both collaborations lent edge and unity to re: collections.

Modern Dance at re:collections

If there was anything we had to nitpick on, re: collections took a while to hit its climax, making for a sleepy and somewhat awkward first twenty minutes of the show. In addition, many of the menswear pieces seemed to take on a similar structure – loose cape over ordinary collared shirt and black pants.

The process of putting the show together was not without its challenges. For one, designers had to consciously transcend common, literal and too-dogmatic interpretations of a seemingly limiting SG50 theme.

“Quite a few people wanted to use the Supertrees as inspiration, and initial sketches had very obvious signs of them, like veins in red running down the fabric. The design itself wasn’t bad, it’s just that we asked the designer instead, “what do you feel about Gardens by the Bay? What do you feel about Supertrees? Is there any other way to express a Supertree other than literally taking the veins of the tree on a dress?” From there, it changed.”

Irene Tee (15S07D)

Surely, fashion would not be fashion if it were not provocative, and re: collections had its fair share of controversy. During the matinee show, a model walked down the runway in a white varsity-style top studded with red sequins that read “Peace Love Happiness” on the front, and a large “50” on the back, coupled with glittering golden shorts and similar knee-high socks. This prompted a noticeable increase in buzzing and murmuring from the audience, who mocked both the model and the piece, and circulated pictures on social media.  Not wanting their model to have to suffer the repercussions of a subversive design, the golden shorts and socks were substituted for black, more neutral tones during the evening show. Runway laments the audience’s response, expressing regret that they could not support and showcase the work of all artists.

Guest designer Mudassar Ahmad (15S03A), who was behind this bold costume, told us that he aimed to marry the celebration of national values and the dismantling of masculine stereotypes. Whereas “peace” and “happiness” are tenets of Singaporean society, familiarly embedded into the pledge we take daily, “love” is not as prominent. “I feel like in our society we don’t really give much for loving people, just for them being people,” he opined. When queried about the audience’s uncalled-for response, Mudassar expounded on his idea of fashion as a form of art, and art as a vessel of change in society. “I think it’s precisely because people aren’t ready that there’s all the more need for us to step out and make a statement, because that’s how change happens.”

In her closing address, teacher-in-charge Ms Janissa Soh summed up the show best, urging the audience to see RProject as a process rather than an end: “The designers started this process to get us thinking and looking at our own society. I’m not talking about other people. I’m talking about you and me. How have we contributed to this society? How have we made it cold, white, harsh? As we start this process, as we start SG50, we hope all of you can join us to take a moment to reflect.”

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