Hailed as the ‘godfather’ of Singapore fashion, Mr Daniel Boey has been intimately involved in the industry for over 27 years. Read about his reminiscences of the local fashion scene’s heyday in the 1980s and ’90s.
Fire up a laptop, type in the fashion label in the browser’s search bar and whip out the credit card. For many people, shopping for clothes has become as simple as click-click-click.
But in fashion director Daniel Boey’s opinion, this generation of shoppers are completely missing the point.
“Now, everything has become cold and complicated; click, buy, or click, don’t buy,” said Mr Boey, who has been in the local fashion industry for 27 years.
To him, the point of shopping is the experience – entering the shop, examining the clothes, feeling its fabric, cut, and talking to fashion experts – which people today are missing out on by shopping online.
And, of course, they are also missing out on the best shopping experience: Watching a live, dazzling fashion show.
Mr Boey should know. He has been at the forefront of the local fashion show scene since the 1990s.
His fascination with fashion began with his family years before. The eldest son of a banker and a nurse, Mr Boey said in an interview with Her World that he was “born into fashion”, remembering his father’s bespoke suits and mother’s classic dresses.
He went to St Patrick’s Secondary School, and then to Catholic Junior College. He went on to the National University of Singapore (NUS) where he studied Geography and Literature.
But he was so keen on fashion that he spent much of his time dabbling in and staging fashion shows instead of studying.
“I was one of the first few people to introduce large-scale fashion shows to NUS,” he said, referring to the first show he organised for the NUS arts faculty ball in 1986.
“It was a huge fashion extravaganza with a cast of 60 models.”
One of the biggest fashion shows that left a deep impression on him early in his life was the 1987 Singapore Designer’s Fashion Showcase.
That year, the Ngee Ann Kongsi grounds – where Ngee Ann City currently sits – was transformed into a giant stage. The catwalks were 24-metres long and it was Singapore’s biggest outdoor fashion show then. Some of Singapore’s most famous local designers were discovered at that show, such as Daniel Yam.
“We watched these shows for inspiration, and they were pure entertainment spectacles. You sat down to be entertained…by the clothes, the story…they were like theatrical productions. And I thought the scenes were so much more exciting, the music was fantastic, and that was what I tried to introduce to my shows at NUS,” he recalled.
Today, fashion shows on the scale of the Ngee Ann Kongsi event are few and far between. Reality bites in the form of budget constraints; labels and companies are more focused on meeting sales and returns, said Mr Boey.
“Do I wish for the glory days to come back?” said Mr Boey, “Yes, because they were fantastic shopping experiences and I wish the younger generation would have a chance to experience shopping like that.”
Mr Boey with his autobiography, which included his experiences in the fashion industry, published in 2014. Image Source: Daniel Boey
After he graduated from university, Mr Boey started a career in fashion shows, organising some of the biggest local shows over his 27-year career. This included the Singapore Fashion Festival, Asia Couture Fashion Week and Men’s Fashion Week. He was also a front row witness to Singapore’s evolving fashion scene.
For Mr Boey, the decade between the 1980s and 1990s was the best for Singapore fashion, the “glory days” for local designers.
The period was underscored by the emergence of Singapore’s iconic designers in the 1980s such as Esther Tay, Celia Loe, Thomas Wee, Tan Yoong and Woon Chor.
To Mr Boey, these designers were talents that went beyond being inspired by the stimuli of the Singapore melting pot and influence from the West.
“They managed to turn [their designs] into something that worked for Singapore; take it to the next level and adapt it to the Singapore context, be it adapting it to our weather or our lifestyle,” he said.
He cited the example of Celia Loe’s clean-cut work suits, which had hints of Anne Klein and Donna Karan. He also recalled that Esther Tay was the first to use ethnic fabrics in her work while Thomas Wee was known for his clean tailoring.
A fashion show that Mr Boey helped produced. It was staged at the now defunct Neptune Theatre Restaurant. Image Source: Mr Daniel Boey
He also remembers the best places to find local fashion designers. One was Lucky Plaza, which opened in 1978. Back then, it was seen as one of the most exciting new malls, with bubble lifts and 26 two-way escalators. Many prominent local designers such as Benjamin Tay, Henri Ho and Tan Yoong set up shop there.
Another was Mr Dick Lee’s now-defunct Hemisphere’s boutiques, where local designers could sell their creations and gather to share ideas.
Over the years, despite the evolution of local fashion, Mr Boey believes that its essence has remained the same. If he had to define what Singapore fashion was, it would be like the local fare of rojak – a local fruit-and-vegetable salad.
“We are an eclectic and multi-cultural society; we draw inspiration from so many different sources.”
Written by: Elaine Chan
This blogpost is part of the Red Dot Stories campaign