Not long ago the British footwear brand George Cleverley took its wares to Singapore for a trunk show. It was a test-the-waters experiment, since the south-east Asian city-state is not a centre for bespoke shoe-wearers (locals tend to favour easy-on slippers). The Cleverley crew rented a hotel suite and stacked it with whisky and multi-thousand-pound, Goodyear-welted shoes made from exotic skins. Clients came to stare and sip. And then something unexpected happened: Cleverley sold more shoes in one day at that trunk show than on any other day in its 53-year history.
“Until two to three years ago, not much had happened in Singapore’s [fashion and retail] scene,” says Jean-Baptiste Debains, Asia-Pacific president of Louis Vuitton, especially when compared to Hong Kong and Tokyo, with their abundance of designer labels and lively street fashion.
But now Singapore, once regarded as Asian fashion’s frumpy step-sister, a place where steamy weather and limited retail options bred a populace most comfortable in beachwear, has seen an unprecedented flurry of developments in the fashion industry.
Last spring, Singapore hosted the only dedicated men’s fashion week to take place outside Europe. In October that was followed by the only haute couture week outside Paris. In August, Global Language Monitor, a media analysis company, ranked Singapore eighth on its list of the world’s fashion capitals, ahead of Tokyo and Rome. And when H&M opened its boutique in Singapore in September, more than 1,500 people queued up to enter. In December, more than 400 fans replicated that stunt when Abercrombie & Fitch’s bare-torsoed male models welcomed shoppers to its first Singapore store, and when Louis Vuitton launched its fifth Singapore store in a four-storey crystal pavilion, it brought in the likes of actor Cate Blanchett and Japanese former football player Hidetoshi Nakata for the opening.
Even classical men’s wear is having a moment in a place with a climate hostile to jackets and ties: Gerald Shen of Vanda Fine Clothing, a haberdasher which makes pocket squares and ties with hand-rolled edges from imported fabrics, sold out most of his first collection within a month.
“The momentum is definitely with Singapore,” says Frank Cintamani, chief executive of lifestyle brand Fidé Living, who chaired both its haute couture week and men’s fashion week.
The emergence of the fashion industry in Singapore can be attributed to a growing population of free spenders. According to Boston Consulting Group, Singapore hosts the highest concentration of millionaire households in the world, with 15.5 per cent of all households holding upwards of $1m in assets under management. “Of the eight couturiers that came, four found investors here and another three will have stockists,” says Cintamani, adding that all of them had orders placed. Among the designers was Frenchman Stéphane Rolland, whose gowns sell from €35,000.
Singapore has also seen an expansion of retail space. In 2009 Ion Orchard, a 663,000 sq ft mall, opened at the centre of Singapore’s main shopping avenue. It was followed by mall refurbishments and new centres, with tenants such as Dsquared2 and Kiton. Cintamani says a dozen new labels are expected in 2012.
Another reason for the growth, according to Debains, is the large number of visitors attracted by two hospitality complexes run by casino operators Las Vegas Sands and Resorts World. “It has reinforced Singapore’s attractiveness as a tourist destination,” he says.
“Five years ago there wasn’t the critical mass of brands that exists now,” says Wei Koh, editorial director of the Singapore-based men’s wear magazine The Rake, and who hosted Cleverley’s trunk show.
As for George Cleverley, “We plan on visiting semi-annually,” says chief executive George Glasgow Jr.