Looking at Singaporean designer Max Tan’s androgynous clothing line and you would never think that his choice for alternative career would be comedian. His severe silhouettes and dark pieces are a bigger hit in Europe and the Scandinavian region than in Singapore but that hasn’t stopped him from aiming to make a name for himself here. Now as one of the local designers showing at Singapore Fashion Week, Max Tan might be closer to his alternative career more than ever by having the last laugh. We speak to him about his struggles and highlights as a designer as well as what it takes to succeed as a fashion designer in Singapore.
What are the biggest struggles you’ve had to face as a designer?
Trying to strike a balance between commercial viability and creativity is something that I think every designer struggles with. Listening to our buyers and end consumer feedback helps a lot. But after taking in all of that, me and my team have to see how they are relevant to our brand and our plans.
What are some of the most memorable highlights in your career?
More recently, MAX.TAN was selected as one of the highlight designers to participate in the inaugural edition of Who is on Next? Dubai, organized by Vogue Italia. Being able to be a part of a Vogue event was definitely an eye opener for me. I had the chance to present and talk through my collection with industry heavyweights such as Sylvia Fendi, Mira Duma, Christian Louboutin; but more importantly, I feel very proud to be representing Singapore in this prestigious platform.
What do you think you would be doing if you didn’t become a fashion designer?
I think I might become a comedian! I love stand up comedy! Contrary to the brand’s image and direction, I love cracking up jokes, and I have a lot of fun with my team!
Who is the woman you design for?
I would call her a Sophisticated Rebel. She dresses to please no one but herself. She understands fashion and craves for a little bit of edge in her clothes.
Is there a person dead or alive that you would love to see in your clothes?
Tilda Swinton. To me she is such a perfect blend of androgynous and quiet confidence.
What designers do you admire?
There are so many! Ann Demeulemeester for her soft and dark poetic clothes, Cristobal Balenciaga for his architectural eye on fashion, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo for their highly conceptual and intellectual approach to fashion design.
Who are your style icons?
I don’t really have a style icon. But there are a few people that inspire me, Jacqueline Teo and Zhiying Yuan from my team and Luth Seah who is the muse of the label.
Where do you usually look to for inspiration for your collections?
It is so cliché to say this, but it really is everywhere! To me, how one develops and grows the inspiration is more exciting that the inspiration itself. We don’t look for an inspiration specifically, but when something inspires me and the team, we jump right into development.
How do you think your collections have evolved from season to season?
We do different things each season. But in general I think the line of clothes have become softer, it is more accessible.
What can we expect from your collection for Fashion Week?
Collection-wise, I designed the collection with feminine details that I am usually uncomfortable with using like corsetry lacework, ruffles and fringing. The challenge was to re-interpret them in a different way.
You have a bigger following overseas than you do in Singapore, why do you think that is?
Definitely the climate. Also, I think the Singapore consumers still shop with a total look in mind. However, because of how our brand images are, it is difficult for a Singapore customer to be able to mindfully take these pieces of a look apart and decide if it can work for them.
Where do you see the brand in five years?
Under the Fashion Futures program, I’ve learnt so much. The meetups with PR reps, to seeing how businesses grow, and to hear what people say about the line of clothes makes me really excited for future plans.
We have just started to show in Paris under a showroom representative, and rounding up Paris Fashion Week with good response for our first outing in.
In five years’ time, I hope the brand will have more awareness, even better response and to really bring the label to a lot more places.
Any advice for aspiring fashion designers?
Fashion is more grit than glamour, only with passion can one reach greater heights.
Check out Max Tan’s SS’17 collection which will be showcased at at the National Gallery on the 26th Oct 9PM.