To Andrew Gn, the double display window at the now-defunct Colette in Paris back in 1998 was life-changing—a true turning point of his career as a designer, which he had been tirelessly working towards since establishing his eponymous label in 1996. Since then, the Singaporean designer not only regularly shows at Paris Fashion Week but finds his mesmerising works captured everywhere and on everyone; from Queen Rania of Jordan to a growing roster of A-list celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Fan Bing Bing and Kareena Kapoor—who are just some of the global names who have chosen to wear his works to the red carpet and beyond. Now, 25 years on, Gn is choosing to hold his first-ever retrospective, and there is no better locale to host it than his homeland itself.
For close to a four-month window, a comprehensive breadth of all his storied creations will be showcased through ‘Andrew Gn: Fashioning Singapore and the World’, at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore. On view are five different sections that take a deeper dive into his breadth of work spanning across 28 years. With over 100 archival pieces on display—each one a gift from Gn himself—curator Jackie Yoong also worked closely with the designer to fully bring the exhibition to life and ensure each theme would be able to enunciate a crucial element of his designs.
At the heart of it, the cross-cultural nuances of Gn’s works and how his Asian roots inflect much of his designs were an imperative part of the exhibition—elements which Yoong found profoundly important to be told from an Asian, if not Singaporean, perspective. “When talking about this idea of Western fashion and Asian traditions, I often find that it’s a false dichotomy—and we try to break that down in our museum. Subconsciously, again and again, Andrew Gn draws from his Asian roots in his designs. So rather than through a Western lens, we think it’s important to talk about Asia from Asian perspectives instead,” Yoong elaborates. And it’s thus elucidated through an entire section of pieces that demonstrate the diverse moodboard of inspiration: from Indonesian batiks to Chinese porcelain and the Turkish kaftan silhouette.
Beyond that, the retrospective does not forget to divulge on his love for the art world—see his embroidered reimagination of Claude Monet’s dazzling ‘Water Lilies’, the signature series which the French Impressionist was best known for. Forces of nature too, sit as an integral part of his works. Be it corals or butterflies, a discovery of his signature design elements can be gleaned from the immersive exhibition; a unique RFID tag will be given to each visitor, allowing one to virtually collect and uncover his iconic motifs at designated stations. Before having it all culminate in an augmented reality (AR) booth at the end of the exhibit, where you will be allowed to create your own dress design using the motifs you have collected.
Here, Vogue Singapore speaks to the contemporary fashion designer, Andrew Gn, on what we can expect from the exhibition at Asian Civilisations Museum, opening on 27 May.
You’ve chosen Singapore, your homeland, to be the first site of your exhibition. How do you feel about it and how would you say your personal roots come into play in your works?
I left Singapore in 1987, after my military service, and I could never imagine coming back home to this. Obviously it’s very emotional for me because it’s this strange feeling that when you get older, you realise that you’re coming full circle and coming back to this, my roots. I’ve never felt more Singaporean than when I’m in Singapore. And it’s interesting because you cannot really pin down a Singaporean style, because we were brought up in a multicultural and multiracial society.
I cannot really pin down a specific style that says Singapore but all these different things—India, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, even Japan and Korea—were part of my growing up process. And I sort of integrated that. Singapore is a port city; it often exports, imports, lots of people come in, going out and that constitutes our society and our world. I think that was really a very interesting beginning of our identity as a global and cosmopolitan city. So for me, it was a very effortless way of approaching all of this; combining all these elements together came really naturally to me. It’s a sense, rather than a style because we have a certain innate way of looking at things.
What went into the thought process of choosing the pieces for this exhibit—which you worked closely with Jackie Yoong for?
It’s a lot, having to choose only 160 from 10,000 pieces. So we sort of brought out all the catalogues instead of going to the archives. We started with choosing what we like and what we thought was meaningful for us. Jackie also obviously knew how she wanted to classify them as different themes. So that served as the backbone in criteria and it was quite incredible going back to my atelier and uncovering all my archives that had been tucked away. It was also about going back to the original roots of Andrew Gn.
It’s amazing that you kept so many of your pieces. Could you share with us more about any particular piece that you wish to highlight from your 100-strong collection?
I’m always obsessed with corals for some reason. The first time I saw corals was actually through the National Geographic magazine when I was a kid. And you know, they were talking about the deep sea, and I was most fascinated by this live form. Because they’re the most important thing in the ocean because they create, protect, and generate life. And so it’s a recurring motif coming back all the time. The first time I did it was 2006 or 2005 and it came back again in 2010. Very recently, about two seasons ago, we did a collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to bring the awareness through social media. So there’s a red-and-white coat dress in the exhibit—and that, to me, is one of the most sensational pieces and means a lot to me because it was actually the last piece that the embroidery work was still done in France, before we moved production to India.
What do you hope your audiences can take away from this exhibition?
I really hope that when they leave this exhibition, they start thinking that Singapore might not be the largest country in the world, but we can definitely dialogue with the world in the language of beauty. Then hopefully, this exhibition will bring more Singaporeans to go towards the art path, the fashion path. This is my intention—to encourage more people.
‘Andrew Gn: Fashioning Singapore and the World’ will be open at Asian Civilisations Museum from 27 May to 17 September.