After an eight-month mentoring process and a virtual finale, the winner of Singapore Stories 2020 has been crowned: Carol Chen. Organised by the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF), Chen will be walking home with a runway debut at Paris Fashion Week with Fashion Division, have her designs exhibited at the Asian Civilisations Museum, and a retail opportunity with Asian fashion-focused retailer, SocietyA.
“Carol is a great example that you can realize your dreams when you work hard, are passionate and have a clear vision,” says Chen’s mentor, Bettina von Schlippe. “For Singapore Stories she changed her entire career path, took a risk and was rewarded for her bold moves with her win. I am very pleased that she will have the opportunity to showcase her ideas internationally.”
In celebration of Chen’s win, we catch up with her on the inspiration behind her winning collection, her creative journey and her hopes for our local fashion scene.
Congratulations on winning Singapore Stories 2020, Carol! How do you feel?
Amazing! I’m humbled and exhausted, but grateful and overjoyed. It was a long and difficult process, but my collection really came together in the end and I was so happy with the final product. We only needed five looks but I managed to create a total of 27 pieces including accessories. I cried when the models came out on the runway.
Your label is set to show at Paris Fashion Week—what are you most excited for?
Being able to pay tribute to a country I love so much on an international stage, as well as launch my first full collection during the most iconic week in fashion. I also plan to document my whole experience in Paris on Instagram @lifebycarol and @carolchenofficial to show people what really happens behind the scenes!
What do you want people to feel when they wear a Carol Chen piece?
Strong, empowered, sophisticated, and beautiful. I want my woman to feel like she can take on the world and do anything she puts her mind to.
It’s been an eight-month journey since the start of Singapore Stories 2020. How do you think this journey has influenced your creative process?
I always have a million ideas so it was hard to narrow everything I wanted to do down to five pieces. But with the help of my mentors, I was able to keep editing until I had a cohesive capsule collection that still showed my range of skills. I wanted to show that I could do everything from ready-to-wear to couture but still maintain a consistent aesthetic. I felt proud that I was able to achieve that.
What was your inspiration behind your Singapore Stories collection?
Singapore is such an impressive, world-class city that I wanted to glorify it as a city of the future. I wanted to tell a story of a magical country that won me over with its contemporary architecture, beautiful gardens, and emphasis on sustainability; a story of an inclusive nation where there are four official languages and a diverse population; and a story of a place where nature and technology are inextricably intertwined and innovation is not the exception but the rule. I entitled my collection “Neoterica” to depict this modern world.
How did you translate those themes into fashion?
I used laser-cut fabrics and unconventional materials to mimic notable buildings like “Reflections” at Keppel Bay and iconic sculptures like the “Crystal Clouds” at Jewel. I incorporated traditional Zardozi embroidery in floral motifs to honor Asian craftsmanship and celebrate our Garden City. I used recycled fabrics and mixed traditional and avant-garde silhouettes to bring together the past and present in a sustainable way. I also 3D-printed my own accessories and made some pieces transformable to portray Singapore as a leader in technology and innovation.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while designing this capsule collection?
COVID-19 was obviously a major factor for everyone, and it was hard sourcing fabrics and getting things done while we were in lockdown mode. But I was also running two other businesses at the same time, Covetella and Maskela, both of which demanded my full attention. Luckily I had a good team to help me juggle all three ventures, but I was literally working around the clock (usually until 4 to 5am) for months. There were times I was so overwhelmed that I wanted to drop out of the competition, but my wonderful fiancé and friends helped support me through to the end.
As a local fashion designer, what do you think is the defining characteristic of Singapore fashion? What are your hopes for the future of Singapore fashion?
I find Singapore fashion a bit binary in the sense that it’s either very casual and affordable or very expensive and luxury-focused – there’s not a lot of options in between. I do feel like there is support for local labels but only up to a certain point; any investment pieces usually require the stamp of a big international brand. I hope this changes because our homegrown talent can only be nurtured with consistent demand, and it would be great to see a more dynamic range of styles in Singapore.
Finally, what’s next for Carol Chen?
Hopefully, taking over the world! I want to inspire the next generation of local designers by proving that even if you start in a small city like Singapore, you can still make it big globally. If it wasn’t for all the support I had here, I may have never found the courage to design and launch my own label again. For that, I will always be grateful to this country and proud to represent Singapore wherever I go. But it’s also important to push yourself outside your comfort zone and spread your wings as far as you can to reach your ultimate potential.