Don’t call Dr Caroline Low-Heah a collector of fashion. Low-Heah, who is the medical director of Drs Jiten & Caroline Medical Centre at Serene Centre, has quietly carved out an interest in French luxury maison Dior over the last 30 years. But despite her 500-piece assortment of ready-to-wear, accessories and jewellery, she is affable and relatable when it comes to clothes. In fact, her relationship comes from a place beyond runways altogether. “I don’t collect a brand and I do not collect fashion. I’m not a fashionista. I’m very old-fashioned. I’m very formal. You see a lifestyle that you want when you go and buy a brand, right? That’s how you associate yourself with it. I keep thinking that I’m back in a Turner Classic movie,” she shares.
When asked about the beginnings of her relationship with Dior, Low-Heah is quick to point out an instinctual draw to the brand after watching a rerun of Mrs Harris Goes to Paris in 1985. It’s no small coincidence that the 2022 remake of the movie starring Leslie Manville was nominated for Best Costume Design at the 95th Academy Awards. “It’s not so much that she wanted to wear Dior anywhere, but how she spent all her time and saved all her money for that dress. That was a journey,” she recounts. At 31 years old, Low-Heah purchased a Gianfranco Ferré for Dior blouse that would cement a life-long expedition with the brand. “It was nothing about the piece. It was something that made me realise it was going to be a journey for life. And even at that point in time, I knew that I was going to collect,” she affirms.
“It was nothing about the piece. It was something that made me realise it was going to be a journey for life. And even at that point in time, I knew that I was going to collect.”
Today, Low-Heah’s wardrobe features a Rolodex of pieces from various creative directors. The thing that threads them together isn’t hype or relevancy, it is merely her appreciation for silhouettes. In Dior’s case—cinched waists, hemlines and round necks. Having collected pieces from Gianfranco Ferré, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri, she points out that the silhouette is often unwavering no matter the creative director. Her favourite creative director from the brand’s storied history, however, is Galliano. As for her most-loved piece from her collection? “I think my favourite piece is something that depicts what a Christian Dior client should look like: a high-waisted cinched skirt with a straight cut, two inches below the knee—a day dress but very formal. It brings you back to where it will be very appropriate for you to put on a pair of gloves or a little hat and go for afternoon tea but it’s actually a work dress,” she describes.
As she has navigated this journey, she notes that collecting in Singapore still carries the notion of being shallow or thoughtless. “People feel fashion is frivolous. They think collecting watches and cars isn’t. Is it okay for a man to work very hard and buy a Maserati? But oh, if a woman works very hard and buys a dress that costs $25,000? What a waste!” she laughs.
“I think the Dior silhouette allows you to carry yourself very well. Thirty years on, you will still not feel out of place because the silhouette doesn’t change.”
In a few weeks, Low-Heah is gearing up to travel to Paris for the autumn/winter 2023 season’s Dior runway show, an experience she describes as having a meal with a favourite actor. In her familiarity with the brand, we ask her how she might describe Dior to someone who has never seen it before—perhaps even to herself if she were to rediscover it all over again. “I think the Dior silhouette allows you to carry yourself very well. It comes back to the word ‘formal’. Thirty years on, you will still not feel out of place because the silhouette doesn’t change.”
For 24-year-old Rick Owens lover Eric Chai, his initial run-in with the brand was unintentional. “The first time I came to know of Rick Owens was back in 2012, when I was still in secondary school. K-pop idol G Dragon was known for trend-setting with his bold style, and he used to wear tons of Rick Owens and Chrome Hearts. That was how I grew fond of the brand,” he recalls.
Chai’s first purchase was in 2016: a pair of Rick Owens runners in collaboration with sportswear giant Adidas. He had saved up earnings from working various part-time jobs, and was enamoured by its unique split-sole design. “I used to live in Malaysia and it was very hard for me to get Rick Owens there. When there happened to be one pair that showed up in the market and in my size, I decided to just get it.”
“Most of my pieces are bought on sale online, and I tap into secondary markets for the rare archival pieces.”
His sizeable collection, now boasting close to 50 pieces, is an amalgamation of coveted runway pieces, spanning ready-to-wear clothing, footwear and accessories. Some notable picks include two variations of the Rick Owens Kiss platform boots, his personal favourite Megalace jacket from spring/summer 2020, as well as grail-worthy gems such as the Rick Owens dunks. Shares Chai of his collection: “Most of these were bought on sale online, and I tap into secondary markets for the rare archival pieces.”
Accumulating a collection like Chai’s has not come without its struggles. He touches on the scarcity of some of the rarer runway pieces as well as some garments simply not fitting him. Take for example, the Kunst shoulder jacket, a statement piece from the autumn/winter 2022 womenswear collection which proved to be a tad too small for him. “I taught myself to sketch and pattern-make an inspired version of that jacket, which blew up online and led to Michele Lamy—Rick Owens’s partner—following me on Instagram,” he shares.
“Roots can apply to staying true to yourself and not caring about what others think as well as sticking to your values.”
With the recent Rick Owens menswear autumn/winter 2023 collection being the second show Chai has attended, he still looks back on fond memories of his first Rick Owens show late last year. “It was a very surreal experience for me. For so many years I’ve watched their shows online, so when I finally got to see it with my own eyes it felt like I was dreaming. Getting to meet influencers and celebrities like Wisdom Kaye and Bloody Osiris in person was also very memorable.” In fact, the American fashion designer has inspired Chai to great lengths, and was the original spark for his decision to start making clothing himself. His brand—Eric Créer—focuses on reworked leather and denim pieces, featuring conspicuous distressing and cut-outs.
Bringing things back to the theme of ‘Roots’, Chai relates this to the origins of one’s creative journey. “In my opinion, roots can apply to staying true to yourself and not caring about what others think as well as sticking to your values. In all of Rick’s collections he always looks back to his ethos and fundamental design codes, which is very inspiring to me.”
Georgia Lee’s eye for precision is all-encompassing. Over the course of her illustrious medical career, Lee, who is the founder of aesthetic and skincare practice TLC Lifestyle Clinic on Scotts Road, has become equally as lauded for her love for fashion. Reminiscing on the start of her journey, Lee shares: “I blame it on my meticulousness. Even as a young doctor, I made sure I wore something that made me feel and look good under my medical coat.”
Lee recalls making her first serious fashion purchase in the early 2000s after time spent focusing on her practice and family. A thoughtful foray into the world of collecting quickly led her into the realm of couture. Amassing a storied line-up of pieces from brands like Christian Lacroix and Chanel, she quickly became one to watch in the sartorial space and was a fixture at international fashion weeks and street-style platforms. With her statuesque physique, enviably elfin features and sleek, jet black hair, Lee undeniably makes a natural presence in the fashion world. Her wardrobe is all but an organic extension of that. “Couture is about the little details. Behind each piece are special and dedicated teams of artisans who make sure their designs fit my body. Despite my hectic work schedule, the brands ensure I make my fittings and I enjoy the process of watching the best working their craft,”she affirms.
“I blame it on my meticulousness. I made sure I wore something that made me feel and look good under my medical coat.”
Over the course of her collecting journey, however, things have changed—namely, Lee’s relationship with eco-conscious fashion. There’s one brand in particular that has struck a chord with the phase of life she is in now: Prada. Unsurprisingly on the pulse—the Italian brand was recently named the hottest luxury label in the world—Lee’s fascination with Prada dates back to spring/summer 2008. She mentions the brand’s fantasy print in particular and an accompanying dress she’s revived on countless occasions. “The banana motif from spring/summer2011 is another print that makes me smile whenever I put it on. I believe that fashion can set the tone and mood of your day and that print always puts me in a good mood,” she shares. It’s the brand’s stance on the environment that is one of the first points to come up in conversation. “I have moved on to a phase of practicality and a conscious reduction of consumption to help with global waste management. While I enjoy and admire creativity and still love fashion very much, practicality is important.”
Lee has enforced this in different ways. While she sets her sights on future purchases in a careful and thoughtful manner—she makes special note of Prada’s Re-Nylon offerings—her current Prada collection is one that has been amassed in a way only a true fashion connoisseur can do: through moments. Working closely with her long-time stylist and collaborator Joshua Cheung, Lee looks at her pieces as notches of time. “Each piece has a special memory of when and where I wore it to. Take for instance, the white poplin shirt and skirt ensemble—it was the look I chose to wear when I first met Anna Wintour in her office. And yes, I definitely got her nod of approval,” she shares. “I enjoy the narrative behind each of Mrs Prada’s collections. It feels like I am wearing a story and that, to me, is art. Her clothes are magical that way.”
“I enjoy the narrative behind each of Mrs Prada’s collections. It feels like I am wearing a story and that, to me, is art.”
It goes without saying that Lee is a fixture within the culture of collecting in Singapore. Her advocacy, however, has been as natural as they come. As for her aspirations for the future of collecting in Singapore? “I believe it can exist. I am a true advocate of collecting and cataloguing. Every quarter, I revive and rewear pieces and silhouettes that are relevant. After that, I archive them again. I have pieces from as long as 16 years ago that I still wear today,” she shares. That’s not to say that things aren’t evolving. “As much as I love beautiful and interesting fashion, I am now making comfort a priority. I need to be able to work, eat, drink and laugh in my fashion. This is Georgia now.” And for Lee, it just might be all in Prada.
Photography Sayher Heffernan
Styling Jasmine Ashvinkumar
Hair Marc Teng using Keune Hair cosmetics
Make-up Dollei Seahusing Charlotte Tilbury
Set design Denise Chong
Set design’s assistant Jay
Producer Hazirah Rahim
Stylist’s assistants Kelly Khua and Kyann Fong
Talents Dr Caroline Low-Heah, Dr Georgia Lee and Eric Chai
Order your copy of the March ‘Roots’ issue of Vogue Singapore online or pick it up on newsstands today.