As part of the Vogue Singapore Foundation, an initiative to support and nurture Singaporean and regional talent, Vogue Singapore has collaborated with designer Robert Wun to design the Vanda Vogue Orchid dress. Readers will stand a chance to own this bespoke piece by Wun by entering the Vogue Singapore Foundation prize draw at $50 per ticket, with automatic enrolment if they are amongst the first 300 subscribers of Club Vogue. Made exclusively for Vogue Singapore, proceeds from the Orchid dress will go towards supporting local and regional designers.
Designed in collaboration with Wun as a response to the theme of our debut issue, ‘Arise’, the all-white bespoke dress fitted on Tsunaina serves as a symbol of new beginnings and a new age of Asian fashion. Inspired by Singapore’s national flower, the orchid, the dress captures Wun’s signature approach to sculptural and experimental tailoring, comprising a silk jacquard bodice and silk organza pleats, complete with sport jersey tendrils. As creative director and founder of his eponymous label, Wun speaks to Vogue about his creative process behind the dress, the role of feminism in his practice, and what ‘Arise’ means to him personally.
Tell us more about your research and design process for this bespoke Orchid dress.
The orchid, being Singapore’s national flower, is really something that represents the country. I use orchids as a sigil in my collections, so there was that connection from the beginning. When I was doing my research for this dress, I found that Singapore, being in Southeast Asia, has a lot of different species of orchids. Since I wanted to focus on the colour white as a symbol of a new beginning, I found one called the Medusa orchid. It doesn’t look like an ordinary orchid—it’s white and has long tentacles that drape down—and I wanted to translate those unique elements in the dress.
What about the materials used in your creation?
For this dress, I wanted to mix different ideas, materials and construction techniques. The bodice is made of silk jacquard with a wood grain, and we used silk organza for the pleats. For the orchid part, we bonded it with tricot, which is a very strong fabric that holds the shape of the orchid. We also mixed it with a few sportier materials such as jersey for the tendrils you see flowing off the dress. Instead of just giving it more structure, we added in this sporty element of contrast to make it look more abstract and otherworldly.
And how did Tsunaina feel in the dress? Was it comfortable?
It should be comfortable, I think. [Laughs] I didn’t try it on myself, but Tsunaina is used to wearing very avant-garde garments anyway. She did say that the dress fit her really well. The fitting of the dress was the most exciting thing for me. Seeing Tsunaina walking in that dress—it’s always a satisfying moment. It’s like seeing it come to life. She looked like an orchid wearing an armour in a rainforest—a bit like an elf. Tsunaina has always been kind of a muse to me because she’s so otherworldly in the way she portrays herself, her work and her music. I resonate with those otherworldly themes myself, too.
I see this time as a reset button for people to really think about how they can be more sustainable, not only in terms of the environment, but also to yourself.
What did this project and the theme of ‘Arise’ mean to you personally?
Projects and collaborations like this reignite your passion and remind you of why you chose to do this in the first place—something that I think is very important for designers. It’s time for people to really appreciate fashion; even when they may not necessarily understand it right away. Fashion should be something you can learn from. It shouldn’t be something that’s easy to understand. It should be something that you want to investigate and learn something from it. Projects like this celebrate the identity of the designer and the brand. I feel like when people talk about slower fashion, this is what it means.
I see this time as a reset button for people to really think about how they can be more sustainable, not only in terms of the environment but also to yourself. Your mental health, the way businesses should be run, the way you treat your employees, the way you grow your business. I hope that after the pandemic, people will have a fresh pair of eyes and see that you can grow slower, you can do things more precisely and enjoy the process a lot more, rather than jumping on every opportunity to grow bigger.
What was different about the making of this bespoke dress, compared to your everyday practice as a designer?
I’m always interested in the construction and pattern-cutting of a piece. With this dress, we pushed a lot further and got to experiment a lot more than usual. Because it was a one-off design, it was different and a bit more advanced than what we usually do. I love doing one-offs because I get to do things without thinking too much about logistical and commercial concerns. It was almost like I had an opportunity to do a one-dress capsule collection that distils every single thing I want to say about what my brand is about. It brought me back to when I was a student, or even before I started studying fashion, where I could just create something purely from my vision, and being able to execute it.
This isn’t your first orchid dress, and you’ve widely referenced the orchid a lot in your work. What prompted this exploration in the first place?
As a designer of colour based in London, I’ve often been pigeonholed into talking about my heritage and racial identity. I wanted to actively reject that Western gaze by reclaiming my agency to choose when and how to talk about my heritage. So this started with a collection I did for spring/summer 2019, which was inspired by the legendary female warrior, Hua Mulan. Her story is about feminism, which is very much my brand and what I believe the Robert Wun woman embodies as well. Her name literally translates to ‘flower’, ‘wood’ and ‘orchid’, the orchid being the last sigil I wanted to emphasise in the collection. That’s how my exploration of the orchid began.
You mention a lot about feminism and female empowerment in your practice. How do you think that relates to how Asian women have been typically perceived through a Western gaze?
That’s such a great question, I’m so glad you asked that. That stigma, that social norm that assumes that East Asian women are submissive—telling women you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t dress like this, you can’t dress like that. I come from a family of very strong women. That’s one of the biggest reasons I do what I do. Feminism to me is not only about femininity, and it’s not just about women. It’s about being against toxic masculinity; it’s about being against social norms surrounding gender and sexuality. These are such antiquated ideas and it’s discrimination. It’s telling people that we need to fit into a certain box in order to function in society. It’s about challenging things that are currently a singular, monolithic way—racial stereotypes; the way we’ve traditionally perceived gender; how female-identifying people are expected to act. People are different. It’s supposed to be different.
It’s time for us to not be shy and afraid to address critical issues, in order for our industry to be more human and to do better.
What do you hope for readers to feel when they see this dress in the pages of the first issue of Vogue Singapore?
I always want people to feel feminine. That’s an element that I’ve always celebrated in my work. I want them to feel a sense of escapism as well. What I love about fashion is escapism—sometimes you dress a certain way that makes you feel different versus how you feel when you’re in your pyjamas, for example. I think that’s the beauty of high-end fashion—it’s the potential to transport you to a certain reality and lead you into what feels like a music video or a scene from a movie. And when you walk in garments that you wear and you love them, they give you this invisible power.
I also really believe in celebrating East Asian talent. For this project, we felt it was important for our whole team to be people of colour: myself as a designer from Hong Kong, Tsunaina from Tibet and Nepal, and our photographer Nhu Xuan Hua who is French-Vietnamese. We wanted to send the message that East Asian talent can work together and can do something great too. We can do behind the scenes, we can do actual creative work, directional work. It’s not just a face; it’s not just tokenism.
What are your thoughts on growing as a new designer in a relatively younger fashion industry, such as Singapore?
Coming from Hong Kong, it’s not that much different from Singapore. We don’t have a fantastic creative industry, particularly when it comes to fashion. When I was younger, our government wasn’t spending a lot on the creative arts. But it’s a new era. Fashion is not just for the elite, it’s not just for people who are well-travelled. It should celebrate things that are so overdue to be celebrated and talked about. It’s time for us to not be shy and afraid to address critical issues, in order for our industry to be more human and to do better. These dialogues are so important. Magazines have a political and social responsibility and I’m confident Vogue Singapore will create something creative and exciting.
Finally, what are your hopes for the Robert Wun brand moving forward?
I always want to remind myself to be hungry and humble in order for me to get better. I’m grateful that it’s been almost five to six years now since I started and I still feel there’s so much for me to learn. I’m excited to keep going, to see what I can discover, and I hope I never lose this mindset of constant growth.
Directors: Ryan Chappell and Marc Pritchard
Designer: Robert Wun
Art Director: Henry Thomas Lloyd
Fashion Stylist: Xander Ang
Makeup: Mata Mariélle / JAQ Management
Hair: Tomi Roppongi / Saint Luke using Maria Nila
DOP: Marc Pritchard / Artists Bureau
Focus Puller: Malte Huebner / Vision
Focus Puller: Sebastian Olivares
Gaffer: Stuart Harper
Producer: Danny Needham / Artists Bureau
Post-production: Hannah / Partner Post
Video editor: Jeanne Buchi / Partner Post
Colourist: Mike Keelin / Partner Post
Designer assistants: Paula Galama, Rhea Gavin, Esther Izedomi
Visit the Vogue Studio to enter the prize draw to stand a chance to own this exclusive Robert Wun dress. See more exclusive behind-the-scenes images of the making of the dress in our autumn/winter issue, out on newsstands now.