On the cusp of another beautiful move for her brand, Priscilla Shunmugam talks about her new diffusion range, OM. Get an inside look from her atelier to backstage, shot on Huawei P30 Pro.
When fashion designer Priscilla Shunmugam wants to let you in on where she’s at creatively, you sit down and listen. Back in Singapore for a spell, the past year has brought on some serious milestones (marriage, and an international move to London for a start) and now she’s home to debut her diffusion range, OM. It’s the first time we meet in person, and her sense of self-possession is palpable. She’s also incredibly insightful: game for some real talk about what it means to grow as a designer, what drives her nine years after launching her iconic label Ong Shunmugam, and why the time is right to launch her ready-to-wear womenswear collection, OM – designed to deliver ease and empowerment…
You’ve had some big changes in your life and have settled into a city with an entirely different energy. How has this informed your work?
My work and my life overlap in many ways. I think that having unconditional support in your personal life always translates into positivity, no matter what you do for a living. I think creativity works in mysterious ways and it would be dismissive to say the move has had no effect. What I sense about being in London and working in a fashion capital is that options are wide open, expectations are sky high and you’re really in the deep end – but to me it’s all great.
You’ve evolved from being one of the most promising new designers in the Singapore fashion scene to one of the most resilient and relevant – how has your sense of purpose changed?
About five years ago I came to the realisation that I would have to go beyond Singapore. I could really feel that my head was brushing the ceiling here. I’m in no way criticising Singapore’s fashion industry – that’s just how it is. In terms of growing the brand and challenging myself as a designer and businessperson, I had to decide if I wanted to be comfortable and stagnant and keep rehashing the same formula – because you can get away with that here in Singapore. But I knew intrinsically that wasn’t what I wanted.
Being in London, I feel that it’s the right place for the brand and for me. I wasn’t entirely ready, but now I’m in the right city to talk to the right people, get the right advice and hire the right talent to get me to that 100 per cent.
I’ve realised that I only have a certain amount of time to pull this off – whatever that means – so I have to give it my all. Sometimes you can’t control things, and what I really wanted professionally came about via my personal life.
Why OM, why now?
I’ve always had a very strong instinct to branch out – not just with womenswear, but with lifestyle products, accessories and even menswear. The difference is whether it makes business sense: should you even touch it or leave your ego at the door? I wanted to wait until I’d developed a design signature, and you can’t rush that. I felt confident that we’d achieved that four, five years ago, but it comes down to execution. Do we have the capital, the resources to make a diffusion line happen in the first place? It’s happening now because we’re ready both operationally and as a brand. We didn’t want to recreate the same aesthetic as the main line, but undercut ourselves. It’s a strong departure, but people need to be able to see the DNA across everything in the room.
What did you want to explore, aesthetically and emotionally, with the OM collection?
I’m designing very much for women: it’s a very woman-focused, woman-serving line. How do women need to dress Monday to Friday? How do they want to present themselves in a professional capacity, what do they struggle with when they wake up in the morning? How are they going to decide what they want to project and what they’re feeling? I’m looking at the relationship between power, beauty, gender and clothing. And I want to provide an accessible price point that enables women to build a wardrobe that they can mix and match. I think Singaporean and Asian women are ready to accept and appreciate something like this. I want to offer women solutions.
We’re told that OM represents a ‘glorious sense of self’ – tell us about your sense of self today…
I think that with age, experience and challenges comes a sharper sense of self. It makes you decide who you’re living for. Should you let things go? If you’re fronting a brand or have a public profile the microscope is on you and there’s a certain sense of pressure. A few years back I wouldn’t have been able to say to myself: ‘I can do an interview without make-up’. I’ve learned to drop battles I can’t fight, and what are the non-negotiables for me. I’ve become a lot more confident in deciding what is most important.
What do you care most about today?
Authenticity, honesty and integrity. It sounds lofty and boring, but when you work in an industry like fashion which is plagued with so much bullshit, it matters. To be able to run my label and just do what I think is right – and speak freely – is so important.
The OM collection ranges from $149 to $399 and is available exclusively at the Ong Shunmugam atelier (by appointment only) on 43 Jalan Merah Saga 01-76 Singapore 278115. The collection will soon be launched online – watch this space.
We captured the designer and her work, from atelier to backstage and runway, with the impressive new Huawei P30 Pro. Equipped with four lenses – a powerful Leica Quad Camera System consisting of a 40MP Super Sensing Camera, a 20MP Ultra Wide Angle Lens, and a Time-of-Flight camera – the bokeh effect it creates is mind-blowing. We took it from bright to moody lighting conditions, and were impressed with the camera’s ability to intuitively switch modes while shooting, whether it was portrait mode to capture a model backstage, or macro when getting right up close to snap the detailing on Priscilla’s designs. This is, without question, the most exceptional smartphone camera we’ve handled.
This article is in partnership with Huawei