One of Singapore’s most popular, and beloved, fashion designers Priscilla Shunmugam has launched a new Cruise collection that’s all about love … and beautiful dresses
Ong Shunmugam, the brainchild of Singapore designer Priscilla Shunmugam, is one of the country’s most popular fashion brands. Priscilla’s unique take on creating clothing that celebrates women, most especially Asian women, has seen her become the go-to choice for fashionistas in both Singapore and abroad.
Combining a modern, very wearable aesthetic in cut and fabric, with the traditional motifs of Asian textiles, Ong Shunmugam has quickly become the label to buy if you want to be proud of being – or living in – Singapore and Southeast Asia. Priscilla’s brand is particularly known for combining batik fabrics in multiple colourways with flattering peplum and straight skirt cuts. She’s equally well known for her annual Cheongsam collections that riff on the traditional Chinese costume in a fun, modern way.
With her new collection, however, Priscilla has stepped outside her comfort zone in a major way. The Love Letters Cruise 2018 collection not only eschewed the now iconic mix of antique traditional fabrics, the mandarin collars and peplum skirts, it opened with black, white and text.
Love Letters was launched to a roomful of fans on August 24, 2017 (most of whom turned up in their own pieces of previous Ong Shunmugam collections) as the brand’s first stand-alone fashion show of 25 looks. The concept behind Love Letters was Priscilla’s ‘homage to the expression of modern love through the written word’.
“Love Letters is about the recovery, in the modern mass of communication, of faith and belief, and of the very promise that when you commit pen to paper, sometimes the world gives you back gifts of immeasurable beauty,” explained Priscilla. She also briefly alluded to her ‘finding love’ while designing the collection, and that she had been working on the collection in various iterations for some time.
In some ways it was obvious that the collection had evolved over a period of time, and via various incarnations. There were a number of outfits that seemed very ‘not Ong Shunmugam’ on first look … the black and white dresses and separates embellished with a series of personally chosen quotes about love particularly stood out as being very different.
A few colour-blocked dresses in a simple shift cut also didn’t seem to have been designed by the same creator as the beloved ‘Cheongsam dresses’ the brand is best known for.
Fans of the brand were likely more relieved to see the large floral prints created specially for Ong Shunmugam from China, India, Indonesia and Japan. A modernised version of a traditional blue and brown floral batik print stood out as a neat homage to Priscilla’s designing roots and referenced her previous collections nicely.
There are also a series of more muted printed dresses and separates that worked somewhat as a bridge between the more minimal pieces and Ong Shunmugam’s more expected brighter prints. A number of ‘fringed’ lacy looks kind of fit into this transitional group but not quite; apart from the colour – black and white – these almost lingerie style looks appear to be rather different from Priscilla’s previous style. Perhaps they were influenced by the bespoke evening dresses she also designs.
It’s understandable that a designer would not want to be pigeon-holed into being a ‘Cheongsam’ label or restricted in scope and scale by relying on antique fabrics sourced ad hoc around Asia, however, it’s just as understandable that brand loyalists will want what they ‘know’ from that brand. It is very hard for designers to move outside of the comfort zones of both themselves and their customers at the same time.
Ong Shunmugam’s Love Letters Cruise 2018 collection could be perceived as being a little schizophrenic in that there appeared to be three distinctly different voices on the runway and seemingly three different perspectives on the brand’s DNA. At the same time, the three different statements could be interpreted as offering something for everyone; for reaching out to a wider audience of customers. After all, not everyone wants to wear a mixed batik print peplum dress for every occasion.
Overall, this latest collection from Priscilla Shunmugam is an interesting move on her behalf; she is stepping out of her established space and moving more fully into traditional ready-to-wear with a much broader take on what women are looking to wear. It will probably take some time for the designer to become as firm in her position on these new shapes, cuts and colourways as she is in her previous world of mixed prints, traditional fabrics and classic cuts. Loyal fans of Ong Shunmugam will either love or hate this new collection, but the brand could equally find new fans for this new perspective.
Ong Shunmugam Love Letters Cruise 2018 collection is available exclusively from Atelier Ong Shunmugam at 43 Jalan Merah Saga 01-76. Prices range between $399 to $999.
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