Singapore fashion label Ong Shunmugam was founded by Priscilla Shunmugam, the aforementioned winner of the Her World Young Woman Achiever 2015, five years ago to critical acclaim from Singapore fashion insiders and ordinary women who loved its combination of traditional Asian fabrics and styles with modern wearability and amazing attention to detail in the finishings and cuts.
Priscilla Shunmugam. Image: Ong Shunmugam
What could have been mere tokenism towards traditional Asian dress shapes like the qipao, the sari and the kebaya, was saved by Priscilla’s rigorous design concepts that took obvious details like frog closures, the mandarin collar and the sari blouse but reimagined them into items that could be worn on a daily basis.
Since its launch, Ong Shunmugam has seen its collections presented at Paris and Singapore Fashion Weeks, the Beijing Museum of Women and Children and the National Museum of Singapore. It has also developed an almost rabid following among Singapore’s top fashionistas, the type of women who shop for haute couture and wear luxury brands.
So, after five years of quite amazing growth, the brand has finally opened its first store – well, really, it is more of a boutique and atelier – in Chip Bee Gardens.
Ong Shunmugam Custom section of the new Atelier Ong Shunmugam. Image: Ong Shunmugam
According to Priscilla, the new space is the brand’s flagship and “was conceived to position itself as a public platform that contributes to defining a clear expression of contemporary Singapore fashion and deep considerations of what this might mean, both ideologically and aesthetically, to the present and future of Singapore”. We told you she was brilliant, right?
Ong Shunmugam isn’t JUST a fashion brand for its founder, it’s also a platform for Priscilla to express her thoughts about women in business, being proud of being Asian, and celebrating the talent of the people who actually MAKE clothes. There is an intellectual rigor and an awareness of the subtleties of the fashion industry in how Priscilla works.
The most obvious, and most visually interesting, way that Priscilla’s ideas have been manifested in the new atelier is the large clear glass window that backs the store’s shop floor and looks right in on the workroom. The team of seamstresses can be clearly seen working away on the latest Ong Shunmugam collection; the bolts and bolts of beautiful traditional Asian fabrics are lined up like soldiers across the back wall. Customers can see that this operation is no sweatshop, it’s more like the atelier of a French couture house with its staff in crisp white workcoats embroidered with the newly launched Ong Shunmugam logo designed by Singapore creatives The Secret Little Agency (TSLA).
From top to bottom: The Ong Shunmugam atelier window; the talented hands at work; the new Ong Shunmugam logo. Images: Ong Shunmugam
According to Priscilla, the new shop-cum-workspace will also “enable the label to streamline its workflow system, communications and design processes into a more operationally sustainable design practice-business model, reduce inefficiencies and expand its capacity. I think we have really done something that the local retail industry has never seen before”.
For customers this means that visiting Ong Shunmugam will be an ‘experience’ rather than just a grab-and-dash. The concept again harks back to the days of women visiting ateliers to not only buy new clothes but to build personal relationships with designers and help create themselves as they wanted to be seen and perceived.
In fact, despite the ongoing disruption of online shopping, Instagram fashion and the Kanyes of the current fashion world, many people are now looking to add value back into what they wear; this is a reaction to fast fashion and blogshops but you could also say it’s part of the growing ‘slow’ movement (slow food, slow fashion) and an increasing awareness of how the fashion industry affects the environment.
Alongside the new atelier, Priscilla has launched Ong Shunmugam Custom; basically a couture option. “Taking into account market feedback and demand, we have identified the need to plug a gap in the market for a local authority of tasteful, directional and well-made bridal and eveningwear with an South East Asian point of view,” explains Priscilla.
Ong Shunmugam Custom. Images: Ong Shunmugam
The custom option isn’t restricted to bridal and evening, you can also get workwear and daily wear pieces custom made. Sure, they’re not going to be cheap, but then perfectly cut, personalised bespoke fashion never is; and it’s definitely not as expensive as visiting a Paris atelier. Besides, an Ong Shunmugam Custom piece will still carry its distinctive mix of Southeast Asian and modern style.
As a proponent of supporting Singapore designers, I’m excited to see how much further the brand and its founder can go. Worldwide domination? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Atelier Ong Shunmugam is located at 43 Jalan Merah Saga #01-76, Singapore. For more information about Ong Shunmugam, go to ongshunmugam.com.
Looking for more inspiring Singapore women? Read our story SINGAPORE START-UP STORIES: Stephanie Chai is a luxurious role model and check out all our previous winners of Her World Woman of the Year and Young Woman Achiever of Year.
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