Singapore’s biggest fashion event will return in May this year with a revamped format, and with designer Diane von Furstenberg showcasing her Autumn Winter 2015 collection. Now named Singapore Fashion Week, it replaces the Audi Fashion Festival, which was formed in 2009 to promote Singapore as a retail hub through glitzy fashion shows for consumers.

Audi Fashion Festival changes to Singapore Fashion Week and DVF to showcase AW15 LOGO

The new Singapore Fashion Week has a greater trade focus and this includes a tie-up with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, whose president von Furstenberg (pictured below) will open the event with her latest collection. Outlining the event, Singapore Fashion Week chairman Tjin Lee, who also founded Audi Fashion Festival, said that the new objective is to “internationalise Singapore and regional designers”.

As part of the partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, mentorship programmes with established American designers will be run for local designers, says Ms Lee, managing director of Mercury Marketing & Communications, organiser of Singapore Fashion Week and Audi Fashion Festival.

Audi Fashion Festival changes to Singapore Fashion Week and DVF to showcase AW15 DVF

During the event this year, von Furstenberg, who popularised the wrap dress, will speak with fashion students, industry professionals and members of the public alongside Mr Steven Kolb, chief executive of Council of Fashion Designers of America. Founded in 1962, the council promotes the American fashion industry by offering scholarships and funds to fledgling fashion designers.

This year, Ms Lee says that more international buyers from top stores will be invited to the event ‒ reflecting the stronger trade focus. Previously, it was attended mainly by consumers and the media. “If I can place even one Singapore label in international stores by next year, it would be more than we have achieved in five years; I’m not talking about your small multi-label boutiques overseas, I’m thinking about the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue, Net-A-Porter and Harvey Nichols,” says Ms Lee.

Audi Fashion Festival changes to Singapore Fashion Week and DVF to showcase AW15 HANSEL AT AFF

In previous years, prominent fashion brands such as Carolina Herrera, Roberto Cavalli, Oscar de la Renta and Missoni have showcased their collections alongside home-grown ones such as Raoul, hansel (pictured above), Ong Shunmugam and Saturday at Audi Fashion Festival.

Singapore Fashion Week will cost $2 million as in previous years and is funded by private sponsors. Ms Lee says there will also be government funding for specific aspects of the event.

The annual Blueprint trade event, which runs in conjunction with the fashion week and is also organised by Mercury, will be refreshed as well. “The curation of brands will be very important this year. At the start, we included as many local designers in the trade show although some of them were not export-ready. Now, it will be about quality versus quantity to attract the right buyers,” says Ms Lee. Blueprint will also be held in May this year.

Speaking about the significance of the name change, Ms Lee says that Singapore Fashion Week carries more weight and credibility. “When I talk to international designers and invite them to show at Audi Fashion Festival, some will ask ‘What’s that?'” explains Ms Lee. Audi’s sponsorship contract ended with last year’s event.

The name SFW was used between 2000 and 2008 for a fashion trade event that was said to lack direction and support.

Local designers welcomed the changes saying that it would present more international business opportunities for designers. “AFF generated a lot of coverage and hype for my brand, but it did not really translate into buying activity among international buyers,” says Ms Jo Soh of hansel, who showcased her collection at AFF last year.

However, she pointed out that it may be difficult to lure international buyers given that the event in May does not coincide with the international buying season that is currently ongoing. “When it’s off-season it may be challenging to get them to come to Singapore,” she says.

Veteran designer Frederick Lee says that even if international buyers are willing to purchase local designs, many designers still face production issues. “There are limited resources in Singapore and designers often have to go overseas to produce their designs – this drives up cost tremendously,” he says.

Singapore Fashion Week will be on from May 13 to 17, 2015. Full details of the fashion shows and ticketing will be released in March 2015.

This story was first published in The Straits Times newspaper on February 13, 2015.