Singapore Contemporary Young Artists

Playing With & For The Community

urban body speaks/ Choice threads

Tessa Shaw
Melbourne, Australia

Known as the cultural capital of Australia, we are a proud mob in Melbourne. Art is everywhere—from lacquered alleys to the National Gallery of Victoria; local and international ballets, musicals, fashion shows, and outdoor exhibitions mean we should never be hungry for more, but we are. Our love affair with the arts starts in the architecture of Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco, and cobblestoned laneways, to festivals, shows and exhibitions that fill our calendar. It is vibrant, sophisticated, quirky, and all about its people. In ateliers the world over, haute couture is produced stitch by stitch. In Melbourne too, is a focus on things handmade and vintage. I love the view that if you can’t afford the high-end, stay off the high-street and create your own.

In contrast, I’m astounded by the sights that behold me whenever I return to Singapore and Malaysia. Luxury brands don’t seem that luxurious anymore if every other girl has one on her shoulder. Once, an expat friend (from Melbourne) based in Singapore shared, “Did you know that most girls in Singapore are able to afford Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada bags easily?” My remark was direct, condescending and probably judgmental, “90% of them are probably imitations from China.”

I was wrong, apparently. But, how could anyone on an average salary afford a bag that costs at least a monthly income, and own not only one? Paul explained: a colleague on holiday to Europe was inundated by requests from female colleagues for bags from luxury houses, being cheaper than what they would pay for on home ground.

The part that shocked me: “They don’t have to pay rent or utilities, and public transport is cheap. They still live at home. They just need to skip lunch and they’ll have enough in a short time.”

And from the women (I won’t call them ladies, because they lack the social etiquette) in question:

“I don’t want to be married to someone who can’t afford to buy me nice things. Why should I have to suffer like that if my girlfriends are able to shop online at Net-a-Porter every month?”

“He only earns $100,000; I’d be living in a condo all my life.”

“When he proposes, the diamond on the ring has to be at least 2-carat. I don’t care if it is a sh*t colour or clarity. But he can’t even afford 1-carat. How?”

“I love that (Balenciaga)! I have one too! Are you going to get the new one?”

Another Melburnian shared: “Miss M (residing in Malaysia) bought a new Hermès bracelet. Photos on Facebook.”

Photos of a new bracelet in itself wouldn’t be strange at all, except that Miss M was found in the most awkward poses, forearms taking centre stage—all the better to ‘showcase’ her latest accessory. The question I most want to ask: why do these girls want to look as if they’ve got money to burn? My father always said, “No point buying it if you have no money to put in it.” My own is, if you can’t create a well-rounded image, that $4,000 Chanel 2.55 will end up looking like a pirated fake. None of the above girls (notice the demotion) enjoy the luxury of having elite families or high-incomes. Why the need to present themselves as precious princesses?

The first drops of scorn come from me when I spot the wannabes. Next comes mutual disparagement that ebbs from one toting a YSL Muse to the next. Finally, there is the contempt at the desperation of wanting but not having what the next has. For the sake of adhering to presentation, they have lost their sense of individualism. They have forgotten who they could be.

In Melbourne, fashion seems as important as one’s name. It is easy to spot those who share the same ideals: vintage flea-market shoppers versus Vogue-type readers decked in the latest frames.

In Singapore, apparel is less important than a monogrammed purse or a quilted bag. The reasons that drive fashion in both cities couldn’t be further than black is from white. In one, we aim to present our identities through fashion. In the other, fashion is a tool to display wealth through identity, if the latter even makes a case at all.

Too many of us have forgotten how to use our hands. How many are able to thread a needle to mend their clothes? Extrapolated, how many are able to tend to a garden, or a potted plant, successfully? How many have done badly in arts and crafts classes, but have been told, that’s OK—the important subjects are after all mathematics and the sciences? Many are not handy, and couldn’t care to be creative. And we are allowed to get by in today’s world. Yet we remain fashion-conscious. Fashion exists for everyone; it is a choice, a daily task. Fashion will always be my world, and it is a world we must be discerning about.


#5 in a series of written perspectives on how the urban and the body manifest in the other, in a running accompaniment to the visual art exhibition called, well, urban body. Nine artists will present visual provocations—in a bid to expose and make tangible the cityscapes of our formed selves.

A published compilation of both art and essay will be available at the exhibition.

urban body opens on 2 august 2012, 6:30pm at the Orange Thimble, in Tiong Bahru, Singapore’s first housing estate. For details and updates, check out the event page on facebook.

Copyright © 2012 Author. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the site in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author’s name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form.

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This entry was posted on July 30, 2012 by in Others.

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