He’s the founder of Ad Planet, Singapore’s largest independent advertising group. Affable and ever stylish, he still shows the fire that made him a trailblazer when he first set up his own advertising agency during a period dominated by international names. “Thirty years ago, there was a big bias against local talents,” Adrian Tan reminisces. “My crusade was to change that. I’m happy to note that many local talents have gone on to win the equivalent of the Oscars for advertising awards.”
What he doesn’t add is that no fewer than 400 of those creative awards, including honours at the prestigious Clio Awards and Cannes Lions, have been won by agencies in the group, Kinetic Design and Advertising and Germs. “I am very much for the underdog,” he says with a grin. “I have always had a lot of rebellious energy inside me, to constantly test limits and break the rules. My cause has always been to prove the impossible, to prove naysayers wrong.”
I try my best not to be fashionable.
I think fashion is for the crowd and I have always gone against the crowd. Advertising is about creativity and originality, so if the shop assistant tells me something is “this season”, I won’t buy it.
My fashion icon is Socrates.
He’s the one who propounded the saying “Know thyself ”. You can’t wear anything without knowing who you are and who you want to be.
Having a fit and toned body is important.
That’s because you will wear clothes so much better. I have given up the challenge of trying to get a six-pack and am just trying to avoid the paunch. So, in one week, I hit the gym four times, play 18 holes of golf three times and walk my dog 12km. I used to be a competitive tennis player but my knee has given out.
I really like the style of the Japanese.
That’s because they have this quirkiness. I like Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons. I also like Prada, Gucci and Etro.
I am very tactile.
Fabric is important to me and it limits the kind of clothes I buy. I like the look of linen but it’s too rough so it’s a no go. That’s also why I cut the labels off all my clothes – they poke into me! Super fine cotton is my favourite and my work pants are all tailored out of silk wool with a thread count of Super 150.
I don’t wear watches.
I don’t like anything on my skin and things like rings interfere with my golf, so I wear my wedding ring on a chain around my neck, with a pendant made up of the letters A and T, which my wife gave me more than 35 years ago.
I have always been careful about how I present myself.
I can’t recall many fashion faux pas, except perhaps when I was the guest of honour at a polytechnic graduation ceremony. I think I was wearing a suit that was a little too oversized. But it was during a period when everything was baggy!
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I realise the strategy of making an impression.
This is related to when I go for pitches. I have gone to meetings in red or pink jeans with a jacket. I also have a pink Paul Smith jacket, which has become a favourite because it always seems to win me the account. I also sometimes go for formal meetings dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. As an ad man, I think I have the creative licence to be different, to be a bit of a fashion rebel.
My style today.
My style is about being understated and focused on the classics because money is precious. What I buy, I wear all the time, so the utility value is very high.
My management style is very flat.
I don’t see myself as a boss. When I was first put in charge of a company, I was embarrassed to be the MD or the CEO, so I would leave out the title on the business card. Until someone said I had to include one, so now the title has morphed into “towkay”.
PHOTOGRAPHY TAN WEI TE & ZAPHS ZHANG ART DIRECTION FAZLIE HASHIM