Share on:

Top Singaporean design creatives you need to know

Our pick of the trailblazers and steady hitters of different industries, from floristry, to design and fashion.

Anyone who came of age before the Internet can tell you how much faster the world has become. News, trends and innovations have always come and gone, but today they’re chewed up and spat out faster than you can ask: ”What’s new?” Social media makes potentially hot trends go viral almost instantly. But soon after it flares up, it’s swept aside to make way for the next new thing.

In such a rapidly changing environment, leading creatives have learned to stay in the game by staying ahead of it. They improvise and experiment, savvily adapt to current tastes, and seek inspiration from the avant garde. They put a fresh spin on their aesthetics while staying relevant and true to their own personal callings.  And in the course of that, they get our vote for being ahead of the pack.

Here’s our pick of some of the fast risers, trailblazers and steady hitters of the different industries.

FLORIST

John Lim, founder of Humid House

John Lim of Humid House

Talking to John Lim, the founder of Humid House, is like taking a class on modern art.

The botanical design studio creates floral arrangements that reference ”impressionist paintings”, the ”sculptures of Tara Donovan and John Chamberlain”, and the ”choreography of William Forsythe”. For good measure, he also turns to cinema ”to give us the vocabulary to describe narrative and mood”.

Small wonder then that almost everything Humid House creates looks like no flower arrangement you’ve ever encountered. The compositions are askew. The colour combinations are by turns complementary and clashing. The flowers look like alien life forms.

(RELATED: Humid House: Meet the man creating spectacular floral and plant arrangements for Singapore’s wealthiest)

But their uniqueness is precisely why Humid House has become the go-to florist for the elite. Though incorporated only last year, the studio has amassed an enviable client list that includes Gucci, Cartier and Kenzo – as well as many socialites and celebrities. Lucy Liu’s recent gala dinner to mark her debut art exhibition in Singapore featured Humid House creations on every table.

Mr Lim studied architecture at The Copper Union in New York, where he met Wee Teng Wen, the co-founder of The Lo & Behold Group. The group owns private members club Straits Clan where Humid House runs a floral concierge.

Having worked for starchitects Steven Holl in New York and Ole Scheeren in Beijing, Mr Lim says his architectural training teaches him to read a space astutely: ”For example, the proportions of a room may call for an arrangement or installation that’s large, imposing and tower-like, or, conversely, modest, lateral and sprawling.

”Our design for a wedding at Fullerton Bay Hotel had hanging garlands the shape of the inverse of the roof trusses, which celebrated the architecture and expansiveness of the space, while the overhanging effect of the garlands brought a layer of intimacy to the festivities.”

Mr Lim explains: ”Our seven-member core team is very focused on form and shape. We judge many of our arrangements formally, as we would, sculpture.”

The 34-year-old says he has never taken a course in floral arrangement – unless you count the YouTube videos he turns to, to pick up practical tips. But he did grow up surrounded by verdant flora: ”My paternal grandfather was an avid gardener. We had the best fruiting trees – mangoes, rambutans, chikus and papayas. So I’ve been interested in plants and flowers since I was a child.”

That interest has certainly evolved into the eclectic and esoteric: ”I have a weakness for the oddballs: Alliums that curl themselves into knots; flowers that resemble genitalia or don’t resemble flowers at all, ingredients that are prickly, aggressive and unlovable to most… Right now, I’m excited for the spring arrival of the fritillaria, an exquisite-looking plant.”

Google ”fritillaria” and you’ll find large, droopy, bellshaped flowers that look dead even when they’re alive. But that morphological kink is precisely why Mr Lim thinks they’re fascinating. And chances are, he’ll make you think so too.

Humid House’s reputation has extended beyond these shores, with enquiries increasingly coming in from global clients. Yet when asked what his dream assignment might look like, the cosmopolitan Lim offers a reply that suggests he’ll always be a Singaporean at heart: ”We’d love to have a platform to develop a national conversation around regional flora. We’d love a residency at the Botanic Gardens where we’d have the freedom to use ingredients foraged from the ground.”

Website: humidhouse.com. Instagram @thishumidhouse.

 

SPATIAL DESIGNERS

  • Leong Hon Kit and Si Jian Xin of Wynk Collaborative

    Leong Hon Kit and Si Jian Xin, Wynk Collaborative

    Design firm WYNK Collaborative may not have millions of followers on Instagram, but they don't need to. Not when the spaces they've created - the tech-enabled grocery and dining concept, habitat by honestbee; cocktail bar The World Is Flat at Changi Airport Terminal 1; and the lobby of The Projector cinema - have already been widely photographed, posted on the social network and become 'like' magnets all on their own steam.

    Still, partners Leong Hong Kit and Si Jian Xin say that designing Instagram-friendly spaces was never on their agenda.

    ''If we did that, we would really have lost the plot,'' says Mr Leong, 38.

    Mr Si, 37, adds, ''We design spaces that people want to visit, and the results are such that these places attract a lot of Instagram 'likes'.''

    The firm formed in 2011, and while they began with designing home interiors, they are now better known for commercial spaces - largely F&B joints and offices.

    On their design philosophy, Mr Leong says, ''if you strip away the colours and the materials, we are really functional designers. We look at how people use the space, and how to design a space to help businesses.''

    Mr Si adds, ''our ethos is to make spaces experientially variant and fun. We leave it to visitors how they want to use them.''habitat by honestbee has been their most significant project to date, not only for its size, but also the complexity. ''It was almost like we were masterplanning the space and not just designing the interiors,'' says Mr Si.

    To design habitat by honestbee, they had to think about the future of retail, how to integrate technology into grocery shopping and dining, and at the same time not make the space feel too foreign.

    With F&B joints, they say that while the food is still the main selling factor, having outstanding interiors help too. ''Especially now when people remember restaurants not only through their taste buds but their phones too,'' says Mr Leong.

    He proudly declares, ''all the F&B projects that we have designed are still standing even after their first lease has expired.''

    Their foray into designing F&B spaces started with Standing Sushi Bar at Raffles Place in 2014, where they took inspiration from a Japanese fish market. Happy with the results, Lim Huinan and Howard Lo, founders of Empire Eats hired them for their next outlets including Tanuki Raw and The World Is Flat. Wynk is currently working on another three more projects for them.

    ''After five years of working together, we have developed a tight rapport and understand each other's working styles and preferences,'' says Ms Lim. ''Over the years, they've learnt to strike the delicate balance between design integrity and budget constraints. We really like their originality, which is why we continue this relationship, and strongly recommend them to our friends.''

    Mr Leong reckons that their popularity stems from the way they do more than just design a space. ''We consider branding, marketing, user experience, comfort and technology for our clients,'' he says. ''Choosing nice materials is the easy part.''

    For example, noting how Singaporeans dislike bar stools, they used conventional chairs at the counter of Tanuki Raw, but created a sunken space behind the counter so staff can still engage with diners.

    The duo also check our other F&B outlets to see how they're run. ''It is important to have a holistic view, so that we can incorporate it into our next project,'' says Mr Si.

(RELATED: Singapore designers try new retail concepts to stand out from competition)

 

FASHION DESIGNERS

  • Priscilla Shunmugam of Ong Shunmugam

    1. CONCEPTUAL ETHNIC WEAR

    Priscilla Shunmugam, Ong Shunmugam

    The go-to designer for elegant Asian chic has come a long way from nine years ago when 'lawyer-turned-designer' was perpetually prefixed to her name - almost like an excuse for her fashion 'hobby'. Today, Priscilla Shunmugam is a leading light in Singapore's fashion industry, with her label Ong Shunmugam an established cult favourite of Singapore's most stylish women.

    ''I always design for an intelligent woman - one who makes consumption decisions based on design as well as thought,'' says Shunmugam. That is what sets her apart from the rest - her ability to tap into the psyche of the modern Singaporean woman who loves fashion but craves authenticity.

    Her design aesthetic focuses primarily on her reinterpretation of traditional Chinese, Indian, Malay, Peranakan and Sikh womenswear.

    ''While the national dress still exists, it's increasingly confined to postcards, museums, ceremonial occasions, festive parades. But on the other hand, it seems to need validation from a Western or an established brand/ designer before it can find currency in the fashion system. Fashion as an instrument of identity negotiation and symbolic profiling — this becomes augmented on so many levels when you talk about Asians and Asian traditional wear — this is what interests me and ultimately drives the work that I do.''

    For her, it's also about taking a progressive design approach. ''The huge challenge for us lies in taking traditional garments or textiles that the current generation of Asians consider to be outdated or restrictive — and fashion a rethink of them in some small way.''

    Her appeal has extended beyond Singapore as well. ''We entered the Hong Kong market in April 2018, which I have wanted to do for years. Women in Hong Kong embrace fashion in a way that makes them a dream to dress. We also began producing in London in November 2018, working with a partner studio in East London.''

    Atelier Ong Shunmugam is located at 43 Jalan Merah Saga, 01-76

(RELATED: “If you can design but can’t cut (cloth), then learn”: says fashion director Daniel Boey to Singapore’s young designers)

A version of this article was originally published in The Business Times.

Photos: Humid House, Wynk Collaborative, Asolidplan, Ong Shunmugam, The Missing Piece & Stolen