The Greats

For our annual Greats issue, T Singapore is showcasing six subjects who have impressed and inspired in their respective fields. Singer JJ Lin, a Singaporean talent who has made it big in the Mandopop scene, continues his reign as one of the nation’s biggest entertainment exports. Alison Loehnis, the president of Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter, has forever changed the way we shop and experience luxury online. Paul Andrew is the shoemaker who is reimagining dressing a whole new generation of men and women, from the feet up, as he takes creative control of the house that Salvatore Ferragamo built. 

Elsewhere on our list, Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Adrian Cheng is reshaping the cultural landscape of cities in the East with his mammoth projects like the K11 Musea, that straddle the line between art and commercial spaces. Natacha Ramsay-Levi, meanwhile, has brought her own vision of feminine power to the house of Chloé, as its first Parisian designer in decades. Finally, our sixth subject, The Egg, is not human, but has already garnered 7.7 million followers on Instagram and positively impacted mental health awareness especially among the particularly vulnerable members of Generation Z. 

Enjoy the reads! — Renée Batchelor

JJ Lin

Charles Guo
 

In the early ’90s, a young JJ Lin would sit at home, listening to cassette tapes. “Compilations of number one hits of pop artists at the time,” Lin says. He remembers New Kids On The Block, Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson. “Especially Michael Jackson,” Lin continues. “Listening to ‘Bad’, ‘Thriller’, ‘Dangerous’ was how I got in touch with pop music.”

It was an “Eh?” moment, and that was it — Lin knew it was more than an inclination toward rhythm and melody; it was a means to express himself. “That’s when I started to write songs.” At the time, Lin’s brother was already playing in a rock band with his schoolmates, and, naturally, Lin became the band’s newest member. That was JJ Lin’s first steps into the world of writing and performing music — an act that would set in motion a series of events that has since catapulted him into the upper echelons of the Chinese pop industry with record deals, countless awards, and hordes of adoring fans. 

But Lin couldn’t have known it back then. A full-time career doing music? Not even in his wildest dreams. Instead, he had opted for a conventional educational route — he was enrolled in Saint Andrew’s Junior College as an arts student, and was preparing for the GCE A-Level examinations that would determine his entry into university.

“A friend signed me up for a singing course organised by independent music company Ocean Butterflies Music.” That was a turning point. Lin, who had previously thought it impossible to pursue music on a full-time basis, started to dream. 

Continue to read the full story here. Watch the video interview here.

The Egg

Jonpaul Douglass
 

If you haven’t heard of the world record egg it’s likely that Instagram that not an oft-used app on your phone. Or it’s possible that you don’t even own a smart phone in the first place. For the rest of us mired in the shame-and-reward cycle of social media, and particularly the popular photo-sharing platform, escaping the presence of the egg (IG account: @world_ record_egg) is almost an impossible feat.

The egg first appeared on Instagram on 4 January 2019 with a rallying cry — a call for users from around the world to “like” its post in order to beat the record number of likes then held by reality TV star and cosmetics mogul Kylie Jenner. And social media users responded. For some it was a way of sticking it to the man — or in this case, the perceived frivolity of social media behemoths who gained currency for essentially doing nothing but posing and posting. For others it was a wry and amusing call, simply heeded with the double tap of a button. For a third group, the egg was probably met with benign indifference. But what followed after is where the story gets interesting.

At first there was confusion about the egg’s provenance and the person behind it. There was a definite seed of intention behind its innocuous appearance. The egg could only be described as decidedly average and, well... egg-like. There was a deceptive simplicity to its ordinariness, a hidden message perhaps lurking beneath its lightly freckled shell? The egg, with its unadorned simplicity and straightforward goal, was the equivalent of Julia Robert’s character in “Notting Hill” standing in front of the world asking it to love her (or him).

Conspiracy theories abounded as to the intention behind the egg’s sudden appearance. Was this work of a particularly sardonic genius? Or a marketing ploy for some organic egg brand? It turns out the egg account was the creation of London-based Chris Godfrey, who was experiencing a slow week, immediately post-Christmas. He had chanced upon an article about Kylie Jenner topping the list of the most-liked Instagram posts in 2018 with an impressive 18 million likes. Later that evening, Godfrey posted the egg’s photo on a newly created Instagram account, in an attempt to gauge the impact and reach one post could receive on social media. He later roped in his friends Alissa Khan-Whelan and CJ Brown to help manage Eugene, a name given to the egg by an Instagram user, on its very first post. But what started as a whim has since ballooned to something much bigger and has become an allegory of sorts on the fragile state of mental health especially among the youth of today.

Continue to read the full story here.

Paul Andrew

Yusuke Miyazaki
 

When British-born designer Paul Andrew was appointed the first-ever women’s footwear design director at Salvatore Ferragamo in 2016, his career trajectory was steered in a decided path towards rising in the ranks as the shoemaker of his generation. With a three-year-old eponymous label, two CFDA awards — in 2014, he took home the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize (a rare win for a shoe and accessory designer) and two years later, the CFDA Swarovski Award for accessory design — and more than a decade of experience from apprenticeships at Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan to his name, Andrew cut a prominent figure in the industry. 

Going into Salvatore Ferragamo, which traces its beginnings back to its eponymous founder’s revered heritage in shoemaking, Andrew had big shoes to fill. Established in 1927, the Italian maison set the template of footwear for women of the time. A case in point: the shoemaker’s rainbow wedge sandals created for actress Judy Garland introduced the style of footwear as a mainstay amongst women. Birthed from the lofty ambition of a shoemaker, Salvatore Ferragamo stayed in the business of footwear until the passing of its founder. Succeeding the shoemaker’s death, the Ferragamo family took to the drawing board to reconstruct the brand into a full-fledged fashion house — presenting its first ready-to-wear collection in 1965. 

Since then, a revolving door of designers has taken up the creative directorial role at Salvatore Ferragamo. In 2011, Italian fashion designer Massimiliano Giornetti took over the reins as the maison’s overall creative director — the enlistment, a gradual climb from his initial involvement at Salvatore Ferragamo as the head of design and development of menswear. Having spent nearly a decade studying the house’s DNA on the menswear end, his vision for womenswear took its lead from the defining qualities of Salvatore Ferragamo: an elegant classicism that wore well with time. Eventually, Giornetti’s tenure drew to an end, five years later. 

Continue to read the full story here. Watch the video interview here.

Natacha Ramsay-Levi

Fan Xin
 

There’s something to be said about fashion’s ability to, somehow, exist in a different universe, playing out against some of the most dramatic world events. Amidst President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiryviolent protests in Hong Kong, and the ongoing global push for climate change action, Fashion Week was business as usual, with fashion designers presenting a slew of fabrics and tailoring options to divert our political anxieties with sartorial splendour.

Erratic wet weather was the order of the day — the last day of Paris Fashion Week, and navigating my way inside Chloé’s headquarters was a stylish refuge from the hustle and bustle of the past few days. I head for Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s office, which sits at the end of a long corridor, lined with rooms, each crammed with Chloé samples. Her studio office — surprisingly neat, considering it was just a week after Chloé’s presentation — is light and airy, thanks in part to the floor-to-ceiling windows and mirrors while the calm hues of beige and white lend a touch of romance. (I couldn’t help notice the colour since it was widely used in the collection Ramsay-Levi had just presented). Set against the row of mirrors, which double as a secret doorway to the “mess” of her fitting room, is an L-shaped sofa where we cosied up for this interview. 

“Fashion today is incredibly fast-paced,” she says, her words lightly laced with a Parisian accent and in her signature relaxed demeanour, “[but] at the same time, humanity [needs to] calm down and get slower. [This was] what I did this summer — to take another pace and think about what fashion is today and what Chloé is.” 

Ramsay-Levi took the helm as Chloé’s creative director in 2017. To her, then, the role meant taking into consideration input from the business and marketing sides. Two years in, and as one of the most inspiring female designers in fashion, she has decided to bring the focus back to her own voice. Surely, her fifth runway collection this year echoed this resolve from the designer — and more importantly, the woman — she believes herself to be. 

Continue to read the full story here.

Alison Loehnis

Takay
 

Alison Loehnis is a very powerful woman. As the president of Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter of the Yoox Net-a-Porter group, Loehnis, along with her company has helped revolutionalise the online shopping landscape as we know it. Under her guidance, Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter have expanded even further since its merger with Yoox in 2015. The group announced in Sep-ember 2019 that it would be partnering with the Alibaba Group to launch a Net-a-Porter flagship store within the online Tmall Luxury Pavilion to reach China-based customers. It currently has a reach of over three million high-spending consumers over 170 countries. Beyond simply reacting to customer trends in areas like sustainability, the group is actually kickstarting many of them by curating and presenting options for the busy, luxury shopper of today. Today you can buy not only a wide variety of clothes and accessories but homeware, cult beauty brands and even luxury watches and jewellery, from your mobile phone, office laptop or wherever else you may be browsing from. 

Although some might say that Loehnis took a bit of a detour in between, her career, in fact, started in retail. She grew up on Manhattan’s West Side. And seeing her mother’s successful career as an advertising executive inspired a young Loehnis. “It was particularly influential to witness my mother’s professional success and by default, this instilled in me both a confidence and a sense of ambition. I credit both my schooling and my mom for my love of fashion. Mum had a fantastic style,” she says. Like many college-age, American teenagers, Loehnis moved interstate to Rhode Island, aged 18, to study the history of art at Brown University. “My first experience in retail came in the form of a summer job during college when I worked on the shop floor at Ralph Lauren in East Hampton. I have always loved fashion and adored selling clothes — every aspect of it from visual merchandising and helping customers to unpacking deliveries. I found myself at home immediately,” says Loehnis. 

Continue to read the full story here.

Adrian Cheng

Leungmo
 

Next generation business leader Adrian Cheng sees dollars and signs in social currency and knowledge capital. In the past decade, the lofty ambition of creating a cultural legacy has been brewing in his mind. The 39-year-old jewellery and real estate scion, a third-generation heir of one of China’s most prominent business families, cuts an eminent figure in the Eastern end of the world but on account of an esteemed portfolio beyond a weighty family name. 

On a mid-day afternoon in July, I was standing at the centre of K11 Musea — sprawling 10-storey culture-and-retail complex sitting on a grand total of 1.2 million square feet of land fronting the sea in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui district. Inside, undulating strips of hand-painted aluminium panels lined with scattered light bulbs like stars in the Milky Way wrap around a 35-metre high atrium. Amongst them, sat a golden glass globe, gleaming spectacularly underneath the sunlight spilling in from the ceiling. This was the remarkable universe Cheng had a hand in building alongside a team of 100 architects, designers and artists led by landscape architecture studio James Corner Field Operations and architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox

The K11 Musea — a portmanteau of ‘muse’ and ‘sea’ — was born out of Cheng’s monumental 10-year pursuit to redefine the city’s retail landscape under the K11 brand he established in 2008. Dubbed the “Silicon Valley of Culture”, the colossal mega mall sets the blueprint for the future of shopping malls. “We are trying to redefine space and we don’t want to call the K11 Musea a mall. We have created an ecosystem that is all intertwined. When you talk about contemporary art, culture or design, it is all seamless and there are no boundaries. We have created something that is beyond experience,” says Cheng.

Continue to read the full story here. Watch the video interview here.