For many aspiring fashion designers who pass through the gilded gates of the annual Star Creation Asian-wide design competition, the year-long internship prize at renowned fashion conglomerate F J Benjamin could be seen as an exercise in restraint.

Last year’s winner Rebecca Corine Lam showcased her attention to detail at the winners’ capsule collection showcase at the recent Singapore Fashion Week, with paper-like cuts on leather tops. This year, she paired a similar top to a simple palazzo pant, instead of a loud, graphic skirt.

Then & Now: Rebecca's design last year (left) and this year (right)

Then & Now: Rebecca’s design last year (left) and this year (right)

Her current aesthetic — she calls it “statement minimalism” — is a result of learning that less is more. Having been exposed to luxury marketing and branding at F J Benjamin (which houses Singapore label Raoul among other brands), she has become more aware of commercialism.

“I’d use to look for the best of the best fabrics, but at the end of the day, I still have to balance out my price points and costings. I manipulate designs to work into the price range that my customers can afford. I don’t want to be too away from reality but I want to be creative as well,” said Rebecca to Popspoken.

Rebecca’s technique of combining exaggerated outfits with pieces that are easier to wear helps her customer draw attention to herself with a statement piece while ensuring the overall look is wearable.

“Everybody wants to be an artist, but at end of the day, you still have to survive,” Rebecca’s giggles attempt to soften the blow of the statement’s gravity.

Part of the survival game does not just lie in the fashion line. F J Benjamin’s buyers from various countries have taught Rebecca on what different customers want in different areas.

“North American buyers are more minimal — they like more neutral tones and simple cuts. Singapore looks for more prints, while Europe looks for quality and workmanship more. The Western buyers have more buying power and that is where Raoul is more focused towards because the price range the label is asking for is more acceptable by the West,” said Rebecca.

Then & Now: Newman's design last year (left) and this year (right)

Then & Now: Newman’s design last year (left) and this year (right)

Runners-up Newman Han and Zhou Jun seem to have taken similar messages from their time at F J Benjamin. Newman said his previous collection was heavy and included “a lot of layering”. His militaristic embellishments have given way to a cleaner look this year, but you can still spot the layering and zip details that were a key part of last year’s look.

Then & Now: Zhou Jun's design last year (left) and this year (right)

Then & Now: Zhou Jun’s design last year (left) and this year (right)

Zhou Jun’s sculptural overcoats and lapels have not totally gone away — this year’s look had equally bright colours in structured jackets cinched by a thin rope mid-body, as an ode to his Chinese heritage.

“I use colour as my language to construct my clothes. My inspiration for this collection was from London, where it is more contemporary and fashionable. In Singapore, the weather is a problem so many wear T-shirts and shorts. For designers, it is more difficult to design anything here for the autumn-winter season. I’ve tweaked my collection to have more light, breathable fabrics,” explains Zhou, who plans to open an atelier in Milan after his stint in Singapore ends.

Rebecca’s strategy is to target the younger set by adding more revealing details to her looks and hopefully, getting them to invest in a timeless, statement piece her customer can wear “more than a few times a month”. She targets her collection to be from $300 to $1,000.

However, it will take some muscle for her and other regional designers to get through to the Asian market, which is still heavily dependent on looks and trends from the Big Four fashion shows — namely, New York, Paris, London and Milan.

“For the Asian fashion scene, the customer is still drawing inspiration from the West. They will judge what their local designers are doing and draw a connection to Western trends. It will take a lot more effort for independent designers to get their name out there,” said Rebecca.

One can only hope Rebecca, Newman and Zhou’s time at F J Benjamin and winning Star Creation is the grounding they need to tackle the world of fashion.

Photos courtesy of Singapore Fashion Week

Stay updated and social with Popspoken: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram