Getting creative: Looking back to old Singapore for inspiration

Getting creative: Looking back to old Singapore for inspiration

One step forward, two steps back. A photographer, a graphic design duo and a fashion designer are embracing Singapore's colorful past to inject fresh ideas into their work

The city’s imaginative minds are nostalgic for the Singapura of old.

Playgrounds, fashion designs and even long-standing homes are being reinterpreted into art to preserve our constantly changing landscape.

The Graphic Designers

The Little Drom Store Blending a little piece of Singapore's history into a piece of modern art. Owners of The Little Dröm Store, Antoinette Wong and Stanley Tan, have a penchant for the quirky and unique but their latest collection has struck a nostalgic chord.

The Playground Series is a collection of four tiled replicas of the old Housing & Development Board playgrounds back in the 1980s.

What started as a photography exhibition at M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2011 has evolved in whimsical accessories that double as memorabilia.

“We chose to showcase these old school mosaic playgrounds because they have subconsciously became almost like public art installations,” says Wong.

“They were accessible to the hearts of many Singaporeans. We've observed surprise and delight on the faces of our customers when evoked with such nostalgic memories."

"What many people have not known is that they were specially designed by a local architect/designer, inspired by children's nursery rhymes and games. We hope to educate the Singapore public about an intriguing element of our design history as a nation.”

The Little Drom Store, 7 Ann Siang Hill, +65 6225 5441.

The Photographer

Photographer Alecia Neo captures a slice of the present within a relic of the past. Photographer Alecia Neo specializes in capturing time, people and disappearing spaces.

Her works aim to preserve a sense of identity in Singaporean families who, like their country, are constantly changing.

“It’s very Singaporean,” says Neo of her latest project. “Things disappear and if you don’t consciously memorise them, they won’t be the same.”

Neo is referring to "Villa Alicia," an installation/photography exhibition with a soundscape, exhibited inside the recently-sold home of Tan Ying Hsien and Dr. Nalla Tan, his mother.

A perfectly preserved example of a typical local home from a bygone era, the house has remained largely unchanged since the 1970s and is filled with the family’s beloved photographs, collections, artworks and even handwriting on the walls -- elements Neo will incorporate into her art in tribute to the importance of memory.

Sadly, the house is to be demolished within days of the exhibition's end.

“I’m trying to show how memory is fragile,” says Neo. “It is embodied in objects. When these are destroyed, these memories will be lost.”

August 6 - 12; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 43 Binjai Park. Admission is free, for more information go to

The Fashion Designer

Ong-Shunmugam's cheongsams aren't just for the grannies. For fashion designer Priscilla Shunmugam, her label Ong-Shunmugam is all about pairing the old with the new.

Traditional Asian styling (Punjabi harem pants, vintage Chinese silk brocade) is fused with modern fashion touches (mismatched prints, geometric paneled color blocking), extending to her second collection that focuses on the timeless style of cheongsams.

“I want to distinguish myself from the crowd by doing something familiar and close to myself,” says Shunmugam. “The brand has an explicit Asian identity. I wanted to take care of my history, but I don’t want to bastardise the Asian influences.”

Ong-Shunmugam aspires to “reference a spectrum of Asian heritage," for instance her Mei Ying cheongsams are a tribute to the popular style in Singapore during the 1950s and 1960s.

But like Singapore, the designs have developed. So while the cheongsam collection adopts the classic silhouette but with a modern twist -- a lower collar, unexpected color combination and an eccentric use of lace.

“Singapore bears witness to the Asian diaspora,” says Shunmugam on the similarities between the city state and her brand. “It’s an immigrant society that keeps evolving.”

To purchase, go to

Aimee Chan is an Australian editor and writer based in Singapore. She enjoys travel, food, books and good company, not necessarily in that order.

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