Singapore Tatler Fashion Hall of Fame (Part 2)

Close Up

April 30, 2015 | BY Dana Koh

Dana Koh looks into the sartorial vaults of this year's stylish inductees, and discovers their anthologies of personal style and fashion evolutions.

“My style has evolved as I’ve matured and I have learnt to dress for myself and not others. I’m not swayed by labels as much, although I still have a serious thing for Christian Dior” - Shabnam Arashan

There are people who call a new haircut adventurous, and then there is Shabnam Arashan who arrives at an event in a Bjork-inspired white, feathered swan dress, the bird’s neck wrapped around her torso. She stood out in the most fearless yet graceful fashion, and such juxtapositions are reflected in her daily life: she juggles being a mother to eight-year-old son Raoul, pro bono work at the Legal Aid Bureau where she is assistant director, and commitments as a director of a family-owned shipping business Selat Offshore. She also hits the gym at least five times a week, and has all the strength and a lean and mean physique to show for it. Combine that with a killer sense of style and you’ve got a fashion risk-taker who pulls off everything from a plunging back Acne Studios scuba dress to this season’s hottest runway trends from the ’70s silhouette complete with flared denim jeans to Carolina Herrera’s digital print floral frocks. Obviously, this pint-sized dynamite’s forte is in balancing measured and bold with much aplomb.

Fashion vs style—what does this mean to you?
Fashion and style are linked: fashion is dictated by collections in Paris, New York, Milan and London. So the stage is set ahead of the season for designers to dictate what would be the trend of the season. What is interesting is that designers are now drawing inspiration from the street. They are injecting “soul” into fashion from individual style, which is innate and intuitive. So there is a link to style and fashion; you can wear something together without thinking about it and can trigger a new trend. 

With whom do you talk about clothes?
I am quite surprised myself but I tend to go to men to talk about clothes and fashion in general, and seek fashion advice from. This includes my dad, husband Raj and my best friend.

What do you think of when you are getting dressed?
There’s a myriad method to my getting dressed. I base each look around a particular piece: it could be a clutch one day, a piece of jewellery the next day, a wonderful pair of shoes the day after that. I find an inspirational piece and start building from it.

Who are your style icons?
Carrie Bradshaw—yes, we all know that she is fictional but how many fashion risks did we take after watching her; she made me want to be more bold and adventurous. Her character revolutionised how woman dressed. Then there is Vivienne Westwood. She brought the ’70s punk scene when everyone was doing bohemian chic. She was different, confident, bold and controversial. She was and is still a trailblazer.

“I wore a floral wrap dress one day and my colleagues almost fell off their chairs in disbelief; they’re so used to seeing me wear pants" - Stephanie Lee 

If there is anyone whose style we have seen evolve in front of our eyes, it is Stephanie Lee’s. One of her first and most memorable fashion moments was at the Singapore Tatler Debutante Ball in 2000, when she arrived in a pristine white bustier gown—she was barely 16 then. Fast forward to today, all grown up, happily married and at the helm of property developer T S Lee and Sons, Stephanie’s fashion sense has been honed into one that is as diverse and effervescent as her personality. Looking through her wardrobe, one will find three key sections: sharp and conservative get-ups due to the nature of her corporate role; rows on rows of vibrant coloured dresses both elaborate and cocktail-appropriate to figure-accentuating numbers for nights out on the town; and myriad timeless pieces that mark milestones in her life.

What makes a woman truly stylish?
As cliched as it may sound, one should always wear the clothes and not let the clothes wear you. A truly stylish person can carry off any label without a hefty price tag and yet stay true to their personality. In addition, their overall carriage with the right attitude, humour, poise and confidence, can enhance a person’s true style.

What does fashion and style mean to you?
Fashion is a trend, which is cyclical, while style is a medium and eternal—an extension of one’s personality. More importantly, fashion can be bought but style cannot.

How do you define a style icon?
Someone who is beautiful in his or her own right and has the overall package without having to make that much of an effort or spend a lot of money.

Did your childhood play a part in influencing your fashionable ways?
Most definitely. When I was in my early teens, I always wanted to look “older” and “cooler” and would look up to my elder sister Cheryl for advice, be it fashion, make-up or social etiquette. It was only when she left to study was I left to my own imagination and inspiration to experiment with fashion. My father was and still remains my greatest critic, and was the one who bought me clothes, shoes, bags and jewellery when I was just a young girl, and till this day, he still buys fashion for the ladies in the Lee household. He has definitely moulded my style.

When do feel most attractive?
When I am happy and have peace of mind; have had sufficient time to get ready; and whenever I am in stilettos.

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