Tatler Scions In New York City: Mae Tan And Twins Brandon and Julien Leo
It was a quiet, misty Saturday morning in May. We were in Brooklyn, right at the corner of John Street and Adam Street, and we’ve got quite the view.
Mae Tan, and twins Brandon and Julien Leo are nailing this issue’s cover shot, in front of the majestic dusty‑blue Manhattan Bridge, which is shrouded in fog.
The three Singaporeans are old friends, who haven’t seen each other in a while—the Leo twins have been studying in New York City for the past two years, while Mae will be moving over in August. Both their families are influential retail players in Asia, but these scions have dropped everything to make their own way here.
Brandon and Julien Leo
They are the 23-year-old twin sons of Tina Tan‑Leo and Lionel Leo, prominent names and entrepreneurs in Singapore’s fashion retail scene during the 1990s and early 2000s. Mum was most noted for founding fashion retailer The Link Group, and bringing in the Gianni Versace brand onto our shores in the late 1970s. She’s now focused on Privato, a company that curates luxury trunk shows for top private customers.
“Dad’s company is One Road Capital, which works on various projects related to China’s Belt and Road initiative,” explains Julien, the younger of the two brothers.
School and music
While they used to help out with Privato trunk shows, now they’ve got music on their minds and are working hard to make a name of themselves in the notoriously tough industry. The twins are studying at the Gallatin School of Individualised Study, a college within New York University (NYU) that offers them the flexibility to create their own interdisciplinary course. There, they blend music, film, acting and business courses.
Outside of school, they create music together under the name Sky 2, which is derived from their Chinese names Tien You and Tien Tong (tien means “sky” in Mandarin), as well as with a larger musical group called Kin Collective.
“We are releasing an EP under Kin Collective at the end of this summer, along with a music video or two,” reveals Julien. “We take data analytics classes in school, so we use the data from putting these new tracks on Spotify and YouTube to understand who our audience are, and shape our future projects accordingly,” affirms Brandon.
The twins bring bromance to a whole new level. It may be no surprise how in sync both of them are with each other—after all, they do live together, go to the same school and create music together. When we first meet, I could only tell them apart by their hairstyles. They seem so identical beyond their looks too: same musical heroes, mannerisms, and very adorably, the way they encourage each other when they nail a picture during our photo shoot, with their secret handshake.
But by the second day, I realise that they are, in fact, each other’s yin and yang. In music, they specialise in very different but complementary roles. They play to each other’s strengths and finish each other’s sentences.
They say it’s a city of dreams, but that happens only if you put your heart and soul into it,
— Brandon Leo
“Before moving to NYC, we gave ourselves a self-imposed deadline to release a few songs. Because we were so consumed by that project, the fact that we were relocating didn’t hit us until we stepped on the plane,” explains Brandon. “So when we arrived, we were extremely homesick for the first couple of months.” Then they started soaking up the vibe of the city.
(Related: 4 Reasons To Visit New York’s TWA Hotel)
Their love for NYC
Julien reveals, “I love this city. With every couple of blocks, New York is a different town with different people and establishments. Walking that extra block or taking a scenic route always results in a new discovery.”
“Here’s the thing about New York too. Everyone is hustling. They say it’s a city of dreams, but that happens only if you put your heart and soul into it,” says Brandon.
“The last time I was in New York for a holiday two years ago, I left feeling uncomfortable. I felt really small in a big city. That’s why I’ve chosen to move here for a couple of years,” explains Mae. “I’m so sheltered in Singapore. I get everything I need easily—too easily. But I need to learn to be independent. I’ve got to learn how to grow up.”
There’s a fire within her to strike out on her own. The 24-year-old social media influencer, who is @marxmae on Instagram, has always had that strong need to be independent.
Mae on TV
At 17, she travelled to South Korea to shoot a travelogue called Miss Korea: I’m Mae for Korean entertainment channel, Channel M, and stayed in a backpacker’s hostel for two months.
At 20, she filmed another travel show, Wondernesia, under the TLC cable network produced by Discovery Networks Asia Pacific, roughing it out in different villages in Indonesia over a couple of months. “It put everything in perspective. I realised how lucky I was.”
Her work on TV isn’t over—her next project is a reality show with Netflix titled Singapore Social.
(Related: Mae Tan Steps Into A Kenzo World)
Her love story with Surrender
Mae's other job is fronting multi-label store Surrender, where she started working as a sales assistant in her late teens. It was her first part‑time job, while she was still studying fashion at Lasalle College of the Arts but she didn’t complete her course then.
Working at Surrender allowed Mae to be constantly surrounded by great menswear tailoring from the likes of Thom Browne and Visvim. She gushed, “That was how my love for luxury bespoke fashion grew.” As did her passion for fashion retail.
How Surrender and Mae grew
In 2013, D’League, a company that distributes Richard Mille watches in Asia, and is owned by Mae’s father, Dave Tan, fully acquired Surrender. Her father placed Mae’s older brother, Bryan (who is four years older) in charge of the boutique, while Mae assumed the position of sales executive.
Under the siblings’ charge, Surrender has pushed boundaries in its own way. It’s the first independent boutique locally to host a Louis Vuitton pop‑up store, which was dedicated to the 2017 capsule collection designed in collaboration with Japanese designer Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment Design.
(Related: OLED Screen Bags Debut At Louis Vuitton's Cruise 2020 Show In New York)
D’League’s fashion arm also distributes highly-coveted cult labels Off-White and Christian Dada, among many others. Mae works with Off‑White founder and Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director, Virgil Abloh, whom she often invites to Singapore for exclusive Off‑White pop-ups. “My role at Surrender now is creative manager, which is odd I know, but it’s because I know I’m not experienced enough to be a creative director.” Meanwhile, Bryan has recently moved into management and works closely with their father at Richard Mille.
“I don’t want to lead when I’m not ready, and that’s why I want to go back to school. The last time I was in school, I didn’t even finish my course. I dropped out to work. But now, it’s time to suck it up. I need to have personal growth, and I need to learn. And I want to go somewhere that is completely out of my comfort zone.”
I don’t want to lead when I’m not ready, and that’s why I want to go back to school.
— Mae Tan
Mae and her mother
While we speak to Mae about this new chapter of her life, we are having brunch at chef Grant Achatz's The Aviary NYC with her mum Janet Toh, a homemaker and singularly the woman who holds the family together. She is in the city to sort out the logistics of her daughter’s move.
Taking in sweeping views of Columbus Circle and Central Park from the 35th-floor at Mandarin Oriental NYC (possibly one of the best restaurant views in the city), both mother and daughter open up about a difficult time in Mae’s life that led to her quitting school.
When asked if Janet saw it coming, she responds, “Yes, I expected it. Out of a week, Mae would miss three days of school.”
"Mum, maybe you still don’t believe it, but it was depression. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for anyone or anything in my life. And it’s insane how I’m sitting here now thinking about moving to New York for school,” shares Mae.
“I was an angry little child. It was tough for Mum dealing with us when we were kids, but I think now we have made up for it.” Mae is referring to how her siblings, including youngest brother Cleve, will all eventually be involved in the running of D’League. Cleve will be studying in London, and intends to work in accounting and handle investments once he’s done with school.
“Yes, I’m so happy that my three children are working in the family business. At least we don’t have to worry about not having someone to carry on the legacy,” Janet beams.
And Mae has big plans for Surrender and will continue to be involved in the business. “We have groomed a strong team to take over while I am away. And I will still be hands‑on, even when I’m in New York; and especially because I’m in New York. My time abroad will open new doors for me and Surrender.” While she is moving there this August, she intends to apply for school, starting her semester in Spring 2020.
“I’m going full steam ahead. There’s nothing holding me back.”
Singapore Tatler travelled to New York via Singapore Airlines on the world’s longest non-stop flight.
- Photography Caleb & Gladys
- Producer Daphne Chen-Cordeiro
- Fashion Direction Desmond Lim
- Hair Koji Ichikawa using Laicale
- Make-Up Soo Park using Nars Cosmetics
- Photographer's Assistant Kamilo Bustamante
- Stylist's Assistant Joey Tan