What to Buy
Interview: A.W.O.L's Alfie Leong
by Audrey Lee
We applaud Alfie Leong, founder of clothing label A.W.O.L., for his incredible ability to create cutting-edge designs. But what we truly love about the guy is that he’s absolutely genuine, and does not forget his humble beginnings or the people who matter. Over his 20 years in the business, he has built a respectable reputation and is well thought of by those in the know. Here’s the lowdown on what’s happening in his world.
AllWalksOfLife, as its name suggest, represents individualism and the unconventional, catering to women of all sorts. For the benefit of our readers who might not yet be familiar with this label, can you tell us about A.W.O.L?
A.W.O.L. is actually my second label. It was launched six seasons ago, during fashion tradeshow Blueprint in 2010. I got much of its unique and unconventional concept from my first label, Mu. However, A.W.O.L. is definitely higher end and better in quality than Mu, which is made deliberately affordable. For instance, I was able to incorporate real leather, fur and silk into my designs for A.W.O.L. But having said that, A.W.O.L.'s garments do require more time, effort, money and workmanship to complete than Mu's. It pays off though—over time, I have begun to see a vast improvement in our designs because we dared to try a lot of new things. Since A.W.O.L. launched in 2010, it has made its way to Japan, Las Vegas, New York, Paris, and beyond.
Your Fall Winter 2012/13 collection evokes a strong sense of avant-garde beauty and, dare I say, domination, with bold monochrome hues and splashes of gold. What inspired and motivated you for this collection?
The name for this collection is 'Opposite Lives'. It represents women and the many roles they play in their lives. For example, a woman may hold three jobs, or be the head of a company where she's serious and firm, and also be a wife and a mother. Judging from my mother and sister’s perspective, women are always struggling to meet the expectations of these different roles. So, with this in mind, the collection’s campaign shoot included the use of reflections and armoury to resemble a woman’s resilience, and yet maintained her feminine features. In the clothes, I’ve incorporated different prints into the designs, playing around with straight and curved lines. It says so much about a woman's life—that it is not easy.
What are some of the challenges you face as a designer?
Being based in Singapore can be quite restrictive because for one, our market is very small. We may be cosmopolitan and all, but most Singaporeans are really rather conservative. Not much support is given to the local fashion scene, as most do not understand where we’re coming from. I don’t think our culture believes in local design; and neither is our culture unique enough for us to embrace. So we compromise a lot of our designs, so much so that they become too practical and, in turn, start to lose their identity.
But no doubt you have come a long way! Your clothes were worn by local celebrities Vivian Lai and Ann Kok at this year’s Star Awards, for instance. Who else would you love to see wear your designs?
No one in particular. Celebrities are still human. When they wear my designs, it's is a win-win situation for both parties. We both get publicity and, well, they look good in the outfits. We designers need the exposure and I’m proud of it. But to me, nothing can be more satisfying than to dress a fan, or someone who really appreciates your design, and know you are dressing them better than anyone else can. I have customers who are plus size, coming to me feeling so timid and shy because they have been told many times by previous labels that they don’t carry anything in their size—and I dress them in my designs. Of course, I support leading a healthy lifestyle, but before that level can be reached, it’s fulfilling to know that I can restore the self-confidence of these folks. The question is not who I like to dress, it’s who likes to wear my clothes.
A.W.O.L. recently graced the digital pages of Vogue Italia. What was it like having your creations featured in one of the world’s most prominent fashion magazines?
I’m very happy to be featured in Vogue Italia. I even got feedback from the editor herself that she’s totally impressed with Singaporean designers and their talents. We need platforms like this, and international recognition is a huge plus. We are very proud of ourselves. It takes time for global magazines to recognise individual designers and this is a start.
Advice to aspiring designers out there?
I think most importantly, stay humble. You should always empty your glass so that you can fill it up with new things. If you feel like you’re already there, you will not be able absorb anything else. You will end up becoming more and more stubborn. So yes, being humble and modest are crucial in anything you do.