Interview with Eugene Lin
How did you find your time studying at Central St Martins?
The BA at Central Saint Martins was a big challenge for me at the time, because I was behind many
of my peers in that I did not do a foundation degree, or do a fashion-related course prior to starting
it. I went straight from the Republic of Singapore army into the world’s most competitive BA course
– the Fashion Design Womenswear pathway. Prior to the army, the closest I got to fashion was
fashion illustration, which I did for my GCSE Art project. I could not sew, could not pattern cut, I did
not even know what a swatch of fabric was! It was really tough at first, and I remember looking for
the course director and telling her I wanted out, but thank God she was out of her office that day.
The beauty of CSM is that it does not operate in the theoretical plane of right and wrong that
plagues other design institutions. It challenges you to question, examine and re-examine, and to
ultimately find a path that suits yourself. Not everyone who graduates from there is a Christopher
Kane or a John Galliano, but then again not everyone wants to wear Kane or Galliano. The point is
to work your arse off at the thing you do best, and I learnt at CSM what kind of designer I was and
wanted to be.
What are the main differences between Singapore and London for fashion?
This is a tricky question, I could write a thesis on this but I shall begin by defining ‘fashion’ by
quoting Elizabeth Bowen: ‘Clothes are never a matter of pure and simple aesthetics: there are too
many intimate feelings involved. Clothes play such an important role in the delicate business of self-
expression, that it seems impossible to discuss them objectively at any length.’ London is one of the
4 great fashion capitals, there is no doubt about that. To be able to walk into Liberty or Matches and
see, touch and try on exquisite garments crafted which were on the internationally covered catwalks
and press 6 months ago is something Londoner’s should never take for granted. I grew up on an
island nation where the closest I ever got to designer clothes was looking at them through imported
copies of L’Officiel – L’Officiel Singapore had not even started then. The fantastic High Street we
have in London has also been ranked the best in the world in a recent survey, and people mix and
match designer with high-street here to create their own style, which I think is amazing. Just walking
down town, there is hardly a day my eye would not be caught by something in the window or a
passer-by, be it designer or High-Street.
Unfortunately, “fashion” in Singapore is a race to win the acceptance of the general population
between new Singapore-based designers, international powerhouses and the ever encroaching High
Street. There are 2 flagship Louis Vuitton stores, the largest Prada flagship store in SouthEast Asia,
and 3 Zara stores on the world famous Orchard Road alone. The spending power of Singaporeans
is also much lower than Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, all of which have a far more fashion-aware
consumer demographic and hence better developed luxury market. Production has also long left the
rapidly industrialised nation, which makes it really difficult for new designers to produce not only
their stock, but their sample collections. Fashion is still something that is shunned by the general
population, because it is very much an unstable career choice, and given the mono-season (being 3
degrees off the equator, it is perpetually summer), is extremely limiting. I would say that designer
fashion, while available in slowly growing quantities in Singapore is present, people still dress for
comfort/work rather than to impress or empower themselves.
Who inspired you to pursue a career in fashion?
It was still the early 90’s when I first read of fashion, and Gianni Versace ruled the day. The more I
got into it, I was blown away of course by Alexander McQueen (I don’t think there is any relevant
designer today who has not been affected by his work, whether they like it personally or not),
Hussein Chalayan, John Galliano, Arkadius and Tristan Webber, whom I eventually interned for.
It was the golden era of London Fashion Week shows where the outrageous shows captured the international press, and my imagination.
Do you work with a muse in mind?
I do not have a specific muse, but the Eugene Lin woman grows and develops with each collection. I
always keep in mind that I am designing for women, not socialite girls. The muse of the season very
much reflects my mood at the time of creating, whether she is dark and brooding, relaxed and chic.
I feel that my women are three-dimensional, highly emotional and complex, so my clothes for them
should not be any different.
Does your personal style ever affect your designs?
Yes, of course it does. My personal style is very clean, classic, fuss-free but always with a certain
detail or cut that makes my wardrobe interesting, and this naturally translates into my work.
What would your average day in the studio consist of?
Depending on the time in season, it generally begins with briefing the interns and setting out daily
tasks for them, where they are in charge of cutting and sewing the toiles as I handle all the patterns
personally. I also juggle business meetings, emails, production meetings etc. Closer to Fashion Week,
it changes to preparation of promotional material – making look books, line sheets, preparing invites
etc. All in all, usually incredibly busy but its more interesting than photocopying and making coffee
now, isn’t it?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an artist of any medium. I am truly blessed it came true!
To quote Yohji Yamamoto: ‘Style is the art of mixing, adding value and taking command of the
aesthetic of what one loves.’ I think the term ‘style icon’, in all true sense of the word is dead these
days. This is because of the rise of stylists/image consultants/reality television etc. This is not to
slate these various career paths, but it has made it really difficult for someone with true style to be
seen in this homogenised state of the world. Back in Hollywood’s golden era, Greta Garbo, Marlene
Dietrich, Grace Kelly all had to do their own make up and pick out their own wardrobes. Given the
ever present expose on celebrities before and after they got famous, I wonder how many of them
would actually be able to pull an original look together if they were left alone in say, Selfridges for
the day. I prefer looking up to design history and contemporary design, the actual garments where
possible, rather than an already crafted image/icon.