Interview & Report

Front Row (Singapore) Buyer / Herman Shah

Front Row (Singapore) Buyer / Herman Shah

MBFWT 2015 S/S invited guest interview vol. 3

Front Row (Singapore) Buyer
Herman Shah

Herman Shah from the select shop “Front Row” in Singapore visited Japan during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO 2015 S/S. Front Row carries more than 30 brands from both within Singapore and overseas, and is a driving force behind the fashion scene in Singapore. We sat down with its buyer to talk about the state of fashion in Singapore, which is gaining much attention from the entire world, and his impression of fashion and culture in Japan.


How many times have you been to Japan?

This is my first time. When I was invited to come by JETRO I got extremely excited at the opportunity to finally meet in person the designers of Japanese brands which up until now I have only been able to experience through look books or line sheets.


What did you think of the show?

Overall I thought it was very high-quality. I got the impression that the show itself was open to the general public and there was an atmosphere of support for designers by the spectators, which included students. Everyone in attendance was extremely polite and I was very impressed.


How do you like the culture and the city of Tokyo itself?

Everything in Tokyo is so compact and I think it would be a great city in which to work. I also get the sense that craftsmen in Japan pay much attention to materials and quality. I’ve met some designers since arriving here and being able to come in contact with people who, for example, work for a store that has 120 year history and learn directly from them about the tradition of the brand and the background story of the clothes, has been very enlightening.


What do you think of the street fashion here in Tokyo?

Up until now everything I knew about Japan has been from the Internet, so I was very interested in what the Japanese were wearing, but now seeing it in person I get the sense that it’s not as colorful as I had imagined and there is in contrast a lot of conservative fashion. However, I believe in general that the Japanese are very fashionable and it’s very interesting how you can tell from their style what group they belong to. Just earlier in a taxi driving alongside me there was a girl with blonde hair and long fingernails dressed in the Lolita style, and I couldn’t help but wonder just where on Earth she was heading (laugh).


What sort of fashion trends do you see in Singapore?

Fashion in Singapore is not as widespread as it is in Japan. There’s a trend for young people to like street brands and older people to like luxury brands. And people in the middle tend to wear jackets made of basic, light fabrics.


Could you tell us about Front Row where Mr. Herman works?

Front Row is a select shop that opened in 2005 for the purpose of promoting young designers in Singapore. Clientele consists of about half local residents and half tourists of a wide variety of ages from mainly 18 to 55, so we have a variety of products that target these groups. When the store opened we only carried about 10 to 15 Singapore brands, but as the years have passed we have gradually start carrying overseas brands and currently about 50% to 60% of the 35 or so brands that we carry are imported.


Where do you place emphasis when buying?

Firstly, I put a lot of emphasis on the feel of the product and whether or not it will fit with the shop atmosphere. It’s also important to find a good balance between high-quality and price. I don’t particularly care where the designers are from as long as the concept of the brand is solid.


Do you go overseas much to buy?

Yes. Fashion trends change quickly and the things offered by the brand, and the things we want also change quickly. So, I think it’s important to periodically go overseas to learn about new trends and find those things that fit our shop.


There’s been a lot of interesting Asian fashion over recent years; is there any one particular country that you have your eye on?

Firstly, I think Japan has led the way in Asian fashion, and the fashion in many Asian countries has started by copying Japan. Other than Japan, I think Korea over the last couple years deserves some attention. There are already Korean street brands that are popular in Singapore, and I think we all have to watch and see what happens in Korea.


What is the state of domestic brands in Singapore?

When we started carrying clothes by young designers we found that the market wasn’t ready to accept them, so we had to make a lot of investments. The market gradually grew thereafter but the domestic market was small to begin with and there are not many shops that carry domestic brands. Because of this Singapore brands are forced to offer clothes at prices lower than import brands so if they really want to succeed they have to venture overseas. But, this requires money so brands that have a lot of capital have the advantage at current time.


What sort of trends are you seeing with shops in Singapore?

Singapore is not a large country so most stores are inside of shopping malls because there is just not room to go different places and shop like here in Japan. Incidentally, another buyer from a shop called “Surrender” in Singapore has also come for Fashion Week and they, like us, have a store inside the Raffles Hotel instead of a shopping mall, so we are quite blessed location-wise.


Lastly, could you tell us about any future plans for Front Row and your own personal dreams if you have any?

We have plans to open another lifestyle store at the end of the year which will have not only fashion but also food, books, and general merchandise. There are not stores like this in Singapore so it’s a huge challenge for us. But, we hope to become the pioneer of stores that offer lifestyle through fashion. Personally, I would like to have the opportunity to live abroad. Being able to come overseas and see and hear various things has been an invaluable experience for me and fashion in Singapore at the moment is not very progressive, so I would like to go places where I can find a lot of stimulus.

INTERVIEW by Yuki Harada

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