Fifty years of Singapore history, fifty years of Singapore design. The story of Singapore’s economic success is well-known to all, but how many of us are familiar with the Singaporean design scene which has also grown and flourished in these last fifty years?

Through the decades, in style

Fifty Years of Singapore Design aims to shed some light onto how far the scene has come by chronicling the development of the Singapore design scene from its early years in the 1960s, through maturity, into the vibrant industry that we see today. The exhibition is segmented into five decades, each with a running theme to tell its chapter. Starting with the nation-building phase right after independence, the exhibition moves onto the economic boom and then to the advent of new technologies before Singapore designers went global. 

Let’s head straight into the exhibition to see some of the exciting displays!

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The exhibition is hosted at the National Design Centre (Photo credits: MCI)

From traditional to iconic

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Singapore Airline flight stewardess uniform on display (Photo credits: MCI)

The iconic ‘sarong kebaya’ dressing the Singapore Girl was born in 1968. Based on outfits traditionally worn by women in the Southeast Asian region, it was designed by French couture master Pierre Balmain for Singapore Airlines (SIA).

The batik ensemble took Balmain over a year to design. He insisted that each outfit be individually tailored to fit each stewardess to give it a snug (and feminine) fit. Yes, the standards are pretty rigorous.

His sarong kebaya design for SIA remains the same till this day. That’s a 47-year legacy!

Stacked and chained

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Chained up UNICA plastic stools (Photo credits: MCI)

Seen these plastic stools around? First introduced in kopitiams (our local coffee shops) in the 1990s, these UNICA plastic stools have since become a common sight at these local establishments. The main reason for its popularity is that every feature has been carefully thought through; the chair’s simple construct allows kopitiamowners to stack them up and the hole was added so that it could be chained together. Even the thickness of the plastic has been calculated to support the weight of the user and yet minimise the cost of production.

It is of little wonder why these stools are still around. In fact, some can even be found in our homes!

A local tradition

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Reserved: A Public (T)issue (Photo credits: MCI)

“Seat-choping” has become a part of our Singapore culture. The unspoken rule of reserving a seat with a packet of tissue paper is now by and large honoured by hawker centre-goers.

‘Reserved: A Public (T)issue’ was a project in 2004 that made us think a little harder about this practice. Is this behaviour considerate? How did we adopt this into our lives?

Besides making us pause and consider this distinctively local means of reserving seats, the design of the tissue paper holder enlightens confused tourists on our intent of placing a packet of tissue paper on the seat. This sure is a friendly way of introducing our ‘seat-choping’ culture.

Little red dot goes global

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Stikfas figurines on display (Photo credits: MCI)

Singapore took her name global in the period of 1995 to 2005. In here, we spotted some toys! A local toy company, Stikfas, is credited for revolutionising the global industry with its figurines’ ability to pose ‘life-like’. Huge market players like Hasbro and Lego approached Stikfas to understand the design behind its action figures. Hasbro even made an offer to acquire it but was turned down as the owner wanted to maintain full local ownership of the firm. Dancing behind the glass, these toys sure looked happy and proud to be uniquely Singapore!

Looking back, to look forward

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Cheongsam for the wedding of Ms Shirley Tay (Photo credits: MCI)

The current decade is one that reminisces; both to remember and to reinvent, bringing a bit of the past into the future. We see that design has focused on giving traditional things a new look. An item that caught our eye was a beautiful wedding cheongsam tailored by designer Gary Lau, who learnt the art from five Shanghainese master tailors. Devoré – the fabric used – gave this classical oriental wear a contemporary feel with its ‘burn-out’ effect. The hand-rolled collar buttons also highlighted the exquisiteness of this piece.

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My First Design Book – A fun booklet that has hands-on craftwork and activities (Photo credits: MCI)

More stories await you at Fifty Years of Singapore Design! Gather your friends and head down to the exhibition at National Design Centre today!

For more information on the exhibition, please visit the official website at: http://www.designsingapore.org/FIFTY/index.aspx

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