When he was living and working in New York City a few years ago, summer dressing for Leonard Choo, 35, occasionally involved slipping into 1920s-style linen suits, complete with a boater hat. Now back in Singapore, the director of industry development and engagement at the Textile and Fashion Federation (Taff) tells us that he used to be a big fan of vintage fashion. “Every summer, the Jazz Age Lawn Party takes place on Governors Island. It’s a huge thing. Many go dressed in Jazz Age attire, including beaded dresses; things that are flapper-style. Then there are people, like those in the vintage group I belonged to, who are faithful to the period. I would tailor the linen suits myself, using historical patterns.”
Making era-appropriate outfits was a cinch for the former costume designer, who worked in the New York City Ballet costume department for 12 seasons over three years. While in the US, he also made costumes for institutions such as The Juilliard School and TV productions. It all called for a good deal of sourcing and sleuthing. A day at work could mean being tasked by a top fashion designer to “find a fabric that looks like asphalt” or to figure out the original colour and fabric of old, faded ballet costumes for the revival of certain productions.
Today, Choo puts that resourcefulness to good use at Taff, where he supports business growth for local fashion brands and oversees Taff membership. And he is heavily involved in Singapore Stories, a fashion design competition that invites designers to create a Singapore-inspired capsule collection. As part of the competition, contestants get to access the vault of the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) to better understand and be inspired by the local and regional material history.
Choo says, “Fashion is about identity and history. Taff’s role is to promote Singapore as the fashion hub of South-east Asia. How can we connect with our cultural history and understand what our unique selling point is to make this hub a reality? That’s why we linked up with the ACM.”
These days, working with the museum is one way in which he indulges his love for fashion history. Since returning to Singapore, he has set aside his penchant for vintage dressing. “There are many layers and it’s hot here,” he says. At Taff events, you will usually find Choo in lightweight tropical wool suits, many of which were made at Master Penguin Tailor at Far East Plaza – by a tailor who made his father’s wedding suit almost 40 years ago. Otherwise, you might catch him wearing not very much at all.
Laughing, he shares, “I like to describe my style as either overdressed or undressed. I love beaches and pools, so if I’m not in a full suit, I’m usually in a pair of Speedos somewhere.”
“All fashion is contextual,” says Choo, when explaining how his style evolves with his geographical locations. Context was also the reason he chose this outfit for our shoot. “It’s not something I would usually wear, but that’s why it feels right for a fashion shoot. And it feels like The Peak.”