There were very few Singaporeans at this year’s historic 50th Anniversary Ball of Save Venice, the nonprofit that seeks to restore Venice’s artistic heritage. And it would be especially hard to identify them, given that this year’s gala was also a masquerade. However, New York-based Singaporean multi-hyphenate Dr. Tai Heng Cheng stood out in the best way possible at the masquerade ball. The legal scholar, international arbitrator, art collector and philanthropist donned an exquisite ensemble featuring a handsome shawl lapel batik jacket and an authentic Venetian maschre.
It was, in many ways, the perfect bespoke outfit: immaculately fitted to Dr. Tai’s form, and truly encapsulating his status as a global citizen, combining European sophistication with Southeast Asian elegance. Even among the colourful multitudes of outfits there, this one stood out for sheer ingenuity and style, marrying two cultures seamlessly.
The designer behind this was none other than Kevin Seah, fashion industry veteran and founder of made-to-measure atelier Kevin Seah Bespoke. And true to Kevin Seah’s reputation as a designer and tailor, it was equal parts a work of art as it is a work of fine tailoring. After seeing his creation grace the occasion, we knew we had to sit down with him and find out more about its inception.
AM: Tell us about the early conversations you had with Tai-Heng about his outfit for The 50th Anniversary Ball of Save Venice. What went into the planning? What was the brief from Tai-Heng?
Kevin Seah: Tai wanted me to design an outfit for a black tie event that could represent his Asian heritage. At that time, I had just received some beautiful Batik Tulis and I suggested having a smoking jacket made with the Batik. He loved the idea and that was the start of it.
What would you say is your design philosophy?
Elegance, luxury combined with art. I’ve always been inspired by art but the foundation always starts with quality fabrics.
Batik, as we know, has several traditional motifs, each with different aesthetic and historical significance. Can you tell us which motifs appear, and how they are significant in your design?
The design originated from West Java‘s landlocked ancient Tasikmalaya region. It’s a city 120 km from Bandung and a religious scholar centre. The style of Batik is known for its dark brown or blue base with phoenix and bird drawings.
What considerations did you make in terms of materials?
The hardest part was making the back of the jacket without the centre seam. We wanted to keep the full design of the bird with its full glory. And being a handwoven silk material, the sewing part was also a challenge with the jacket interior also lined with pure silk.
We love how you didn’t use buttons, but this lace feature. Can you tell us what that is and how you made it?
That’s a great observation. It’s known as frogging and it involves making patterns by coiling the trimming and hand stitching them onto the piece of garment. It’s commonly seen on classic smoking jackets. I did a matching pattern on both sides of the sleeves too.
How important do you think it is to have a Batik/traditional piece at the 50th Anniversary Ball of Save Venice?
I think we should not be afraid to embrace our Asian culture. But very often, Asian inspired outfits are sadly worn in a too literal way with their styling and interpretation. It’s more often a costume rather than an outfit designed with taste and exudes class. It was definitely an eye opener for the guests from around the world to see fresh interpretation of Asian style coming especially from a place like Singapore.
Tell us more about the mask. What design considerations went into it?
The original mask was made by an Italian mask maker who specialises in making Venetian masks. Tai wanted to incorporate the Batik on the mask and so I got my friend, Singaporean artist Andy Yang to interpret the Batik design into the mask. The painting took him about 5 hours. In the end, Andy masterfully painted the final piece which created a beautiful flow from the jacket to the mask. The entire look was completed with accessorising using fine jewellery from MUS.za by Esther Ho.
Dream celebrity/personality to design for?
It used to be Princess Diana….but sadly she’s no longer around. I’m not interested in “celebrities”. I prefer real paying clients with personality and real appreciation of our work.
And appreciate it Dr Tai Heng Cheng did. In a statement, he said, “Kevin’s Batik creation and Esther’s jewellery, has helped me express both my Asian heritage and my cosmopolitan identity at the Save Venice 50th anniversary ball at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta. Everyone at the ball marvelled at their artisanship.” Even from afar, we marvelled it too.
If you are interested in Kevin Seah’s made to measure and bespoke tailoring, visit www.kevinseah.com or call +65 6532 2018 for appointments. Walk-ins are also welcomed.