updated 21 Aug 2014, 06:51
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Mon, Nov 25, 2013
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7 things in her bag: Jo Soh

Fashion designer Jo Soh's favourite smell is that of concrete.

As a child, she would be dropped off at her grandmother's HDB flat every morning before her parents went to work. Each time she stepped into the lift, a whiff of concrete would hit her.

"I loved spending time with my grandmother and I've associated good memories with fresh concrete," says Ms Soh, whose label Hansel celebrated its 10th anniversary last month.

Hansel's latest autumn/winter collection is based on her memories of growing up in her grandmother's one-room HDB flat in Havelock Road.

The collection comprises dresses, tops, skirts, shorts and cardigans in three prints that she designed: her grandmother's block of flats, bamboo poles and a low-rise block of flats in the Siglap area.

"On weekends, there would sometimes be six people staying over, including my two aunts, my mother and my older brother. We would pull out mattresses and sleep on the floor in the living room; it was a very cosy feeling," says the 37-year-old.

The designer says she wanted to go back to her roots for this collection, which was unveiled at Hansel's anniversary celebrations last month at retro cafe Sinpopo Brand.

"We share a lot of things in common with our neighbouring countries, such as food, but HDB flats are unique to Singapore," says Ms Soh, who is single and lives in an HDB flat in the Holland area.

The fashion design graduate of Central Saint Martins in London is known for her quirky aesthetic. But there is a serious side to her creativity too. She also creates uniforms for corporations. For instance, she designed the red and black uniforms worn by staff at DBS Bank branches.

"I may be in fashion, but my approach to design is an extremely practical, problem-solving one. I enjoy making uniforms because it serves a practical function," she says.

"I carry that approach into my own clothes too. Whatever I design has to have pockets where possible and has to be flexible to fit women of different sizes."

Ms Soh, whose boutique is at Mandarin Gallery, plans to take her business to the United States, Thailand and Indonesia. Sadly, the namesake of her brand and the inspiration behind its logo, her jack russell terrier, is no longer around to see the business grow. He died in October last year.

"It was the first time I cried in a long while," she says. "Everything happens in October for some reason."


1 Tennis ball

I carry this so I can put it against the wall for a back massage when I'm stressed out.

My boyfriend is a tennis coach, so we have tonnes of balls around the house.

2 Notepad

I use so many notebooks, it became costly to buy them. Now, I clip used paper together and write on the clean side. It's practical and free.

3 Prada wallet

This was supposed to be a cream-coloured wallet, but I'm not dainty, so it got dirty quickly. I didn't know you could get it cleaned, so I asked local artist Tan Zi Xi to customise it to hide the stains.

She attended my History Of Fashion class at Temasek Polytechnic in 2007.

4 Sunglasses

I got these cat-eye sunglasses from eBay. I have two others that are exactly the same, with regular lenses, so I'm always wearing glasses of the same design. It's an identity thing.

5 Cosmetic pouch

It has my powder, lipstick and lip balm in it.

I designed this pouch for Elle Singapore in 2011. It came free with the magazine.

6 Umbrella

I walk around a lot as I don't drive. This was the smallest umbrella I could find at Takashimaya.

7 Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm

I'm addicted to this. I bought 20 sticks when I went to the United States last month.

They cost US$3 (S$3.70) each there. Here, it's $8 a stick.

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