THE little red dot was in danger of losing some much-needed glamour last year amid the blues of recession.
When the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) decided to put on hold the Singapore Fashion Festival, organised annually since 2001, its aim was to re-evaluate how the event could be better staged. But at the time, it felt like a blow to Singapore’s aspiration of being a city of style.
Fortunately for fashionistas, carmaker Audi – together with other sponsors like Samsung, MasterCard and The Celton Group – came to the rescue by staging the inaugural Audi Fashion Festival (AFF) in April that year.
The event, which cost a reported $1 million to organise, saw models parading the collections of Gareth Pugh, Vivienne Westwood, Christian Lacroix and others in a huge tent outside Ngee Ann City.
“We felt it was a good partnership because Audi is a design-oriented brand and fashion is about design and lifestyle,” says Audi Singapore managing director Reinhold Carl.
“We also felt that it was the right time and the right opportunity...if there was no fashion festival, Singapore’s reputation would be affected. If you want to be a fashion hub like London, Paris and New York, you have to invest in it.”
It didn’t matter that Singapore was then smack in the middle of a severe economic downturn.
“The way I see it, it’s like building a brand. You have to be consistent with your investment; you have to invest even in difficult times,” says Mr Carl. “When others cut costs, we were spending money.”
The strategy obviously paid off because last year, Audi was the most successful brand in the premium car category here, registering an 11.5 per cent increase in car sales over the previous year. It sold 1,319 units in 2008 and 1,471 units last year.
In comparison, sales for both BMW and Mercedes dropped 3 per cent and 2 per cent respectively last year.
The success of the inaugural AFF has prompted the STB, IE Singapore and Spring Singapore to include it as an integral part of the Asia Fashion Exchange (AFX) initiative this year.
“It’s a great move and that’s the way it should be – the Government, the private sector and the public working together,” says Mr Carl.
The AFX, which aims to develop Singapore into a regional fashion hub, comprises three other elements: the Blueprint trade fair, the Star Creation design competition and the Asia Fashion Summit.
This year, the AFF will have twice the budget of last year and twice the glitz and glamour, including shows featuring design bigwigs such as DSquared and Roberto Cavalli.
The carmaker, which is previewing the Audi R8 Spyder convertible at the AFX, will again present the Audi Young Designer Award. The award consists of $5,000 cash and an all-expenses paid three-week internship at the Audi Concept Design Headquarters in Munich.
It will go to one of the three winners of the Star Creation competition, based on how he or she interprets the R8 Spyder in one of their garments.
“We have to encourage budding talent, and we must set trends. Because when you do, others will follow,” says Mr Carl.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.