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When old meets new: NDP 2024 costume designer Max Tan on infusing modernity with tradition

2 mins read

Striking a balance between the nostalgic and avant-garde, or the traditional and the contemporary, is a pretty tall order. But Singaporean Max Tan has got it down to a T.

The internationally acclaimed local fashion designer – whose collections have appeared in Vogue France and Italia – has nabbed the coveted role of National Day Parade (NDP) costume designer for the second time.

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Max was first tapped to design costumes for NDP 2017. But taking on the mantle as NDP 2024 costume designer a second time around doesn’t mean the job was made any easier. This year, the designer was tasked to deliver different iterations of the same motif for a show with four distinct thematic chapters and a pr e-parade segment involving over 3,000 performers.

Check out the video on the right for a flashback to Max's designs from NDP 2017!

“Designing for a massive parade requires a lot of coordination work,” he said. Thankfully, with the support of NDP’s Creative Director Brian Gothong Tan, his production manager Wong Wai Toh, and their military counterparts, the designer was able to bring his sketches to life.

His main inspiration for this year’s designs? Singapore’s national flower – the iconic Vanda Miss Joaquim.

Reimagining heritage

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While the iconic flower serves as his artistic anchor, Tan’s overall style for the parade is more accurately described as a “dynamic display of hybrid creativity”, an eclectic blend of traditional and modern elements.

“The costumes celebrate the resilience of our cultural heritage and the spirit of innovation that defines Singapore,” he said.

Taking the wardrobe he designed for the Voices of Singapore choir as an example, he explained how it boasted a mix of modern cheongsams, dresses with saree-inspired drapes, and yokes on trousers that are reminiscent of the Malay samping.

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“Each look worn by (them) reimagines traditional costumes with a modern twist,” he added.

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Collaging is an integral part of his creative process, he shared, informing his colour choices when he sketches. In his many collages, he looked for bright colours and lush prints and patterns that reflected Southeast Asia’s exoticism.

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For instance, the hosts’ outfits are reconstructed cultural garments that feature batik borders and ikat fabrics collaged with tropical illustrations. “Easter eggs tucked within the elaborate orchid patterns”, Max revealed with a smile.

Asked what was his personal favourite out of all his designs, Tan singled out the geometrical and voluminous yellow coats worn by Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai Singapore, which move in a soft and flowy manner like lanterns. “The billowy silhouettes are close to what I like to do in my design practice,” he explained.

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Unique and diverse, yet tied together by a single underlying thread, Tan’s costumes very much reflect the ethos of Singapore society, as well as NDP 2024’s theme, “Together, As One United People”.

As he candidly shared in a previous interview: “It’s especially memorable to be working on something so mammoth, and it’s probably the biggest show we’ve ever done in our lives.”

“It’s more meaningful when we’re doing this not as a singular entity,” he added. “And I think it reflects this year’s theme of not being alone.”

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Image credits: NDP 24, Flower Chimp Singapore, Arron Teo and Max Tan.

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