Daniel Boey: What I've learned

In the spirit of this A/W fashion season, the Singaporean style guru spits the truth about it all.

BY Manasa Sitram | Jan 22, 2016 | Fashion

Photograph by Chng Dju-Lian

I grew up in the East (side of Singapore), where I honed my fashion skills. That’s where I learnt everything.

With a Catholic education, you looked at how the teachers were dressed. When I went to primary school in the ’60s, there were teachers dressed in miniskirts and bell-bottom pants. You remember all of this. When I went to St Pats (St Patrick’s School), some teachers actually wore suits, and I thought that was so amazing.

[This year] marks my 25th year in fashion. I thought why not combine everything together, and write the story of my life [The Book of Daniel], which is, like, the history of Singapore fashion.

I signed the contract, and then flew to London. I wrote the book when I was traipsing around London Fashion Week, [and then] Paris and Milan. It took about six months to write.

If not for my background in theatre, if not for my experience in music, I don’t think I would have been a good show producer. Essentially, being a show producer is about telling a story, and instead of a script, you have the clothes to tell the story with.

I support local because I am local. If people hadn’t taken a chance on me when I started out, then I wouldn’t have this career that I do. So, I think, it’s time to give back. But at the same time, I also realised that you had to go to a foreign country and make a name for yourself before people would embrace you here.

But I don’t just blindly support local talent. I buy and support them because I believe in them. There are some great Singapore designers, but there are also some really crap ones, so you have to be discerning. You don’t just put a model in your show because they’re from Singapore. If you put a whole bunch of crap models, people are gonna say, “Singapore models are terrible; let’s not use them.” You gotta use someone who flies the flag for the country. People have to go, “Oh my God, she’s really great. I didn’t know she was Singaporean!” That’s the reaction you want to try and get.

Am I ready to do National Day? I don’t know, but I would love to be the Creative Director of National Day.

Fashionistas don’t need fashion advice; they just need to know what the latest trend to buy is. Sometimes, we really take [being in the fashion industry] for granted; we walk into a store and know what to buy. It is a problem for people who are not in fashion.

Not everything I own is expensive, you know. I don’t shit money every day. It’s a matter of how you put an outfit together. Know your fabrics and how to take care of them. Know how to mix and match expensive things with the cheap stuff. Fashion doesn’t have to be expensive; it is how expensive people think your clothes are.

I have a certain style. I try to be versatile. But if you put me in a tutu and ask me to walk down Orchard Road, it’s not my thing. Some people can rock it, but I can’t, you know?

I’m not built like Beckham, so I can’t dress like him, but I can fake it. I mean, how many models actually have perfect bodies? But they know how to fake it; the fashion stylists know how to fake it.

Celebrities are built like super-humans. They already look good in clothes, so it’s very easy to make over a celebrity. I wanted to make over a real person.

If you catch me at the wrong moment, yes, I can be a bitch. Yes, I can be very difficult, but that’s just me at work. Does that represent who Daniel Boey is? No. Because I think if I’m just a bitch all the time or I’m just a nice person all the time, I’ll be very one-dimensional.There are many different sides to me—the good, the bad, the nasty.

I’d rather speak my mind and have you take me for who I am, rather than be plastic.

There was a time when I believed my own hype. You need to have really, really good friends who can tell you, “Don’t be an asshole.” That’s so important. The word “diva” is associated with me, but you must realise that there are certain times when you should be a diva, and there are certain times when you shouldn’t let your ego get in the way. If you can’t make that distinction, hopefully, you have people who can help you with that.

First published in Esquire Singapore's September 2015 issue.