6 Creative Singaporean Women Who Are Breaking Boundaries
Confident, self-assured and abundantly creative, these six women embody the qualities of a Céline woman.
1/6 Dawn Ng, Artist
A marble block with text sandblasted on it (pictured below) is part of Dawn Ng’s year-long project exploring daily questions and answers between a child psychologist and herself. This marble block, with a list of words on it including “a bicycle”, “a song”, “a memory” and “a pair of scissors” was an exploration of the statement: “Put everything that you are inside a box.”
Known for her works such as Walter, the guerrilla installations of a giant rabbit that appeared against the landscape of HDB flats, and Bang, an installation done for the Facebook Singapore office which comprised 16,000 customised vinyl confetti stickers, Dawn considers her entire artistic practice as the creation she is most proud of.
“I don’t think there was an exact point when I decided to become an artist,” says the mother of eleven-month-old daughter Ava. “I was always documenting, writing and making things. I believe it’s the things you do compulsively, obsessively and relentlessly that define you.” After her double major in studio art and writing from Georgetown University and the University College London Slade School of Fine Art, she got her first job in advertising in New York. “I suppose I was always fixated by the craft of storytelling, which remains primordial in my work even today.”
She says that she has never kept to one medium, format or style for the very reason that she believes each idea, story and concept informs the manner in which it comes to life, not the other way round. “I personally enjoy this challenge of starting at ground zero each time I embark on a project. It’s both a humbling and thrilling process to master a new material or undertake a fresh modus operandi.” When asked what is the most rewarding aspect of her artistic practice, she says, “Making the intangible tangible.”
2/6 Carolyn Lam, Cardiologist
Being part of groundbreaking clinical trials focusing on heart disease in Asia is what Carolyn Lam is proudest of. The professor, who was part of the inaugural Generation T list last year, explains that this was previously uncharted research territory.
A clinician scientist with the SingHealth Duke-NUS Cardiovascular Academic Clinical Programme, Carolyn glows with positive energy as she describes her work leading the Asian Network for Translational Research and Cardiovascular Trials since 2015 as “a privilege”. The network builds upon a larger network spanning 11 Asian countries and embracing 50 institutions including the Genome Institute of Singapore.
Some key findings of the trials are that heart patients in Singapore are younger than those in the West. Also, as the relation between diabetes and heart risk is explored, their findings reveal that diabetes in Asia is not always related to obesity, unlike in the West. These findings are important because it points to a future of individualised medicine, she says. “In the history of medicine, people with diseases are all treated in the same way. We need to go into the genomic approach of treatment for all kinds of diseases. We want to get down to a precision approach.”
Her strategy is to be authentic about her goal, roll up her sleeves and do the work, which ties in to the stethoscope she is pictured with. “It symbolises the heart and what it represents, to be authentic, to be true.”
3/6 Marianne Fabre Le Sand, Co-founder of Akar de Nissim
In 2011, Marianne Fabre Le Sand started lifestyle brand Akar de Nissim with her husband, Richard, and it is the creation she is most proud of. “We wanted to launch our own luxury lifestyle brand that is refined and soulful with an exquisite sense of restraint,” says Marianne, who is the brand’s international sales director.
Her husband had always thought of undertaking something in home decor after spending years as artistic director for different furniture brands, and with her background in sales in the luxury hospitality industry, they felt ready to start their own business. The most challenging aspect was being able to deliver high-quality products within a short period of time. To achieve this, they hired French master craftsmen, who spent months in their factory in Vietnam, to implement the processes and training programmes for the artisans and give the new brand an edge to stand out from the competition.
Among the brand’s product range, which includes the chair Marianne is pictured with, she is especially proud of the Oscar sideboard, which pays tribute to Brazilian architects Oscar Niemeyer and Marcio Kogan, representing the old and the new generations, respectively. “They mesmerise me when I look at their works over the past 50 years,” says Marianne, describing their works as masterpieces in terms of perspective and achieving a sense of balance. “The sideboard was a real technical challenge for our design team because of its panels, which are made of solid travertine or marble.”
Being an entrepreneur has taught Marianne that “positive thinking is essential to selfconfidence and overall health. The more you practise positive thoughts and behaviours, the more confident and self-assured you will feel. When you are an entrepreneur, this mindset helps a lot on a daily basis”.
4/6 Joy Seah, Director of business development at Ministry of Design
The opportunity to design the New Majestic Hotel—which recently shuttered to make way for new developments—was what sparked the formation of architectural and design firm Ministry of Design in 2004.
Joy Seah entered to take care of the non-design aspects of the business, freeing her husband Colin to focus on design. “I do what the architects and designers don’t want to do—business development, HR, finance and office management,” she says of her multifaceted role that taps on her previous experience at global consulting firm Accenture and corporate business exposure. She has helped to grow the business into a globally recognised, award-winning design firm, with offices in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, and projects in more than eight countries.
Says Joy, “The journal captures my thoughts as I handle calls, e-mails, WeChat and WhatsApp messages from various clients. I am quite digitally driven and I like having all my work and thoughts captured across my MacBook, smartphone and iPad. When I juggle multiple calls from clients, it’s often quicker to simply jot things down with pen and paper. Sometimes that’s faster than typing!”
Inside the journal are renderings and photos of the firm’s newly launched and in-progress projects, which includes Vue Hotel, an 80-room boutique hotel in Beijing that aims to reinterpret Chinese culture in modern and quirky ways.
The excellent design the firm produces is a direct result of the talent within it. When the formula is right with great people, she says, it is “a wonderfully liberating and satisfying experience”. One way Ministry of Design achieves this is by consciously taking on fewer projects, to allow the creative team to focus on one project at a time “so we can focus on innovation, and achieve real work-life balance. It may mean lower profits, but it feels great to have a happy team”.
5/6 Sabrina Tan, Founder and CEO of Skin Inc
For Sabrina Tan, a battle with eczema was the catalyst for a breakthrough beauty innovation. “Sometimes my scalp would be so sensitive and red I couldn’t colour close to the roots. What was worse was when I saw my son and daughter struggling with eczema, too.”
While she was working in marketing in the tech sector, Sabrina began mulling over how to find a suitable product tailored for her instead of the generic ones available. She was also dissatisfied with timewasting multistep skincare regimes. She learned that over 80 per cent of the skin’s condition is affected by lifestyle and environmental stressors.
So in 2008, skincare brand Skin Inc was born. “I wanted to empower people with knowledge of their own skin, and understanding of what to do for their skin,” she says. That prompted the concept of My Daily Dose—a cocktail blend of three serums for each person’s unique skincare needs. Customers answer a three-minute questionnaire called the Skin Identity Check on the Skin Inc website. Using a proprietary algorithm, the technology is able to decode individual skin identities and concoct the most effective cocktail of serums.
The most challenging aspect of starting the brand was that when she came up with the concept nine years ago, nobody could grasp it. The skincare scientists in Japan she spoke to could not understand her proposal and told her it was not possible to have three different serums in one product, because the ingredients would not be stable. However, Sabrina persisted and came up with the idea of encapsulating the active ingredients in the serum, so they would remain stable. She proposed this idea to the scientists and My Daily Dose was born.
6/6 Janice Wong, Chef and founder of JWO Holdings
Not everyone can say they have made women’s dreams come true, but Janice Wong can. The pastry chef’s Chocolate H20, an air-light concoction of water, chocolate and egg white, was “designed for women, because women love chocolate and love to indulge”.
The low-calorie, gluten-free mousse comprises 50 per cent dark chocolate and 50 per cent water. It is accompanied by yuzu sorbet, drizzled with yuzu calamansi sauce and sprinkled with a chocolate crumble of cocoa powder, butter and salt. Gummy gems of burnt caramel parfait dot the plate. “I wanted to tease with the sight of the dish,” says Janice. “The sight is part of the fulfilment, then the taste.”
A big challenge in creating this dessert was the stability of the mousse. “It’s important that it doesn’t collapse before it reaches the diner. We got around it by using egg white powder as a stabiliser.”
The Chocolate H20, which took two months from conception to end product, also entered the finals of the Valrhona C3 Pastry Competition in Spain in 2012 to represent Asia. Janice and her team are currently focused on edible art, doing 40 exhibits a year, such as the first edible marshmallow ceiling art they created in 2011 for a gallery in Singapore and their sugar and chocolate seascape, Underwater Labyrinth, at the Singapore Art Museum in 2016.
Besides making her mark with such innovative creations, Janice also feels a sense of fulfilment for being able to inspire other women due to the presence of her eponymous stores in Asia, such as the Janice Wong MGM pastry shop at the new MGM Cotai Resort in Macau set to open later this year. “Women, especially in Japan, come up to us to say this is amazing,” she says. “Over there, women do not use their names as their brand, even if they are the lead pastry chef. I think seeing what we have done gives a lot of women courage.”
Photography Eric Seow
Fashion Direction Desmond Lim
Hair Grego/Indigo Artisans, using Glamour Salon System
Make-Up Nikki Fu/Indigo Artisans, using Shu Uemura
Photographer’s Assistant Eric Tan
Stylist’s Assistant Joey Tan