i met Lishan during my stint in Shanghai this past year, and we quickly bonded over our mutual love of fashion, cake, and mid-90s Mariah Carey. from her super-cool career to her dalliance with gold leggings, she is easily one of the most inspiring people i know who knows how to have fun while keeping it real.
read on for the interview!
Hello! Please introduce yourself to LAM readers.
Hi there! I'm Lishan. I'm from Singapore and I'm a design researcher and consultant.
You've also got a bit of a fashion journalism background. What was your experience like? Any fun / crazy stories?
I don't know about fun and crazy – I did meet and interview Alber Elbaz, Alexandra Schumann, Tim Walker, Christopher Kane, Penny Martin (then at ShowStudio, now at The Gentlewoman). They were amazing storytellers, with these very articulate points of view on their work...Which is probably why I still remember them 5 years on.
Why did you ultimately decide to transition from fashion to consulting?
In between fashion and design consulting I also worked in performing arts management. Actually I think they're all linked – each is about understanding and appreciating not just what is beautiful, but what is essential. I probably should explain more: fashion is essential in that it is so personal, and what you put on yourself each morning is a reflection of how you see yourself in that moment, on that day – how you are feeling and what you are thinking. That's how I've always thought about it anyway. The performing arts has an unparalleled ability to move you with the unexpected. As for working in design consulting – the best designs are intentional, meaningful, and they make people's lives better. And all three industries I've been in comprise people who are in love with the work they do. It's an incredible environment to be in.
How would you describe your personal style these days? How has it evolved over the years?
Dressy, but not girly. Having just gotten back from 1.5 years on the road, I can't tell you how good it is to finally have an entire wardrobe to choose from instead of just a suitcase. I'm really relishing the experience of choosing something nice and putting it on in the morning. I'm also going for more colour, prints and patterns these days – I love detail. My wardrobe still consists of a lot of solid colours (see pictures). You can never have enough of those.
I've had fairly eclectic and sometimes vilified style over the years – my favourite wardrobe item used to be a pair of gold leggings. I was definitely the only person who liked them.
My attempt to wear more patterns and prints!
Has working in the design field influenced how you think about fashion?
I think it's more the other way around – working in fashion has definitely influenced how I think about my work now in design.
Going to Central Saint Martins and working in fashion taught me a lot about the process of creation, patience, attention to detail, how to look at objects (clothes, back then) in 3D (as opposed to 2D, in pictures), movement.
1. Work: Equipment Blouse / Zero+Maria Cornejo skirt (that doubles up as a dress!) / Sportsgirl necklace
2. Casual: No brand white top / French Connection wide legged jeans
3. Weekend: Anthropologie ruffle top / Fly Now (Thai Brand) shorts
4. Casual: Sass & Bide maxi dress
5. Work: Kookai tank top / Awesome pleated wool skirt from Shanghai
If there was a signature design industry uniform (for guys or girls), what would it be?
A signature design industry uniform – universally, designers love their shoes. Designers by and large have great shoes. Apart from that, the men have more of a uniform than the women: often, plaid, and great belts. Very little (almost none) of that black turtleneck black trousers black-framed glasses and bald head thing.
What role does fashion/style play in your life now? Do you remember when you first became interested in it?
I am a mere observer and appreciator these days. But I would be lying if I said I wasn't deeply style conscious. I love great clothes, and more than that, I love wearing great clothes.
Does wearing my mother's high heels as a wee child count? We lived in high rise public housing back then – I would "steal" her Ferragamos, put them on and tromp around the house triumphantly until the neighbours downstairs complained. I was most likely also wearing my favourite polka dotted Mickey Mouse overall shorts and toting a kiddy umbrella.
Later in life, I think it was also the moment I noticed that I was hoarding a veritable fashion magazine stash that had spilled from my room into the toilet during my senior year of college that I realised that it was a viable career option for me. I was already writing for my school paper then, covering arts and culture, and had a big-city-good-money job waiting, and then I thought...why would I want to do this job in the day, come home, sit on my toilet and dream about doing something else at night?
Where do you look to now for your style information and inspirations? Are you more of a digital or an analog girl?
I have a big weakness for print. I still buy magazines – i-D, Acne Paper, Self Service, POP, Dossier Journal, Fantastic Man... and those are just the fashion ones. In a way, I still like my words and rubbing the pages of a print publication. Blogs are very visual and real-life-focused, and rightly so. But I like the imagination and creation that go on behind a styled shoot. There's depth to it.
You've lived in quite a few places in the world, and are also quite a jetsetter for your job! What is your favorite airport? Layover city? City for fun / fashion / food?
Airports - the best duty free shopping is definitely at London Heathrow and Bangkok. The best food - Hong Kong for the wonton noodles, Bangkok for the mango sticky rice cooked on the spot for you at the snack shop, and the ANA lounge at Tokyo Narita for the hot noodle bar. Narita also for its japanese biscuit shops. And Singapore is the only airport in the world you can get from plane to taxi in 10 minutes (with checked luggage).
Given all the places you've lived, how do you see Singapore now – is it still a home base? Has it changed culturally / style-wise since your childhood?
Yeah, for now. My people here know and love me, and I them. That's essentially 'home' isn't it? Singapore is changing so fast. There is the usual cliche of it being "the best of East and West", which is not untrue. It's a city/country where options are increasing every day – not just more options, but better options – of things to do, see, buy, experience, which makes it an exciting place to be. However – very little of the Singapore I grew up in exists today, so my inherent nostalgia has fewer and fewer physical reference points.
Style-wise – we have 365 days of summer – there's really only so much one can do with flip flops, sundresses and shorts ;) But we make it work.
What are your travel essentials for a work trip? Any tips for stylish and practical packing?
In lieu of a work bag that goes with all of your clothes, always pack 1 black bag and 1 brown/earth-toned bag, as well as at least 2 pairs of shoes that match them.
An oversized scarf in a neutral colour. A pair of white plimsols or chuck taylors goes with everything. A foldable umbrella. Bedroom slippers. Depending on the country I'm going to I bring a little Diptyque candle with me as well.
In my travel pouch:
Wet wipes // Tissue // Hand Sanitizer
Hand luggage: Always use pouches to store your mints/gum, tissue, hand sanitiser, wet wipes, iphone, pocket mirror, lip balm (rosebud salve), moisturizer and my absolute essential: Aesop Ginger Flight Therapy. Also always pack a good book and your iPad. Oh, and a pen. Always a pen.
Packing shoes that go with everything:
My Chucks are too disgraceful for a public forum. They have no tongues.
I alternate between my favourite beat up chestnut brown leather Prada tote bag, this superb black leather bag I bought in Shanghai from initial, and a surprisingly versatile snakeskin-canvas PS1. I also looove cheap cotton bags with cheeky prints on them. I put sports gear or my laptop in them so I can distribute the weight.
My 3 bags with incredible mileage that I always bring for work travel
My favourite cotton totes
Finally, fill in the blank: I cannot live without ________________
...The usual answers all apply. I would also say visual and mental stimulation. And bacon.