And I feel like a proud mama

Nine years ago, I bumped into Priscilla in the pool house of our mutual friend/photographer’s home, where she was preparing her very first collection of about 10 pieces and readying them for a photoshoot.

We were ex-colleagues, and did a stint in the same publishing house but never did collaborate. But quickly, we reconnected, and started discussing about her debut capsule at hand, examining the batik fabrics she sourced and used, and talked at length about the pieces that worked and that didn’t. 

I remember that Priscilla was little nervous—because I was the first journalist to comb through her designs— and when she is nervous, she actually speaks quite calmly; sometimes a bit woozy from all the excitement. But she was very eloquent in what she wanted to convey with each piece; and it was never just a skirt or a dress. It was never just clothes. From there, she birthed a passion project named after both her parents: Ong Shunmugam.  

Last weekend, Priscilla birthed another brand: OM, a diffusion line of her main chapter. Nine years on, as successful as she has become, I’m reminded of how she's still the same Priscilla that I met in that pool house, even though she is now a powerhouse entrepreneur who fronts one of the most successful independent home-grown labels in Singapore, and who is possibly the only one who can afford her very own runway show annually.

But it hasn't changed: A show still makes her nervous, there is still so much deliberation behind each collection, and it’s never, ever just clothes.

Tell me again, how you came up with the name OM.
PS To me, the exercise of this diffusion line is somewhat a process of distillation. We take cuts, shapes, silhouettes that Ong Shunmugam has developed in-house over the years, and then we strip away the print, the batik, the textures, the clashes, the lace. Where we introduce new designs, they are independent of any previous collection we have produced but they still abide by the house codes of impeccable fit and construction. 

So I basically took the words Ong Shunmugam and stripped away all the letters in between to whittle it down to OM. And with the term being one with such positive connotations, it just felt right. 

How is OM different from Ong Shunmugam, in terms of audience, collection starting point, production and price point?
PS Based on the premise of translating female confidence into a fashion aesthetic, OM is a line dedicated to helping women build their own fashion vocabulary of beauty, power, and gender. Reflecting a highly-mobile, educated and financially independent audience, it offers simplified solutions for working women seeking to grow their professional wardrobe. 

In terms of audience, we are certainly hoping to serve customers of our main line, but also to speak to a wider category of women who all share the same joys of having a robust professional life. 

In terms of a starting point, OM is driven by what working women need and want. The collections are purposeful in all aspects: silhouettes, colour palette, fabrications, versatility, upkeep—we pay close attention to how these elements really matter when you have to dress for a day that really matters.

In terms of production, we are maintaining our commitment to quality construction and precise tailoring, but scaling up our quantities in order to keep price points accessible enough for workwear. Fabrics are all pre-shrunk, zippers are all best-in-class, except where ideal otherwise, all pieces are fully lined. No shortcuts whatsoever! 

In terms of price point, we know that the way women shop for Monday to Friday differs significantly from how they would for occasion wear, and so have consciously kept prices sharp to fit nicely in the grand scheme of things. 

Ong Shunmugam has always been exploration of culture, Southeast Asian tradition costumes. Will OM be a continuation of that?
PS You’re spot on about Ong Shunmugam! 

OM is certainly a continuation of exploration surrounding Southeast Asian identity and culture, but is expressed through a different tangent, perhaps one that focuses on the Southeast Asian woman and asks what her struggles are? Where her place in larger society is? How truly liberated is she? Now that so many of us are educated, well-travelled and some of us may well be breadwinning women, could this be the time to celebrate our sense of self? 

OM is still unapologetically Ong Shunmugam—knowing, assured, refined. Customers can expect the same treatment of quality and precision, speaking the same design language, but at a different pitch. 

I basically took the words Ong Shunmugam and stripped away all the letters in between to whittle it down to OM. And with the term being one with such positive connotations, it just felt right.
Priscilla Shunmugam

How was the seed for this diffusion line planted?
PS I had begun thinking of exploring a diffusion line probably four years ago, when I realised that customers were always interested in what I wore on the job. I certainly do not wear Ong Shunmugam on a daily basis but they still seemed keen and I found that fascinating. But four years ago, the label was in a very different place and I don’t think we could have executed running a diffusion line and a main line concurrently. 

Because I work in fashion and I love what I do, I never struggle with what to wear Monday to Friday. But I think for many women, what will never go away—regardless of what you do for a living—is a lot of anxiety over what to wear to work or how to present yourself in a professional capacity. OM totally gets that, but doesn’t suggest you take the easy way out. We believe you can be capable and fashionable and not be afraid to be both at the same time. 

Tatler Asia
Above Priscilla, on her wedding day

A lot of Ong Shunmugam design stem from the fabric; will this be different or similar for OM?
PS You’re right. As a designer, I start from fabric and then work backward, and so the ideation process for OM is similar. The difference now is that I’m not relying on my go-to prints or textures. (Not because I’m bored of them! Just wait till you see Cruise 2020!). OM allows me to explore the other side of the coin of my aesthetic, which is an innate sense of proportion, lines, spatial awareness, and my true love for colour. I now have the freedom to devote an entire line to the use of solid fabrics, something I do really appreciate (see my ROM dress hehe!) but which the main line doesn’t really allow me room to play with. 

Name three of your favourite OM pieces.
PS Let’s say if someone wanted to restrict herself to just three pieces? I would say pick up the L7C vest, the L19 pants and the L4 skirt. We spent a lot of time in the studio perfecting these cuts and they will immediately elevate your look, whether you wear them together or individually.

Remember that when it comes down to working with solid fabrics—it’s all about the cut and the workmanship. These three hit all the right notes. 

OM is exclusively available at Atelier Ong Shunmugam, 43 Jalan Merah Saga.