Cover Arashan wears Tiffany & Co Schlumberger Daisy necklace in gold and platinum set with multicoloured gemstones and diamonds, Moschino merino wool dress.

The fashion maven gets candid about shifting trends, becoming your best self and why you should never underestimate the power of a bold, red lip

“Don’t be afraid,” Shabnam Arashan tells me. “It’s only fashion.” It might seem counter-intuitive that a fashion icon’s top style tip is to “not take fashion too seriously”, but according to Arashan, one of the Singapore inductees into the Asia’s Most Stylish list this year, having great style is more about knowing yourself than it is about knowing your labels.

“Being fashionable no longer pertains to just the clothes you wear. It includes how you move through the world. It’s a matter of being confident and at ease with yourself,” she says. “There are very subtle nuances of what I like in my fashion, seen in the interior decor of my home, the art I collect, the restaurants that I go to ... you tend to project what you like not just in what your wear, but in how you live. It’s an extension of yourself.”

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Going back to her point of not being afraid of fashion, Arashan says she has experienced a kind of post-pandemic style awakening—where she has become more focused on how her clothes make her feel and less on the trends du jour. “Some trends won’t suit you, and that’s fine. [The Covid-19 pandemic] gave me time to reflect not only on myself, but my style as well,” she says. “It made us reflect on the life we’re living. Do you live a life that’s defined by how you dress, or do you wear clothes to reflect the life you’re living?”

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The fashion world post-pandemic also saw an acceleration of trends that were already underway, from sustainability (“What designers like Stella McCartney are doing with sustainable materials is really interesting,” says Arashan) to a more laid-back approach to dressing and more vibrant colours, or what Arashan calls “a celebration of life”.

“Pre-Covid, colours were not so vibrant. Now, we see neon colours such as bright pinks and yellows. Even I have opened myself up to wearing colours, which I never really did before,” she says. One of her current favourites is a canary yellow jumpsuit by New Zealand-born, London-based designer Emilia Wickstead, which she pairs with a yellow trench coat.

“I feel so powerful wearing it,” she says. “Previously, I had this fear that wearing bright colours would be too loud, too attention-seeking, too out there. In Singapore, unfortunately, people tend not to experiment with fashion as much, so the chances of people stopping and looking are high. I’m happy that I put my fears [about colour] aside. I say, if you want to wear something, just be confident and you’ll rock it.”

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Couture Club

Change can certainly be a beautiful thing. Especially when it’s dripping in designer clothes. And while Arashan may be embracing a more relaxed rotation in her wardrobe, her first love will always be her spectacular couture collection featuring pieces by some of her favourite designers—kept in a temperature-controlled room, of course. “They’re like art,” she says.

Her curiosity for couture began with an interest in Lebanese designers such as Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Georges Hobeika. In fact, the first couture gown she owned was by Lebanese designer Georges Chakra which she wore to the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. “They’re of a different level,” she says. “What attracted me to [couture] are the fabrics, the execution, the exclusivity. You won’t be able to see another person wearing it, it’s uniquely yours.”

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One can’t rock couture every day, but Arashan’s daily style philosophy adheres to the “uniquely yours” aspect of couture. “Know yourself. Find what works for your skin tone, your body. Even if it’s just a T-shirt and jeans,” she says, adding that her favourite ready-to-wear brands and designers include Loewe, Balenciaga, & Other Stories and Tyler Mcgillivary.

“There are people who feel that fashion is meaningless or a waste of time. It’s not,” she says. “The pair of shoes you bought over another pair, that’s a fashion choice. The shirt you choose in the morning over another shirt, that’s a fashion choice. These little everyday choices have the power to transform your mood and the way you carry yourself.”

She adds: “As human beings, we’re a little narcissistic. We want to look good, we want to feel good. Like everything else in life, it takes a bit of time and effort.”

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When we speak, Arashan is at home, sitting in front of wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking her swimming pool. Beside the windows are three sculptures, part of her growing art collection, including a bold red- and orange-hued piece called Femme au Chandail (“woman in a sweater” in French) by French Russian sculptor Nadine Enakieff.

She is dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a tee, following a busy day of rushing around and running errands. Nonetheless, she looks impossibly chic, like a starlet snapped by paparazzi at LAX.

“An outfit has to flow,” she says. “Is it wearing you, or are you wearing it?”

The Power of Style

Nearly a decade ago, Arashan walked away from her high-flying career as a lawyer to take a more active role in her son Raoul’s life. “I made a very conscious decision to leave the practice to spend time with him when he was around eight years old,” she says, adding that the decision ultimately nurtured a bond between her and Raoul, who is now 15, that is “priceless”.

“I remember asking my partner [at the firm] if I could work from home and the response was kind of a scoff,” she says. “Now, [with Covid], everyone is working from home. It can be done, and it has created a greater work-life balance for so many people, especially women, mothers who want to be more involved in their children’s lives.”

After leaving the firm, Arashan continued to practise law, but as a volunteer assistant director for Singapore’s Legal Aid Bureau, providing pro bono legal services to underprivileged individuals, which offered the flexibility she needed to be present throughout Raoul’s childhood. “Women wear many different hats. If you ask me, I think we got the short end of the stick. Men can just switch off, but women, by nature, we don’t,” she says. “We’re mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law, wives, CEOs ... what have you.”

That doesn’t mean women can’t have it all, however. Arashan muses: “How do we do all of this and, at the same time, maintain work-life balance? How can we be the best version of ourselves without losing our sense of style?”

I ask Arashan if she has any go-to pieces in her arsenal that give her an instant confidence boost. “I don’t think there are specific pieces that can do that. Confidence comes from within—it’s you that brings confidence to those pieces,” she tells me before taking a pause. “Actually, my go-to would be a red lipstick.”

In fact, the uplifting power of a red lipstick is something that has been historically proven. While there are many ways to measure the state of the world, one such way has been the red lipstick. Time and time again, statistics have shown that when the economy or political stability is down, red lipstick sales soar—a sign that in tough times, we turn to small luxuries as a way to substitute for larger extravagances. Even if it’s something as simple, yet significant, as a bold, red lip.

“I think that’s something universal,” says Arashan. “When your mood feels a bit off, or you’re not at your optimum, a red lipstick can always take things up a notch.”

  • PhotographyDarren Gabriel Leow
  • StylingTok Wei Lun
  • Content DirectionDana Koh
  • Art DirectionMatilda Au
  • HairRick Yang
  • Make-UpRick Yang
  • Photographer's AssistantDarrell Neo
  • Stylist's AssistantKevin Tew
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