The handcrafted rattan pieces carry the same richness and unique interpretations of Asian design that are synonymous with her work in fashion.
25 September 2020
Text by Janice Seow
Photography by Ivan Tan
When it comes to Singaporean fashion, Priscilla Shunmugam and her iconic womenswear and lifestyle label Ong Shunmugam come quickly to mind. So when we hear that the designer – fresh off her first foray into homeware with the Suvarnabumi tableware collection late last year – is back with a brand new furniture range, we can’t help but feel excited.
Like her clothing lines, the furniture pieces are unique interpretations of the Asian vernacular, and a convergence of tradition and innovation. Crossing the fences of time, geography and culture, the furniture range is handmade in Malaysia by veteran craftsmen in a labour-intensive process using Malaysian-harvested Rotan Manau, Rotan Mantang and Rotan Sega species of rattan; batik and synthetic rattan from Indonesia; jacquard from China; and indigenous Iban weave patterns.
“We tried our best to take a different path by ignoring the common references of rattan furniture and upping the design value and differentiation quotient in a way that feels instinctual to us,” says Priscilla. “Most of our pieces had no template to build upon, meaning we had to draw from scratch and the craftsmen had to build from our drawings. We also introduced the use of foreign elements like fabrics and batik in particular, and challenged the craftsmen with technically demanding requests to merge materials and structures together in ways that hadn’t been attempted before.”
To produce the collection, Priscilla shares that many months were spent studying and understanding the cultivation of rattan, the manufacturing challenges of the material, and its social importance. “A combination of forest clearing, forest conversion to cash-crops and Western conservation ideals/practices are changing the industry on multiple levels, and it feels like we’re looking at both imminent biological and cultural loss. We felt that was potential for us to come in and contribute our design values to the industry,” says Priscilla.
The designer also highlights that the Ong Shunmugam design philosophy has been consistently applied to this collection where the idea is not to “replicate or mimic”.
Says Priscilla, “It is safe to say that the design lens we have used for our womenswear is the same lens we apply to anything in the Suvarnabumi universe.”
The Suvarnabumi furniture collection by Priscilla Shunmugam is available for pre-order here.
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