Style Diversity: Cheryl Chan

From The Infinite Wardrobe: FIRST AVENUE SHIRT by GHOSPELL and CONTRAST STITCHING OPEN FRONT PANTS by CISTAR

The whole point of fashion is to express who you are on the inside, and not care about what people think.

We’d love to pick your brain – what is diversity to you?

Diversity to me is about being seen and heard, no matter who you are or what you believe in. To see people of all races, religions, shape, gender, socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, physical abilities, beliefs, and ideologies have equal and valid representation within the media and society. It’s about accepting people for who they are, instead of conforming them to fit the majority.

In this day and age, especially with the whole melting pot of cultures, it’s so, so important to be able to understand someone else’s viewpoints and experiences apart from yours because it’s the differences that make us interesting and special! How boring would it be if you only chose to experience the things that you knew all the time? You would never learn!

In a multicultural city like Singapore, when did you first realise the importance of diversity in society?

Growing up, I’ve been so lucky to have parents who had friends from different backgrounds. As a child, I had so many opportunities to celebrate holidays like Deepavali, Christmas, and Hari Raya with our family friends and just partake in the culture with them. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised my experiences weren’t the norm, but rather the exception – that some people in Singapore had never even tried Eurasian or Indian food their whole lives because they never knew any Eurasians or Indians in Singapore. 

And then in school, again I was lucky enough to call these people my close friends and I continued to be able to partake in their culture together with them, but on the flipside, was also privy to the micro aggressions they received in their daily lives. I’m not perfect, and as a cisgender Chinese woman, I understand I have privileges in society that some don’t, especially in Singapore. I try my best to hear opposing views out, and take a stand when I hear someone saying something I disagree with, even if it ends up becoming a mood ruiner at the time. 

As someone who works in the media industry, you do feel a sense of responsibility to try to be as inclusive as possible with your words or the people you feature. But because we’re semi-public personas, sometimes your words can be overly scrutinized and twisted, and the public can be quick to pounce without knowing the full story. I’ve personally witnessed these things happen to well-intentioned industry friends. Their words got manipulated in a way that was out of their hands and did not reflect their original intention, and that sparked off a chain reaction on social media.

What is streetwear to you?

Streetwear to me is the clothing that came from the streets. While it might have initially branched off from a couple of underground subcultures such as skaters, surfers and hip-hop, I think it has since evolved into a way of dressing that is outside of the regular fashion “system” and has allowed people to dress themselves however they see fit.

With a rather unique style like yours, whom do you look to for inspiration or ideas?

I look to so many people for inspiration! I love Rihanna, Chloé Sevigny and Dua Lipa’s personal style. So many celebrities are too afraid to try an outfit and fail so I really admire their fearlessness when it comes to fashion.

But I’m actually most inspired by anyone who just loves fashion, really. It’s really interesting for me to see people live in their clothes and working fashion into their daily lives as opposed to getting dressed up just for a picture. 

Some people I’m really inspired by at the moment are 

  • Sugar Artist Maayan Zilberman (@maayan.zilberman), 
  • Teen Vogue EIC Lindsay Peoples Wagner (@lpeopleswagner), 
  • Fashion Buying Director of My Theresa Tiffany Hsu (@handinfire), 
  • Interior Designer Athena Calderone (@eyeswoon), 
  • Media Personality Elaine Welteroth (@elainewelteroth) 
  • Lyn the Accidental Icon (@iconaccidental) and 
  • my friend Fashion Director Janice Pidduck (@janicepidduckk)!

How does your personality influence the way you dress?

I’d like to think of myself as someone who’s quite open-minded and expressive, and I think my love of interesting and unique silhouettes, as well as colours, patterns, and textures is a physical representation of who I am as a person. I think the whole point of fashion is to express who you are on the inside and not care about what people think. 

I’m also quite relaxed as a person; everything is basically “can lah” to me and how that translates is that I always have to be comfortable and not too done up. So if I’m going to be wearing a really glamorous dress I might have grungier hair and makeup. 

Experimenting with fashion is in a way my comfort zone; I’d literally try (or wear) anything at least once. Something I’ve also learnt from styling over the years is that things can always surprise you, so you should always give it a try—even if you think it looks weird! Even if it does, at the end of the day, it’s just clothes!

You’re now the Fashion Editor at Cleo Magazine – what was your career journey like?

It was a very slow but steady journey over the course of 9 years. I was working in retail and a stylist was casually speaking to my colleague about looking for someone to replace him and she recommended me. While it wasn’t a fashion magazine, I took that opportunity in the hopes that it would at least get me through the door. I ended up stuck in lifestyle magazines for about 5 years because I wasn’t fully confident in my work and I would get so disheartened whenever I wouldn’t get a callback for an interview. 

But eventually I told myself to not take it personally and I kept trying (and would even style test shoots on weekends to build my book) until I finally landed a fashion position at the now-defunct Cosmopolitan Singapore. From there it was much easier to move around whenever I saw a great position open up!

Some people look up to fashion editors as their style and creative inspiration. What are some things you do to stay updated on the latest trends in fashion?

I would say a big part of my inspiration comes from social media, the internet, and pop culture. While I no longer obsessively comb through the runway shows to find out the latest trends, I do like to use Instagram to keep up with my favourite brands and editors, influencers, and personalities — I’ve discovered so many new brands just solely off following these people. 

I’m also a big consumer of movies and TV shows, so sometimes the costume design of a show can be really inspiring to me, too. The last show I watched was HBO’s The Deuce which was set in ’70s New York and the outfits were amazing!

You are quite a traveller! Can you share with us what you love about travel and countries that you were pleasantly surprised by?

I’m someone who loves change and can’t sit still for long so traveling is a great way to incorporate all of that! I’m also very lucky that my job has allowed me to visit many countries that I otherwise might not have the opportunity to do so (Seychelles and India especially!). I love experiencing the culture, design and art of a new city the most, so you’re most likely to find me exploring the city on foot and checking out museum exhibits. And of course, checking out the retail scene!

I went to Berlin last year and I LOVED IT!  I enjoyed the grungy vibes of the city and there was always so much to do and see. I’m such a city girl at heart. The people there were also very friendly which I was pleasantly surprised by! Vienna was also such an amazing place. I spent 4 days there and it was definitely not enough.

What are some travel tips you have for our fellow travellers?

Plan all your outfits and try them on at home before you travel! It would save you so much time and space, and not to mention curb impulse spending when you realise you’ve brought five pairs of bottoms, only two tops, and a pair of shoes you can’t walk in.

I like to pack in advance too, so what I would do is start throwing things I like into my luggage as early as a month in advance, and then start culling them as the weeks pass by. This will make sure you don’t go scrambling for your favourite sweater two days before you’re supposed to fly off. I also like to use the garment bags you get from shoes and bags as a way to separate my clothes. They double up as laundry bags as well when your clothes get dirty.

What is your personal philosophy?

Don’t ever take yourself too seriously and always be honest with yourself. You can lie to the world but you can’t lie to yourself.

What was the defining experience that led you to this philosophy? 

I don’t think who I’ve become as a person today can be defined by just one experience, but definitely seeing my mother take control of my parent’s company and household (and basically being a pillar of strength for the family) when my father was incapacitated from a brain tumor  made me admire her so, so much. If she could do ALL of that AND keep a family of six afloat, I have basically no excuses to not have my shit together.

Inspired by her fierce love for fashion? Rent from Cheryl’s top picks:

Beat the stereotypes and embraces the differences. Find out more about our celebration about diversity in our community from our interview series:

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