In geo-political terms, Singapore has always struggled a little with its underdog status: a tiny dot of a rock at the foot of the Malayan Peninsula teeming with lush vegetation, a tough mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and European settlers, and not much else by way of natural resources.
The thing about underdogs, of course, is how they always seem to sneak up from behind and surprise you. Which is why most first-timers to Singapore are invariably nonplussed by the extraordinary spectacle before them.
Cut from the apron strings of Mother England in 1965, this former colonial outpost - so quaintly remembered by Somerset Maugham and scratchy Movietone newsreels - has leapfrogged into first world status in barely a generation.
A new cohort of young, professional expats and returning diaspora now call the city home. And why not? Today, Singapore is a heaving tropical metropolis where sparkling skyscrapers are framed by emerald swathes of incredibly fecund vegetation. Its GDP figures, treasury reserves, quality of life, standard of living indices and tourism numbers are the envy of the world. The financial crisis that stormed through London and New York was a localised squall.
If this were a movie, Singapore would be a blockbuster starring Tom Cruise.
But the most compelling subplot has been the city-state’s dalliance with its creative side. With great energy and determination, both the public and private sectors have -- almost overnight, it seems -- transformed a once staid artistic backwater into a powerhouse.
This explains why Wallpaper* has long championed Singapore, and why we felt the time was ripe for an updated, in-depth look at its creative prowess, and the talented people who work so hard behind the scenes.
The muscular skyline is sprinkled with eye-catching silhouettes. Centuries-old shop-houses are being sensitively made over into offices, boutiques and bijou hotels. The concert halls thrum with first-rate concerts, while daring film-makers are making the kind of socially conscious movies that would have been unheard of a decade ago. On the gourmet front, local tastemakers stand proud alongside the likes of Mario Batali, Guy Savoy and Wolfgang Puck.
As the Wallpaper* team of reporters and photographers scoured the island, dipping in and out of ateliers and art galleries, we took notes and found plenty to admire. What struck us most, though, was not how far Singapore has come in so short a time, but rather how much untapped potential there is. A thrilling sense of potential hangs in the air.
Punching way above its weight category, Singapore’s plucky determination to mix it up with the best of the best is, we think, the biggest story out there. Stay tuned for the sequel.