THE Mae Tan Interview
On life in quarantine, activism and influence, school in New York, Singapore Social
Mae: What made you think of interviewing me?
Marcus: I’ve been reading up on the “death” of celebrities, influencers, magazines.
There was controversy when Ellen posted a video of her in her ginormous mansion joking that quarantine feels like “being in jail”.
I thought it’d be interesting to chat with you about where you think influencer culture is headed and how you can be part of that change.
Mae: Do you think influencers are “dead”?
Marcus: It’s changed from influencers who dominated because their photos were perfect to this “relatable” character. Think Bretman Rock, Man Repeller. “Authenticity” has come up a lot.
It’s also fascinating that as an influencer you’ve been able to cross-over between high society and youth culture. I don’t think many “fashion” people have been able to do that.
Mae: I don’t live picture-perfect moments all the time. I used to be that “get the perfect shot” girl just to work in the industry. Eventually I realised that’s not what I wanted to stand for.
Marcus: I’ve read, watched, listened to your interviews on Millennials of Singapore, The Bite (podcast by Norman Tan of Esquire), Café à la Mode (with Kenneth Goh), Harper’s BAZAAR, Straatosphere, Tatler, etc.
Mae: I love doing interviews.
Marcus: What are you most sick of being asked?
Mae: “Is Singapore Social real?”
Marcus: I think your answers about the show, while vague, speak for themselves.
Mae: Hopefully people see between the lines, I answered all questions truthfully.
Marcus: How are you feeling?
Mae: I was quarantined after Fashion Week. I had one week free in-between circuit breaker, but I didn’t go out. I’ve been home >a month.
At first I was glad the world could take a break from life. Then I thought about the economy, people who don’t have homes, friends who struggle with family.
With nothing to do, I stressed out. My mind thinks of picking up a new hobby, getting work done, taking photos, brushing up on my computer, design skills. Before you called I was journaling. I should just breathe.
How about you?
Marcus: Similar story. I was excited to write, read, watch movies, etc. When I didn’t achieve my goals I spiralled. Now it’s more about recalibrating, prioritising, keeping calm. For me it’s not so much about being/not being a homebody, but that I can’t do something makes me want to do it more.
Are influencers relevant during a pandemic?
Mae: Definitely. I take the attention I get as an influencer seriously. For a while, I’ve been posting more stories that help with mental health.
I always ask myself, what’s the point? I want to help social causes that need more advocacy.
Marcus: Will you use TikTok?
Mae: I’m on it! I think this video [above] is one of my best works. *laughs* My best friend, Min G, was like, huh? I was challenged by a friend from Vogue Thailand to do a “Vogue From Home” video on TikTok. After downloading, I might have spent 2 hours on it.
Marcus: As an influencer, to what extent are you aspirational vs relatable?
Mae: I don’t even know how I became an influencer. Those who’ve not read interviews of me may not know I had a full-time job.
My boyfriend and I have discussed my calling. It’s social work and serving my community. How can I win my community’s trust? I always try to show the candid side of my life.
Marcus: Can you do social work wearing Prada?
Mae: I’m not going to wear it doing social work, but I want to be a person who owns Prada and does social work. In 2019, I came close to stop posting on Instagram and leaving the fashion industry; I felt obligations more from others than myself.
Marcus: If not numbers/likes, what marks your success as an influencer?
Mae: Being real.
Marcus: On Singapore Social, you and Paul Foster were ambassadors of environmentalism. Thoughts on wearing fashion that’s grossly unsustainable?
Mae: It’s not easy fighting between what’s right and doing what takes me to the next step. I’ve turned down working with brands who’re not stepping up their game. But like with what Prada did with Re-Nylon, it made me like them more.
Marcus: How’s studying in New York?
Mae: I had plans after Fashion Week to move there, I was supposed to start in August. I’m waiting things out.
Marcus: Is there going to be Singapore Social season 2?
Mae: If everyone loved it, there would be.
When I set out to chat with the coolest fashion/media creatives in Singapore ~1.5 years ago, my friends asked who my dream person to chat with was. @marxmae, I jokingly replied; I was way in over my head.
So when she finally agreed to it I screamed and ran around my house. During our chat, it was refreshing to hear her introspect multitasking two lives at once (she’s a Gemini, if that means anything): the nostalgia of her childhood in Pasir Ris, and the glamour of her family’s hard work paying off.
It reminded me of the cliché, it’s the journey not the destination. I now know why it’s such an unpopular phrase: it can only completely make sense to someone who has access to all the destinations.