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Singapore: For tomorrow's big names, head for Haji Lane

Visitors to Singapore are told to shop in Orchard Road. Yet the place to go is this little street of shop-houses. Kate Simon reports

It's vintage day in Suite Stuff on Singapore's Haji Lane. Retro numbers for fashion-conscious boys and girls adorn the rails of this boutique on a missable street off the Beach Road thoroughfare. But the pretty things scouring the racks today have had no trouble finding their way here – it's the latest place to shop.

I might have walked past Suite Stuff had I not noticed the little board at the bottom of the staircase leading to these premises on the first floor of one of the traditional shop-houses which line this narrow street. In fact, a cluster of scented candles halfway up the stairs sent me scurrying back down to double check that I wasn't intruding on an intimate soiree; that this really was a shop.

But Haji Lane is full of such conceits. Just a few doors down at Propaganda Machine, the owner, Arthur Ong, has created a "concept store", advertising the variety of goods he sells on three empty, illuminated plastic bottles artfully placed on the steps leading up to his shop: "clothes and coffee shop, music, books, whatever".

Arthur's mini emporium had only been open for a few weeks when I visited last month. And while most of the stock appeared to be clothing, he assured me more was coming and the cafe would be open once a licence arrived. We admired a display fridge that he'd put to novel use as shelving for T-shirts. "I've made it look like it's cold," he said, pointing to a carefully scratched area of the fridge's glass that did, indeed, look like frosting. "It works well," he confirmed proudly.

It is this attention to detail that makes shopping on Haji Lane so different from the retail experience offered in the high-rise shopping malls which seem to go up weekly in this city. These boutiques are intimate and the young entrepreneurs who run them are passionate not only about the goods they sell but the way they present their stock.

And since Haji Lane is the place to get the latest gear, it's also a natural showcase for Singapore's up-and-coming designers. While many shops, such as I'm Wugygege and Col:lage, import new and vintage clothes from London, New York and Sydney, others, including Niche, Dion de Cruz and White Room, try to promote local talent. It can only be a matter of time before some of these home-grown labels rub coat-hangers with Dries Van Noten and Alexander McQueen in Club 21, the micro-mall on Orchard Road run by Singapore's style guru, Christina Ong.

But for now, you can snap up pieces by tomorrow's big names at bargain prices. While fashion goods in Singapore's high-street shops cost the same as in London stores, Haji Lane's independent designers offer pieces for your wardrobe from under a tenner.

This new creative mood in conservative old Singapore appears to be infectious. Over on Dempsey Hill, the former British Army barracks has been converted into House, a day spa, cafe and bar, which opened earlier this year to provide "a one-stop locale for all your sensory needs".

It seems appropriate that the city's cutting-edge crowd should have commandeered these stark concrete reminders of colonial rule for imaginative reinterpretation for more liberal times. And, after all, there has to be somewhere to show off your Haji Lane purchases.

How to get there

Kate Simon travelled to Singapore as a guest of the Singapore Tourism Board (020-7484 2710; visitsingapore.com), Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts (0800 028 3337; shangri-la.com), and Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; singaporeair.com). Singapore Airlines offers return flights from Heathrow to Singapore from £671. Double rooms in the Valley Wing at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore start at £226 per night, including breakfast.

Further information

House (dempseyhouse.com).

Further reading 'Great Camps of the Adirondacks', by Harvey H Kaiser, (David R Godine) £50