January 19, 2018
The physical world is increasingly no longer for living, but rather a mood board for designing a more advanced digital one. In that vein, one could assertively predict that true love may not play an important role in our lives in years to come. If that sounds like hell on earth, we have the antidote: we just caught an exclusive whiff of Emporio Armani‘s latest couple fragrances, Stronger With You and Because It’s You, an olfactory couple that should qualify as a love language sitting right above the five we’ve been introduced to by romantic psychology.
Inspired by his life, Giorgio Armani perfected two scents to illustrate the aura of two human beings in love. The fragrances are quintessential in their essences — the men’s musky and rugged, the women’s floral and peppy.
What better way to translate that love language into a reality than with power couple Charmaine Seah (@eleventhour) and Derek Ong (@dercong), founders of digital marcomms agency Elementary Co. (@elementary.co). Childhood friends who danced their way through their teenage years, Charmaine and Derek have launched successful brands like Philippe Starck Hotel at South Beach, the late Chinatown haunt Lepark and most recently the cosy Common Man Coffee Roasters.
Today, they’re parents to daughters three-year-old Charlie Rose and three-month-old Dahlia Jaymes, making their lifestyle a three-way seesaw of work, career and family many can only aspire towards. We sit down with the powerhouse duo in their minimalist office nearby the rustic Lavender cafe district to discuss the key to staying #TogetherStronger.
How did you meet?
C: Our parents knew each other before we were born.
D: From the same Kampong.
C: We used to go out on his dad’s company’s boat to St John’s Island. When we got married we tried to look for a photo of us as kids, but we only managed to find one of us taken from behind. Anyway, Derek went overseas to study and we reconnected when he came back for his grandfather’s funeral. Besides that, we’d club when he was back for the holidays.
D: There were cool places like Butter Factory, Zouk and old MOS when the clubbing scene was happening.
C: Plus we liked a lot of the same music, so we’d go for music festivals and concerts together. We were dating other people then, but we’d talk on MSN when he’d go back to Melbourne. Three years later we found ourselves single, so we started going out! Our first date was very romantic, it was for prata.
D: The exact prata shop’s in dispute.
C: I remember it as Spize, he remembers it as Mr Prata.
D: I’ve concluded that our first date was so unmemorable we can’t even remember where it was.
How did growing up together help your relationship?
D: We skipped that awkward step of having to introduce each other to the parents. It was more organic, we didn’t put up a press release saying, “Hey guys, just to let y’all know…”
C: And we were close to each other’s siblings, so the wedding was one giant party.
When was Elementary Co. founded?
C: We got married in 2012 and started Elementary Co. in 2013.
D: Digital marketing and social media were taking off, which was an opportunity to do things differently from traditional agencies.
C: While Derek was running his company I helped out at events so we knew we could work together. We also planned our wedding and didn’t kill each other.
D: That’s the subtle art of being a husband.
C: We’ve very different strengths too. Plus my brother was graduating from design school so we thought, why not? My brother came up with “Elementary.”
D: We checked on ECRA. The name “Elementary Private Limited” was available.
C: When you work on a branding project, you have to understand what makes up the name, brand or company, which is an elementary stage of thinking.
How do you balance your work and relationship?
C: Many people aren’t for working with partners. We’re into each other so we’re personally invested, doing our best and supporting each other. Previously it was hard to find time to talk or understand each other’s stress. Now we can celebrate our wins and have lunch together. Also, we don’t have a fixed time to stop talking about work.
D: Regarding “creating space,” it’s quite natural at home. We can tell when we’re tired.
C: It’s helped us read and appreciate each other better. When Derek’s watching Netflix, it means he’s done.
D: I’ve learnt a lot about the creative process, and it’s probably through her.
Family plays an important role in your lives. True?
C: We started Elementary Co. with close friends and the team now are people we hang with even after work. We want it to be a familial space to do good work.
D: We don’t aspire to a stiff corporate culture.
Charmaine, does your personal brand affect your company?
C: We’ve gotten work for Elementary Co. through my engagements but I only started to gain an Instagram following after we started the company, so they helped each other grow. Of course, Elementary Co. comes first. To me, my Instagram documents my real life, which evolves over time.
D: To give her credit, she’s very aesthetic. She has good taste, not just in men. Even what we do is aesthetic and in a style people recognise us for; both personal and corporate brands boil from the same skill set.
Derek, do you enjoy being “dragged” to Charmaine’s events?
C: He has moods.
D: It’s about how tired I am. Events allow me to see more of “the world” which can be very inspirational. In between socialising I might look at the space and think, “Wow you guys really did a good job on design” or “The goodie bag’s so awesome!” In a way work never really switches off, because I can find inspiration anywhere.
C: And I don’t always attend events with him. I have so many friends who can tag along.
D: For me when I tap out I tap out. I’m introverted, so I need to go home to play my guitar or watch Netflix. That takes a lot of time. I don’t have as much social energy as others might.
Is having a second child easier than the first?
C: Definitely. The idea of parenthood isn’t foreign and we can better divide and conquer.
D: I’m better with toddlers. I’m not so good with newborns. I like to bring the older one out to the park to tire her out. I tend to not be good at putting infants to sleep.
C: We’re a lot less stressed about it.
D: It’s tough. Running a business and having two young kids at about the same time. We’ve learnt to run a marathon instead of multitask.
C: We also have very supportive families, so we’re still able to have our own time together.
What are your future plans for yourselves and Elementary Co.?
C: Derek laughed when I said I wanted to travel more in 2018. As for the company, we’ll keep on keeping on. Having kids around in the office is something we see a lot of, more in the future. We like that kind of environment.
Date: 19 — 25 January 2018
Venue: Paragon Orchard Lobby
Stronger With You (Homme)
Because It’s You (Femme)
Available at Paragon Orchard Lobby from 19 — 25 January 2018 and islandwide from 1 February 2018 onwards. Purchase them online to enjoy complimentary engraving too.