Daniel Boey's itch to prove himself
Fashion veteran Daniel Boey's new book seeks to show those with eczema that they can overcome their struggles, as he did
Daniel Boey may be dubbed Singapore's Godfather of Fashion.
But the veteran fashion director and show producer's journey to the top was marred by his lifelong battle against eczema and allergies.
He managed to overcome the odds and achieve his dreams in an industry where people are judged primarily by their looks.
Now, Boey, 52, is sharing his experiences in his second book, Behind Every *itch Is A Back Story, which depicts his struggles growing up with his incurable skin condition. He aims to show others that one can thrive despite such challenges.
Launching at the National Gallery Singapore today, the light-hearted and humorous memoir is available at Kinokuniya, Times, MPH and Popular bookstores at $28.
Boey's eczema first appeared when he was in kindergarten as itchy rashes on his joints, which his parents tried to relieve with calamine lotion.
But when he got older, it got worse - so much so that he has been hospitalised several times for it and ended up in the Communicable Disease Centre twice.
He was taken to the medical centre after fainting during basic military training due to a combination of heatstroke and rash.
Eczema affects his joints, neck, face and scalp, palms and top of his hands as well as the soles of his feet.
Describing his allergic reactions, Boey, who is the show producer of The New Paper New Face and Miss Universe Singapore, told The New Paper: "My skin gets red and flushed.
"It is warm to the touch, even in cold environments.
"It would dry out really quickly, so it was flaky too. The skin would peel, revealing fresh rash below it.
"If the attack was especially severe, my eyes would swell to mere slits."
He recalled a particularly bad reaction when taking his final examination at the National University of Singapore with cracking and bleeding palms, which made writing painful.
Besides being allergic to seafood, dairy and eggs, among others, Boey is also plagued with chronic sinusitis, which he was told is related to the eczema.
Determined to remedy his ailments, he has spent a hefty amount on various treatments.
Boey said: "I must have tried every product under the sun, from grocery store brands to expensive designer labels."
He uses products from skincare brands Cetaphil and Jyunka, and takes antihistamine pills and alkaline water, which he also occasionally uses to wash his face.
There were also "foul-tasting" Chinese herbal concoctions and rash ointments.
As a child, Boey, who is a Roman Catholic, was introverted and preferred to spend time in the library or at the school chapel, but he also yearned to fit in.
This posed new challenges for him when he joined the fashion industry 27 years ago.
Describing himself as "innocent and naive", he was not prepared for the ugly side of working life. A photographer he worked with in the 90s called him a "lobster".
Boey said: "I do remember very vividly the bitchy, snide remarks, the sniggering, the name-calling, especially when I first started.
"People were saying that someone like me had no place being in the industry."
He added: "It never occurred to me that having eczema could be a stumbling block in fashion.
"If I had known, I might have taken a different path. I realised it quickly, but I was having so much fun by then that I was determined to make it work."
Still, it was a "bitter" trial, and Boey admitted he had thought of an "early death" several times.
His condition stabilised in the mid-2000s, but he was struck with a double whammy of an allergic reaction and yeast infection around 2009 and 2010.
Boey said: "I started losing weight at a crazy pace, and dropped from a suit (size) 48 to 44. People were asking if I was severely ill. The nastier ones thought I had Aids."
Since then, Boey has learnt to deal with his condition.
He watches what he eats and avoids wearing clothes made of certain fabrics, such as wool.
Knowing what triggers the symptoms and managing his stress levels, especially by seeking solace in hisfaith, helps as well.
His condition ended up driving him to work harder to make a name for himself with his skills.
Boey, who wrote The Book Of Daniel: Adventures Of A Fashion Insider in 2015 and has also been a judge on reality TV modelling series Asia's Next Top Model, said: "If people were fixated on my red and rashy face, I would make my shows so fantastic that they would see beyond that.
"I think having the ailment spurred me to work five times harder than I would have done if I had been normal.
"And it made me even more determined to prove my critics wrong."
He has chosen to be positive and has surrounded himself with like-minded people.
Boey said: "I also realised that you alone are responsible for how happy you want to feel. Life is what you make of it.
"I have also grown a thick skin, which helps me put my blinkers on and ignore the trolls and the naysayers."
But on his "long, miserable and lonely journey", he has encountered others fighting the same affliction, such as a group of undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University who were working on a project called Starting From Scratch in 2015.
It is one of the reasons he wrote Behind Every *itch Is A Back Story, which also features interviews with local personalities and long-time friends such as TV presenter Glenda Chong and radio DJ Vernetta Lopez on their struggles with allergies and skin conditions.
He said: "(All these people) made me realise that it was important to put a public face to this, to let the world know there is absolutely no shame in having eczema or sinusitis.
"And to let the non-sufferers know that we are really just normal people trying to lead normal lives."