SINGAPORE – With most of the world still struggling through the Coronavirus, the fashion industry is in the odd position of being seen as either a pointless waste of resources and time, or a psychological escape from the doom and gloom.
But what does that mean for the young creatives graduating during this weird time, like the recent grads from Lasalle College of the Arts’ BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Textiles course?
For one, it meant no graduate fashion show with friends, family, media and industry insiders to show off to; so for the first time, the school created a virtual runway on 16 July.
“Although the fashion industry has long functioned based on the expectation that a runway has to be present, we are already seeing fashion houses worldwide begin to explore different ways to present their new collections,” said Circe Henestrosa, Head, School of Fashion at Lasalle.
Henestrosa refers, of course to the recent attempts by international fashion weeks to claw back some of the media focus with less than successful digital events. Of the various attempts, few of the brands managed to create an online experience that was more than just a fashion film.
If major established fashion brands with their endless budgets found it hard to stand out on the digital platform, how were 17 mini collections from a bunch of graduates based in Singapore going to do?
To be honest, Lasalle’s virtual fashion show was basically a fashion film. There was a lot of post-production and atmospheric shots of Pasir Panjang Power Station and the college campus where it was shot, but it was difficult to really see the clothes.
Watching via Zoom, you could not tell how well the garments were made, what the materials used were, or see the details that create the points of difference that make a new designer stand out.
Another thing that seemed a little behind the times was the concept of using Sustainability as an overarching ‘theme’ for organising the various designers. The collections were separated into five themes - Sustainability, Future Forward, Heritage, Textures, Body & Identity. Not unique concepts, but definitely topical ones, ideas and themes that are obviously affecting young creatives.
My issue with Sustainability as a separate theme is that in the time of climate disaster, it should no longer need to be defined as a point of difference from ‘other types of fashion’. Sustainability should not have to be a ‘theme’. Sustainability is a fact; and any designer who produces today should be doing so in a sustainable and ethical manner automatically. The idea of using ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ as a brand marketing tool is over. All brands need to be both, and therefore need to find another point of difference.
Good, bad or blah
As was to be expected, a number of the graduates were inspired by our current dystopian times with collection themes that covered everything from humanoid spaceships with different personalities, to birds, Pontianaks, and a mashup of butterflies and jellyfish; there was even one concept that was literally entitled Dystopia. Other current topics were covered as well; sizeism, sustainability, global warming, climate change, LGBTQIX, #metoo, etc. All to be expected in our modern world of global pop culture and TikTok.
Some of the most successful concepts were those that didn’t focus on the global theme to the detriment of the actual design and craftsmanship of the garments. Of the most interesting ones were the designers that reimagined their concept into garments that functioned as both an artistic statement and an intellectual concept.
My Top 3
Cheah’s collection sat under the overall theme of Sustainability, using zero-waste pattern cutting techniques, but it was her modern take on traditional Malaysian prints inspired by the decorations of traditional kites that stood out. The draped, floaty shapes in the strong traditional colours ways of orange and black were softened with additions of hand-dyed blues and yellows. While the cuts were somewhat reminiscent of early Japanese designers, the addition of ‘string’ interlacing referencing kite strings offered slivers of skin, creating a sense of fluid femininity. It will be interesting to see where Cheah goes from here. These pieces would definitely find a commercial market.
Part of the Body & Identity theme, Balachander’s collection is a cleverly wrought interpretation of the concept that “underneath our skin, our human anatomy is all one in the same”, a powerful nod to the current global reassessment of racism. The designer translates her links to her grandmother, with her age and experiences etched onto her body into a series of oversized menswear garments that expand the silhouette far outside the original body, stretching out with padding and extreme length.
Yet somehow, these pieces still look like someone, somewhere could happily wear them. Actually, with many parts of the world still in lockdown, these voluminous pants and sweatshirts are the perfect hide-from-the-world-in-comfort pieces. Using a quilting technique, Balachander implies ideas of wrinkles on skin, or the lines of a topographical map, which is also echoed in the original print in the collection. All in all, this collection is an accomplished piece of conceptual design, that still feels not only like fashion, but like something you could actually wear, and want to buy.
There is something very Leigh Bowery and Judy Blame about Xun’s collection, mixed in with current Drag Queen Culture, added to Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and even a touch of Moncler X Craig Green. The work is a celebration of “queerness, artifice, irony and high aestheticism” that is obvious in its theatricality, shouting ‘look at me’ as loudly as possible. But it is because of this blatant obviousness that the collection works.
The fact that the construction is impeccable and, while riffing on the work of other experimental designers, does not copy slavishly but also positions the designer at the head of the conceptual pack. Xun’s work is unashamedly more art than retail, but that is exactly why it will grab the eyes and hearts of dedicated fashion lovers the world around. Can’t wait to see where this designer goes, and what they decide to make.
The coolest in a weird way
Phang is obviously a lover of anime. The entirely weird concept of the collection looks exactly like a real life version of Kantai Collection known as KanColle (艦これ, KanKore). The storyline has cute girls who somehow turn into ocean-going battleships to fight off their enemies.
While the underlying concept is completely daft, Phang’s work is some of the most interesting of the graduates. The designer hopes that future research and technological development will be able to turn his “fantasies into functionality”.
The collection features a mix of form-fitting bodysuits as the basis for a series of layered pieces that add various functions to an outfit, like a coat, shirt and even a currently needed accessory, the face mask. It is also interesting that although his collection is placed firmly in the future, the fabrics used are more traditional like a Prince of Wales check in menswear fabric, showing that this guy really knows how to cut and fit a garment. It will be interesting to see how his work translates commercially.
Discover all of the graduates’ work: 1.5oC by Kwok Minh Yen, A Bird’s Journey by Nathalie Schriber, REPELEBB by Felicia Agatha, COLOSSAL BEINGS by Jensen Ng. Ggogga-ot by Lee Cha Yeong, PONTIANAK by Hazeerah Basri, “MA” by Masrurah Husna, Emove by Adhya Tibrewala, FOILED by Fiona Sadiq, Dystopia by Natalia Halim, Chimera by Cathrin Siatanto, THE RENASCENCE by Hamkah Latib, palpitate by Mazri Ismail
To read the complete review of all of the collections, go to my blog here.
For more information, and to watch the original virtual show, go to www.lasallesof.com.