The 2020 Graduating Class Of Singaporean Fashion Institutes Speaks Up

BAZAAR shines a spotlight on a group of young designers emerging into an uncertain future

Harper’s BAZAAR has had a long tradition of nurturing the next generation of talent, the most prominent initiative being the regional Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award launched in 2013.  While the 2020 edition can no longer be carried out due to the COVID-19 pandemic—the extensive rounds of consultation, critiques and mentorship no longer possible in the age of social-distancing—BAZAAR remains committed to its support of fashion’s next generation. Here, we speak to 4 graduating designers on what it’s like to have to find their footing and create beauty in such troubling times.

Agata Maureen

Management Development Institute of Singapore

The ideas driving Maureen’s graduate collection concerned feminism and gender inequality, leading her to play with the tropes of womanhood. She employed and exaggerated elements considered traditionally feminine—bustiers, ruffles, organza, tulle skirts, the colour pink. She also looked to powerful women of the past; Queen Victoria showed up as a print and informed the collection’s Victorian sleeves, while Greta Garbo lent a sense of glamour and mystery. The period references were juxtaposed with contemporary tailoring and slogans declaring “No More Silence”.

What drew you to fashion design?

Drawing and painting have been my passion since I was a kid. Through drawing and painting, I could express my feeling, since I could not express it really well. My hobbies led me to focus on fashion illustration, and somehow I wanted to make my illustrations a reality.

What is the main thing you want to express with your clothes as a designer?

I want people to feel a sense of whimsy when they wear my clothes, and I want to put my focus on one-of-a-kind pieces. But I will also combine that with ready-to-wear so my clothes aren’t just worn during special occasions.

What was the most important thing you learned in fashion school?

Good time management is the most crucial thing that every successful designer needs to learn. If we can manage time wisely, we would be more productive and increase the quality of our work.

Who do you look up to in fashion?

Zuhair Murad is a designer who amazes me with the detailing on his haute couture dresses.

What were your post-graduation hopes and plans before the pandemic crisis?

I was planning to further my studies in Europe, and then hopefully scoring an internship at a high fashion house.

How has it impacted those plans?

I am now thinking of opening my own clothing line, since I have a lot of unused fabrics at home.

Amie Kwok

LASALLE College of the Arts

Inspired by the phenomenon of coral bleaching, Kwok’s collection is a commentary on the climate crisis and the ensuing global warming that bleaches underwater corals of their brilliant colour. The resulting garments were rendered in all-white, but like the corals, are rich in texture—achieved through the use of resin, Swarovski crystals, and intricate embroidery. Knits, crochet and macramé were manipulated to mimic the structure of corals while UV-reactive threads allow the garments to change colour when exposed to sunlight or UV light.

Your collection is centred on the idea of environmental consciousness —how does that inform the kinds of fabrics you chose?

The two main fabrics I used are denim and a mixed polyester/nylon organza. Firstly, their respective opacity and translucency fit the appearance of bleached corals.  Secondly, both fabrics are commonly associated with fast fashion and environmentally-harmful practices—denim production requires a lot of water and synthetics are non-biodegradable. But I wanted to twist that by using environmental-unfriendly fabrics in conscious ways, with low-to-zero-waste production methods. It is slow fashion with minimal waste as a reaction to the mass production common today.

What is the main thing you want to express with your clothes as a designer?

Subtlety. I like minimal designs, but I also pay a lot of attention to details, which is expressed through the intricate textiles on my garments.

What were your post-graduation hopes and plans before the pandemic crisis?

I started this with the hope that it could bring me further with new opportunities. I also wished to see my garments being showcased in other places apart from the graduation show.

How has it impacted those plans and how are you navigating it?

The most disappointing thing was being unable to carry out my campaign shoot. It was something that I looked forward to, and it is critical to my portfolio presentation. But a situation like this can’t be helped so I decided to work with what I have—a simple lookbook taken at home with just a mannequin and camera, no props.

Apart from the physical challenges of completing a collection in self-isolation, what has been the mental & emotional toll?

Towards the end, at some point I did feel like giving up. Honestly, it was a mental and emotional challenge knowing that I still have to complete this collection the best way I could even though it is not the result I planned for in the beginning. It was demoralising but it made me realise that sometimes things don’t always go as planned and I have no choice but to work it out as best I can.

Darren Loh

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

For his graduate collection, Loh looked to the nomads of the digital age—that group of wanderers for which technology is essential but their surroundings immaterial. A sense of adventure permeates his collection, as does an emphasis on utility. Pieces are designed to echo the idea of belongings that can all be thrown together quickly and fuss-free into a backpack. Loh also plays with the concept of modularity and transformation—his neck pillow turns into a jacket, a waist bag becomes a blazer, and a drawstring bag shapeshifts into a hoodie.

What made you want to study fashion design?

I was heavily influenced by my sister. While she was in design school, she would share intriguing things that she has learnt, and we would engage in interesting conversations. Fashion has always been a medium to express my true self. There are unlimited possibilities in experimentation, and fashion allows you to see people physically wearing your designs. Above all, fashion is never boring with its constant changes.

What is the main thing you want to express with your clothes as a designer?

As a designer, I think it’s important to find your unique identity. I have used my weakness—indecisiveness—and turned into a core element of my work, translating it into transformability—garments that perform more than one function, allowing my wearers to have more than one option within a single piece. That also promotes sustainability, as it encourages buying less.

Who do you look up to in fashion?

Currently, it is Masayuki Ino of Doublet. He is known for his humorous reinventions of wardrobe staples and his innovative textile applications. He inspires me to be more daring in experimenting with unconventional non-fashion approaches towards fashion design.

What were your post-graduation hopes and plans before the pandemic crisis?

Like any other student, my first thought was to have a graduation trip. Also, I was planning to take part in competitions, embarking on a full-time job and attempting to start up something.

How has it impacted those plans and how are you navigating it?

Trip plans are now postponed. There is a greater barrier to joining overseas competitions and, of course, to finding a job. Starting up a brand would be more difficult as well. However, the circuit breaker does give me the time to plan ahead, like building my portfolio and honing my skills further for the jobs I am planning to apply. I will also be taking part in local competitions and digital competitions instead. I have also signed up for masterclasses and other online courses.

Jang Soyoung

Raffles Design Institute

Jang placed fabric manipulation at the heart of her collection, with a focus on craftsmanship. She created appliques of colourful lace and intricate patchworks of knitted squares, which she then overlaid and juxtaposed. The result were garments that showed clearly the touch of the human hand—the unexpected patterns lending a new dimension to old-school silhouettes. Jang gleaned the idea of vibrant colours and clashing prints from the Maximalist art movement, while her oversized silhouettes and dramatic layers of different fabrics were informed by the eccentric dresser, Iris Apfel.

What made you want to study fashion design?

I have always been interested in art and design since I was a child. As I grew up, I wanted to learn about fashion in a more professional manner. It became a way to express myself without speaking since I am quite shy in nature.

What was the most important thing you learned in fashion school?

I learned that balancing creativity and wearability is the most important thing to succeed as a fashion designer. Even though clothes are decorative, fashion school taught me that I should always design beautiful garments with functionality in mind.

Who do you look up to in fashion?

Iris Apfel. She is a person who really enjoys dressing up and thinks of fashion as means of pleasure. Her quote regarding personal style gave me the courage to express my own preference and taste. “I think it’s important that people dress so that they make a pleasant impression on others. The world is so grey. I think it’s terrible to wear the same old uniform all the time.”

What were your post-graduation hopes and plans before the pandemic?

The graduation show was my ultimate goal and I had hoped to finish as much of my collection as possible. I had also planned to travel to get more inspiration for my commercial collections.

How has it impacted those plans and how are you navigating it?

My graduation collection will likely not be shown on a catwalk but the school is exploring other alternatives. It has been very difficult to source the materials I need to complete my collection, but this quarantine period has given me more time to focus on my collection. I probably can’t travel after graduation but I am still very excited as I am one of the Top 60 Finalists of the Frankfurt Style Awards in June 2020. I will be showcasing my designs to an international audience.

Apart from the physical challenges of completing a collection in self-isolation, what has been the mental & emotional toll?

This period of self-isolation changed everything and it initially was very upsetting. But I am trying to think of this in a more positive way—if I manage to complete my collection with such limited access and resources, it means that I have evolved as a more resourceful and creative designer.

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