Since taking the top spot at Harper’s BAZAAR NewGen Fashion Award last November, Serina Lee has been busy developing her first ready-to-wear collection—comprising updated pieces from the runway and an extended unisex size range—while juggling custom fashion and Chinese art-related projects as well as teaching Chinese painting and calligraphy.
Lee won the competition’s judges over with her picturesque blend of age-old traditions and cutting-edge modernity. Her starting point was the ancient art of Chinese painting and calligraphy, though her approach was rooted in the design language of the present, and even the future—via a venture into the metaverse. She also translated her textile art into 3D digital graphics, which can be bought as NFTs; and then there are the digital filters that animate the physical prints when applied to the garments.
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What did the LASALLE College of the Arts alum take away from NewGen? “I learnt so much—from the business of fashion to designing and fabric considerations. It’s all been very eye-opening and inspiring. I also met new friends and I found that most special,” she says. Besides winning a cash prize of S$10,000 and a scholarship for a masters degree at Istituto Marangoni, Lee’s collection was showcased in the January 2023 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore and is now exclusively retailing in Design Orchard and on Oneorchard.store.
Ahead, the budding designer tells us about her eponymous label, how she wants her signature brand of artistry and calligraphy to be experienced, and what to expect from her debut collection, priced from $270 to $380.
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Tell us about your eponymous label.
Serina Lee is a label that bridges fashion and art by combining Chinese painting and calligraphy with inspirations drawn from poetry, art, literature and the transient beauty of life. Materials are transformed into precious fabrics that act as both fashion and art collectables. The prints and writings on the clothing come from paintings and calligraphy written by me, while the silhouettes and forms are inspired by art canvases.
Why are you drawn to Chinese painting and calligraphy?
I’m drawn to Chinese painting and calligraphy for its intricacy, history, attention to detail, symbolism, brush strokes and the natural materials used for the craft. The history and study behind this art form are very extensive, and different strokes and compositions can create a different mood for the piece. I love the balance and harmony of it all and find the craft very inspiring especially when it is translated into a different practice.
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Tell us about this collection.
Land Spring Summer 2023 begins with a poem by Su Shi: “非人磨墨，磨墨人”, that talks about the juxtaposition between finite time and infinite creativity. Through the collection you are brought into another universe—a world with infinite time, as seen through the lens of a Chinese painter. The garments’ silhouettes, textiles, and digital graphics showcase this land and a virtual world, while the collection connects this physical world with a new dimension. The drapes are created from the shape of Chinese paper, with Chinese art proving to be a treasure trove of study. The prints are from hand-painted textiles by Serina.
What are some design details and material considerations?
There are pieces with calligraphy writings I did on poems that represent a sense of transience and change, and then there are pieces that focus more on the drape of the fabric—its shape inspired by Chinese art materials and scrolls. The collection focuses on the visual landscape of the land and explores ways in which fabric is transformed, from a 2D material to clothing. The materials are mainly sourced locally and vary in terms of colour, weight and prints.
What challenges did you face?
Production was definitely a challenge. As it was my first time producing a ready-to-wear collection for sale, there were hiccups along the way, be it figuring out my prints or drafting etc. I sought advice, researched, and tried to solved them by trial and error. It was a huge learning opportunity.
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How does it feel to have your first collection sold in Design Orchard and on Oneorchard.store? Who do you envision wearing the clothes?
I’m super excited! It’s so nice to see everything coming together. I envision like-minded individuals wearing the unisex pieces—people who appreciate art and culture.
Besides fashion and NFTs, how would you like your signature brand of artistry and calligraphy to be experienced by your customers? Why do you think it’s important to marry the past with the future?
I would like my customers to feel a personal sense of connection with the pieces through the meaning behind the calligraphy and painting. The pieces are mostly designed with a wall-hanging canvas in mind, hence my customers can take them apart and hang them as interior decor, further extending the experience of the brand. I want my customers to have an enjoyable experience and feel comfort and a sense of identity in owning pieces of the brand. It’s important to marry the past with the future, as it creates a sense of continuity and connectedness.
What inspires you?
The transient beauty of life inspires me. I’m also always inspired by the many facets of art, textile art and precious materials used for art.
What are the next steps for your brand?
To create new things and new interactions, and to always evolve with time.