Dear friends, it’s been too long since I’ve updated you on my latest project! Right after the last project on clothes for the blind ended, I left for a two week trip to Portugal and Spain over the Christmas break and literally hit the ground running after I returned.
I break my hiatus to write about the new Gucci creative director and collection, simply because it does have an impact on my future and the future of fashion.
Gucci as a brand as been special to me because I did my first fashion internship at Gucci in Singapore. I spent a lot of time in the sample room examining and learning about luxury fashion and it had a great impact on me. In my mind, I began to form the luxury brands worked and saw how it operated with many locations worldwide.
After watching the new Fall 2015 womenswear show, I was filled with doubt and uncertainty. The new creative director, Alessandro Michele, to me has taken the path that Hedi Slimane did with Saint Laurent. Not only did he youthify the brand, as tasked since sales at Gucci were falling, but he designed a collection for a very young and skinny crowd. Holding on to Gucci’s 60s and 70s roots, Michele designed a soft and feminine collection full of frilly and billowy silhouettes tailored to the waist. Huge 70s inspired aviator tortoise shell glasses were on almost every model, adorned along with an artsy knit beret. This was a completely different Gucci that we’ve known- one that was very strong into the gender differences- sexy women and strong, masculine men. At the show yesterday, male models were mixed into the crowd and some female models looked like men. The whole gender-neutral concept was strong in this collection and just surprising for the brand.
NYT noticed that Michele was designing for the wearer, instead of designing from a concept which was usually the case. And that meant that a lot of the clothes were not exactly new, which I noticed too. Fur bedroom flats that appeared in the Simone Rocha show two seasons ago surfaced and were also combined with the classic Gucci brogues. In fact, one thing you always see at Gucci would be the luxurious sexy eveningwear closing the show but this time, it was completely different. The closing look featured a pair of red pants that hung off the model’s hips that looked much too low for the modern skinny pants lover. The show certainly presented the 70s very well but did it do well for Gucci? I’m not sure.
This then makes me wonder about the future of fashion. No doubt, there will be concept driven designers like Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen but is the future of luxury fashion only about selling straight off the runway? Designers like Nicholas Ghesquiere and Phoebe Philo also design for wearability but their collections are still concept driven with a stronger focus on construction and fit. Michele over here however, seems to be designing very simple clothes, much too simple for a luxury brand. To put it crudely, I even thought that Hedi Slimane’s clothes looked very much like the ones I could see in Bershka or Pull & Bear. The cut and fabrics are definitely different but somehow, I personally believe that fashion is about seeing something new and unique. It isn’t about producing clothes that has been done before or clothes that could be done easily by someone else.
So where exactly is fashion heading to? The battle between the bottom line and creativity continues.
And that includes me too. Today’s blog post is going to be full of contradictions, of which I am still working out in my mind and have yet to fully understand or find the answer to.
Recently, I picked up the book ‘Why Fashion Matters‘ by Frances Corner (as seen above). Ever since I moved to Hong Kong to fully submerge myself in the world of fashion, I’ve begun to try to find a purpose in this seemingly superficial industry. I love fashion for its craftsmenship, the way it pushes mankind into creating beautiful works out of nothing and how people constantly innovate. The great thing is that fashion allows anyone of any background or mental capability to enter the industry. Unlike a scientist, you don’t need to be intellectually ‘smart’ to qualify for the job. I guess fashion designers are much like an artistic scientists?
Anyway, over the course of last quarter’s work, I was pushed into using more luxurious fabrics for my clothes. At the same time, we were studying about how textiles are made. And truthfully, a lot of fabrics out there use a lot of water and resources. The tanning of leather into your specific colours, for one, requires a lot of effort. Ostrich leather goes through about 30 cycles of tanning, and not every piece that enters the cycle makes it through all 30. Then there’s the story of denim which goes through several rounds of washing, scrubbing and eventually ‘spraying’ and ‘scratching’ to give you that worn out look.
In the book, Corner mentions the issue of water and fashion. I quote, ‘It takes 2700 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt from ‘crop to shop’… In the meantime, five thousand children die each day due to the lack of clean water.’ When we begin to look at the way we consume fashion in perspective of the world out there, I think it’s obvious how much we could have ‘not bought’ and done without. I would raise my hand first and admit how big a criminal I am in this aspect. Looking at my wardrobe and the amount of clothes and cheap accessories I have out there, if I channeled all my money into buying something that was durable and could last long, I would have saved so much of the world out there.
And when it comes to buying something durable, I often think about leather. But that’s where another problem lies. Leather has been promoted as an environmentally friendly by-product of the meat industry. Cows killed for their beef have their hide turned into leather. But in reality, only about 20 to 30% of the hides are used for leather. The imperfect parts are then thrown away. (This is much like how farmers actually throw away fruits and veggies that look too ugly to sell away! Read more here.) Then, during the manufacturing process, the leather hides undergo severe chemical treatments, leaving the water that washes them contaminated and possibly discharged irresponsibly.
So there are so many question marks. The thing is we consumers don’t know how our products are made. But in honesty, would you expect clothes that you pay a low price for to produce clothes in an extremely environmentally friendly way? Chances are much slimmer when compared to something you pay more for. And don’t forget the poor labourers in third world countries slaving away in terrible conditions to produce those clothes on the rack. Fast fashion is killing the world slowly by telling you that you are out of fashion and you need to buy something new. In order to keep up, it’s better to buy something cheap because the trend doesn’t last long and soon you’d be giving those clothes away. It’s a virtuous cycle which I’ve fallen into and I’m trying to get out of it. If you keep buying, it signals to them that there is demand and they will keep producing. But if we slow down on our consumption, the huge supplies they are left over with would let them know that they have to make less.
So what do we do next? I’d suggest a few ways:
1. Spend on less things and buy more high quality items. Invest in clothes that last longer and could potentially even be heirlooms, passed down to the next generation. If you could pass down a coat to your son or daughter, how many cheap coats could you have saved on?
2. With that said, also research into the brands you are purchasing. We are in the internet age. Use your digital devices well! If they say they are environmentally friendly, are they serious about it?
3. Buy second hand clothing. This usually works for designer labels because they carry a resell value and are lasting. By using second hand clothing, you prolong the lifespan of the clothes and save on materials for new clothes.
Maybe this is a whole new thinking for most of us. We have grown up in a generation where shopping is the national sport and seeing racks and racks of clothes daily isn’t new. But think about the time before the industrial revolution. Ladies had one or two dresses at most. Were they dying at the lack of options? If they could do it, I don’t see why at least I can’t. I look at my wardrobe and see I have 8 winter jackets. I only have one body and I need 8 winter jackets?!
By now, you’re probably also wondering why an aspiring fashion designer like me is talking about buying less clothes. The truth is, I’ve never really been totally comfortable with the whole idea of fast fashion. What I appreciate instead are clothes made by hand and made with love. This issue is a big contradiction to me but I believe that if I continue to work at it, I’d get to a good answer. I, as a fashion designer, have to be one of the most responsible people out there in the fashion industry, from the fabrics to pick to the labour and production methods I use. My choices would impact the world and have a lasting effect.
Two months ago, I launched my own little business selling iron-on patches. The idea behind it was to create original designs together with my friend, Danny K, for creative fashion accessories. Iron-on patches was once the rave during the ’80s, with everyone patching their denim jackets and jeans with these wonderful accessories.
I’ve always wanted a tattoo but because of my religion, I would choose not to. So in some way, the patch serves as a tattoo for myself. It’s a way to wear your heart on your sleeve and to say something about yourself. All our patches are one-of-a-kind because we design and produce them. You can’t find them anywhere else but hereeee 🙂
So with that, I present to you our second collection, Lulu’s bakery, which is centered around Lulu, the french (bulldog) chef who whips up these amazing cupcakes and pastries. Yes, I have such a love for bulldogs and food. I’m definitely going to wear this on my sleeeevesss!
Shop the collection at pewpewpatches.com! Our first collection, Hawaiian summer, is also available online and at Rockstar Singapore.
So each fashion project ends with a photo shoot and illustrations. This time to close this project, I decided to draw illustrations for sighted people and dot my technical drawings for blind people to understand my clothes. During my braille research, I came across a polaroid camera that helped to take braille pictures for blind people. Okay, I can’t exactly say it’s braille since it dots the shape of the object and doesn’t utilise the language but you know what I mean!
So, I studded the lines to allow them to feel the outlines of my clothes and possibly the different parts in it. If I had more time, I would perfect the dotting system, perhaps using the same sized dots for everything and getting all the spaces right.
This braille concept has so much more space to explore and I don’t feel like I’ve totally exhausted everything. Maybe womenswear next?
So each collection culminates into a photoshoot and with this collection, some suggested that I do an outdoor shoot at sea but I chose to go with a studio shoot, intending to make a lot of blur shots, showing a person in motion but the clothes in clarity.
It’s pretty amazing what photographers do. Many of us think that their products are just pictures and almost anyone could do it, but when you get down to the technical side, there’s way more to photography than you know! “What’s the aperture? And the ISO?” Frankly speaking, I usually just move the aperture to the lowest or to a reasonable number and play with the shutter speed. There’s so many combinations to play with that I just need to settle it down to one thing, thank you.
So here are some of the unedited photographs from our shoot. I’m saving the blur photos for editing (yes, photoshop everything). I LOVE the silhouette shot though! It fits the whole “fishing in the dark” theme SO WELL.
PS: The pictures have some red and blue marks everywhere but that’s cause the Jpeg had to be downsized. Everything is supposed to be black!
Finally after two intense weeks of working day and night (and in my dreams too, seriously!), the outfit I’ve been working on is finally done! Just three weekends ago, I was beading the sleeves of the garment with white buttons in our hotel in Shanghai and now it has been cut and sewn into my garment.
To bring you up to speed (since I actually have not), the name of my collection is Fishing in the dark. It brings together the abstract topic of blindness and the sport of fishing in a collection. Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t have chosen to put these two together if I could, but our assignment required us to pick both an ethnic group and a sport. Somehow I immediately went with fishing but my initial choice of ethnic group was Indians. However upon further research, I was convicted to change it because Indians believed that unstitched garments are more holy, which explains why the iconic sari and dhoti are both draped.
I immediately went on to pick something I felt for- blind people. Although it was not an obvious option, it fulfilled several elements of an ethnic group, other than geographical proximity. These people had a language and a culture. It was very hard to research into their world but I stumbled upon a whole bunch of videos from a school for the blind in Washington that brought me to tears. They had video lessons to train helpers to blind people with videos on how to zip a jacket or button a shirt. These simple things to us were such hard tasks for these people and it never occurred to me how precious my eyesight was, beyond just seeing the beautiful world out there.
The project was very tough for me because blindness was a completely abstract subject. At the same time, I was also designing menswear and when I put these two together, I really wanted to create functional clothing. However, I kept making ‘work wear’ rather than ‘fashionable clothing’ and had to rework my looks a lot.
To cut the long story short, the final garment which is a look from my capsule collection of 6 plays a lot on textures. Rather than having basic simple pants, I played with fabrics like corduroy and suede which had a different feeling. I also manipulated the suede and punched in sentences in braille which only the blind could understand. On my top, I sewed braille in the form of buttons and for the main area, I weaved suede ribbons through holes to cover those I didn’t want, in order to create my braile form from a different manner.
The fishing, on the other hand, inspired the silhouettes of the garment. The waders, crazy amounts of pockets, nets and waterblock zips. I added my ‘fashionable’ fishing touch with fish shaped pockets on the top and fish flies with feathers on the zips.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the braille said, it’s “I am not blind.” This was inspired by a quote by Helen Keller, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
The pictures from my photoshoot on Saturday will be out soon so keep your eyes peeled for that!