Virtual imagination: A review of the Lasalle Graduate Show 2020

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, rather the school for the first time created a virtual runway on July 16.

“The world we live in today is more unpredictable than ever. This pandemic alone has ground the world to a halt and increased our online consumption to curb social isolation. 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. To some extent, the change has also arisen out of ongoing conversations about sustainability and the future direction of fashion. We believe it is more important than ever that our students graduate with a consciousness of these issues and the role of fashion in this changing world,” 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 from London Mens, to Couture, few of the brands managed to create an online experience that topped their regular live shows. Only Helsinki Fashion Week – which has been online only since 2016 – has managed to create something that is at least as interesting in a creative way, as the physical shows. 

Prada, Gucci, Dior Women (oh dear, Dior. A whole other problem there), basically just made fashion films. Dior Men created a fabulous fashion film, but still these were all just background and additional to what was usually the centrepiece, the clothes. 

So, if even 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? 

The ‘show’ … 

To be honest, the virtual fashion show was, again, basically a fashion film. There was a lot of post-production and atmospheric shots of Pasir Panjang Power Station and the college campus – already a well-known location for sci-fi inspiration – 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. 

OK, rant over. Still, the Lasalle teachers and directors do take the issue seriously, while also allowing students to make their own decisions as to whether or not they incorporate it into their collections.

“One of the pillars of Lasalle’s School of Fashion and its BA(Hons) Fashion Design and Textiles programme is the continuous development of the notion of ‘future crafts’. Through this, we understand a seamless symbiosis between artisanal techniques and modern technologies,” explains Dinu Bodiciu, the lecturer in charge of the BA (Hons) in Fashion Design and Textiles at LASALLE College of the Arts’ School of Fashion.

“With the increase in awareness of sustainability, there is greater attention paid by our students to the materials employed in their collections. The graduation project allows them the time to play, experiment, investigate and innovate new textile processes in the search of creative fashion solutions.

“For instance, even though the plastic used by Felicia Agatha in the collection Repelebb was not recycled, she still chose to work with it because she needed a vessel to hold liquid substances like water and cooling agents. Her collection hydropuff proposes possible new materials and fashionable alternatives in a future when humanity has to face the consequences of global warming.

“Another example is Kwok Minh Yen’s collection 1.5oC. It expanded the notion of zero waste design by engaging in textile manipulation of leftover materials, turning these scraps of fabric into decorative elements in the collection. Minh Yen further worked with UV reactive threads and pigments, combining them with synthetic materials like mixed polyester/nylon organza. 

“This juxtaposition of materials, preferred by fast fashion companies against the slower process of zero waste design, aims to criticise the industry’s unsustainable ways and how this contributes to global warming,” says Bodiciu.

Good, bad or blah …

To be expected, a number of the graduates were inspired by our dystopian times with collection themes that covered humanoid spaceships with different personalities, and 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 were the designers that reimagined their concept into garments that functioned as both an artistic statement and an intellectual concept. 

/wau/ by Kristen Cheah 

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.

1.5oC by Kwok Minh Yen 

A mix of Iris van Herpen and Simone Rocha, Kwok’s work was also in the Sustainability theme, and was based on “draw[ing] attention to the increasing rate with which global warming is causing coral bleaching”. The garments were basically white, oversized dresses with ruffles and collars decorated with recycled textiles created to look like bits of coral. A series of adornments on one dress – donut shaped 3D rings studded with Swarovski crystals and UV reactive threads and pigments light up. Unfortunately this function wasn’t able to be clearly seen during the virtual show, but can be spotted in the photographs. Without the additional decoration, these pieces are cute, wearable clothes that don’t look much different from a lot of #cottagecore dresses seen all over TikTok and Instagram but come with a new take on the sustainability concept.  

A Bird’s Journey by Nathalie Schriber

A pretty collection of pastel and embroidered separates, Schriber’s collection also sat under the Sustainability theme based on its entirely vegan material use. What these vegan materials are is unclear. No leather, so does that mean ‘vegan’ leather ie. plastic? Are the fabrics natural fibres? Or manmade and therefore less environmentally friendly? These are the issues that keep cropping up when it comes to defining what sustainable fashion really is. Still, the overall collection, while looking rather similar to Korean brand Ti:Baeg’s early work, is very wearable despite the fact that some of the concept was a bit too literal with large embroidered birds and prints being featured.

REPELEBB by Felicia Agatha

Part of the Future Forward theme, Agatha’s collection is described as “delving into science in order to devise climate-sensitive solutions for our future”. What that translated into was a lot of plastic. Presumably the plastic stood in for as yet unavailable technical materials that will adapt to issues of climate change like floods and such. The “activewear-influenced” pieces appear to be less about being active and more about creating shapes to be worn under the clear technical materials. The shapes and cuts had a vaguely 80s feel, added to by the combination of black, clear plastic, zips and pastel lavender shades of shiny fabric. The designer’s work with hydrogels is quite fascinating and it will be interesting to see how her research translates into future garments.

COLOSSAL BEINGS by Jensen Ng

One of the collections that riffed on the issue of sizeism, Ng’s work looks like a mix of streetwear and 80s ideas of ‘future clothes’. The concept is described as being “built on the foundation of science fiction, imagining a world where plus-size is no longer a separate category”, but the interpretation falls a little short. Instead of creating new silhouettes for larger sizes, the cuts echo already existing oversized streetwear staples like shorts, hoodies, and collared shirts. The addition of ‘spaceman’ bits and pieces like zips and plastic pockets, plus the very literal use of flames to represent the sun combined with technical shiny materials gives the work a cartoonish vibe. 

Gear18: Saber by Phang Kuan Yi

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 story line 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. 

Ggogga-ot by Lee Cha Yeong

Another of the collections focused on the issue of sizeism, particularly that of South Korea where the extreme social conditioning of Kpop has reduced women to equally extreme diets and plastic surgery. Lee’s work is a rather literal interpretation of her traditional heritage, the hanbok, with a slight nod towards modernity in the addition of capri pants. While pretty, these pieces are more akin to the trend of hanfu, where young people dress in slightly modern versions of historial outfits, with a nod to nostalgia and an Asian version of #cottagecore. While it is refreshing for the designer to create for larger women, again this just translates into bigger sizes of the same clothes that are already being made and worn. Still, the pieces are pretty.

PONTIANAK by Hazeerah Basri

Also part of the Heritage theme, Basri’s collection looks at subverting the “misogynistic symbols tied to the Malay folklore figure, promoting body acceptance in the process”; also incorporating the current #metoo trend to a certain extent. Basri uses the traditional ghost story of the Pontianak – a misogynist tale of a female vampire who is transgressive in Malay society due to her inability to have a child – to talk about definitions of womanhood and femininity. The concept has been translated into a series of garments that evoke simple working clothes combined with the colours of mourning – black, white and grey. Although there are a couple of embellishments of red ‘blood’ tracing the fabrics which are a little too literal, overall the collection is wearable and interesting with a nod to the simplicity of Japanese design.

“MA” by Masrurah Husna

Based on the Japanese concept of “Ma” (間), the idea of allowing a sense of space in between other things, this collection is somewhat hard to define. There is definitely a very Japanese style overall, with some very obvious takes from the work of designer Yohji Yamamoto in the use of gaps or cuts in patterns for classical coats and jackets. There are also pieces obviously inspired by the work of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons with the use of padding and strips of menswear fabric. 

Emove by Adhya Tibrewala

Sitting under the Textures theme, Tibrewala’s collection is based on “fluid and distorted lines in order to express chaotic emotions” which really just translates into adding squiggly lines to her fabrics via print and hand-done spray paint. The shapes are based on early 80s, including a definite nod to Issy Miyake’s Pleats Please collections – one round-shouldered top in particular. Overall the collection has a pleasant run through of shape and colour, although a collared, open back jacket strikes a bit of a wrong note, as it seems too different to the rest of the pieces. There is also something a bit off with the proportions particularly in the short length of the pants. However, there is a softness and wearability to these garments; they are very ‘art gallery worker’, much like Issy Miyake.

FOILED by Fiona Sadiq

Supposed to be all about the sense of touch, with the aim of making the viewer – not the wearer? – want to touch the garments, this collection appears, in fact, to be the opposite. Created from some sort of stiff, hard, sharp-looking faux leather (maybe?), the garments jut out from the wearer more like spines saying ‘stay away!’. There is little attention given to the wearer either, with the stiff fabric removing any human softness from some of the more encompassing pieces, while adding excess volume to the body in others. The juxtaposition with sheer fabric and the use of bright colours certainly imparts a kind of child-like playfulness, and while some of the cuts are simple, the more textured pieces have an interesting use of volume. Are these pieces actually soft to the touch? Or do they feel as stiff as they look? Interesting.

Dystopia by Natalia Halim

Based on her imagined idea of what people on magic mushrooms see, Halim has created garments that are basically traditional in shape and cut, but have various parts – the sleeves mostly – ‘blown out’ with the addition of sheer voluminous additions. The concept reads well in the original sketches, however the finished garments seem unbalanced and overly complicated. The addition of various colours, crystals, fabrics, more embellishments, and even more textures gives an impression less of the distorted vision of a bad trip, and more a toddler’s idea of dress up. The designer’s central premise of “a reality where vision is blurred by hallucinogenic drugs”, has been lost in translation.

Chimera by Cathrin Siatanto

Based on the myth of the Chimera – part lion, goat and dragon – the designer chose instead to combine a butterfly with a jellyfish, with unfortunately little success. The interpretation is all too literal with actual, human-sized butterfly wings adorning half a garment, while the other half features a long, full ‘jellyfish’ sleeve. A lopsided puffball skirt recalls not only the very worst of the 80s but also a dying blue bottle jellyfish on the beach. The concept was interesting – the idea of combining various and opposite creatures; air and water – creates fertile ground for juxtaposition and contrast. It is just unfortunate that in this iteration the clunky construction overcame the concept.

Blurred Bodies by Latika Balachander

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.

THE RENASCENCE by Hamkah Latib

A mix of the Mona Lisa and an Instagram influencer sounds like an interesting starting point for a collection. However the garments created by Latib appear less a “satirical conversation” between the Renaissance and contemporary culture, than an excess of shiny, oversized, blinged up streetwear pieces. The Renaissance references are lost in a sea of snap-on trouser legs, puffers, sleeves and hoodies, with a lone neck ruff to voice centuries of innovation and philosophical thought. The influence of Moncler X Craig Green is also very obvious. What is really a shame is that the designer’s earlier work as seen on his Instagram account is way more interesting, better constructed and unique. 

palpitate by Mazri Ismail

Inspired by his personal medical issue, a diagnosis of Wolff Parkinson White (WPW) Syndrome, that causes random heart palpitations, this collection is one of the more personal. The translation into a series of voluminous, non-gendered garments, however, seems to have little connection. It is hard to see the link between a backless jumpsuit, a cloak of bunched red vinyl and a white shirt with long cuffs as “an abstract form of a journal – penning and scribbling down what I felt when the palpitations attack”, as the designer writes. Presumably the shapes and volumes are how the designer translates his feelings. Whatever the connections, the pieces themselves are well tailored, pretty evening wear for the non-gendered. 

FEMBUOYNT! by Samuel Xun

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, it 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 round. Can’t wait to see where this designer goes, and what they decide to make.

All images Lasalle College of the Arts. For more information, and to watch the original virtual show, go to www.lasallesof.com.

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