Rupali Shekhawat and Bhawika Bajaj, Lasalle College of the Arts, BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Textiles
It is said that good things often come in pairs. In the case of 21-year-old Rupali Shekhawat and Bhawika Bajaj, a friendship forged back home in India would lead to creative collaborations rooted in their shared concerns surrounding textile pollution, labour exploitation and animal cruelty.
The pair’s graduate collection, An Other Life, brings this deep empathy for all living things to light. It also aims to provide options for individuals who have made the conscious decision to consume fashion with a cause.
The title, Bajaj shares, is a call for a semiotic shift from wearing animal skin to emulating animal silhouettes. Utilising polyester taffeta, the collection consists of eight pieces that include oval puffer jackets, tops with sequins and wires, as well as coordinated separates.
Despite a hard-hitting theme, the structural resplendence of each standalone piece reiterates an avant-garde nature of sorts. In short: nothing would look out of place on the likes of daring fashion lovers, from Lady Gaga to Erykah Badu.
It is an embodiment of every experience the design has had, starting from the first line of the sketch to the last stitch of the attire.
“For me, design is not just something you wear. It is an embodiment of every experience the design has had, starting from the first line of the sketch to the last stitch of the attire. Each piece expresses sentiments of culture, tradition and even personal experiences of mine in an innovative way,” Bajaj adds.
This hands-on approach to design is the guiding light trailing the pair as they venture out on their own. With a vehement commitment to understanding the ‘conscious customer’ and an affinity for social good, the duo’s driving mission continues to be cemented in reinforcing change.
With plans to launch their own respective labels and a personal mission of realising the most empowered version of themselves, being a catalyst for change—on both macro and micro levels—is on the agenda.
“I want to create designs that tackle some of the major problems that the fashion industry, particularly in India, is facing,” shares Bajaj. Adds Shekhawat: “I hope to be able to resolve these problems through fashion and move towards more ethical, eco-friendly and sustainable design methods.”
Renee Chew, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Diploma in Fashion Design
To 24-year-old Singaporean design graduate Renee Chew, the decision to look beyond the pandemic was a conscious one. She turned her focus inwards, touching on uplifting themes of self, romantic and familial love.
Her graduate collection,京剧(Jīng Jù): Expression of Personas, borrows from fond memories of her childhood. “This collection was inspired by the Chinese theatre performance, Peking opera, and the expressionist art movement. I was fascinated by the entity of the performance and the symbolic details in them,” she shares.
Influenced by the fluid garment construction of Peking opera costumes, Chew’s three-piece collection sees the incorporation of graphic-meets-abstract eye prints and intricate paint-like detailing. “This really inspired the idea of intersecting the past with the present,” she adds.
The silhouettes of the pieces range from a flared red kimono piece with patchwork, embroidery and Swarovski jewels to a bright yellow body-fitting coordinate. “Tulle was incorporated into the embroidery to add textures and depth as it creates different layers to mimic brush strokes as seen in Nataša Kekanović’s artworks.”
I am unable to assure confidence in these times, but I do know what I want to do and the story that I want to tell.
Eye-catching beauty and technical finesse aside, Chew’s ideology behind the collection is perhaps what will make it resonate with its wearer the most. Amplifying themes of change, adaptability, freedom and expression, it also serves as a reaffirming nod to life after the pandemic.
As for her trajectory from this time forward? She hints at a fear of remaining stagnant, but is equipped with a resolve, like most creatives today, to burgeon into a multi-hyphenate force to be reckoned with.
On her bucket list are dreams to dress Korean superstars BTS, a possible segue into fashion curation as well as an eventual online business. Her core message to herself—and eventually others—however, is adaptability. “I am unable to assure confidence in these times, but I do know what I want to do and the story that I want to tell,” she shares.
How she hopes to tell these stories is a page that has yet to unfold, troubling times or otherwise. “This is just the beginning of my journey. I will continue to create art that reflects who I am and continue being hungry for knowledge.” Amidst it all, however, she remains armed with one conviction: the importance of creating in dire times.
Jenny Giang Nguyen, Coventry University in collaboration with Raffles Design Institute Singapore, BA (Hons) in Fashion
The sartorial wisdom of fashion connoisseur and self-proclaimed geriatric starlet Iris Apfel was the natural jump-off point for 19-year-old Jenny Giang Nguyen’s graduate collection. “I say, dress to please yourself. Listen to your inner muse and take a chance. Wear something that says ‘here I am!’ today.”
Inspired by the 99-year-old’s ‘more is more’ philosophy, Vietnam-born Nguyen’s six-look collection, Being Yourself, is a no-holds-barred experiment with colour, print and texture. Fusing the grandeur of the baroque era, eclecticism of the ’80s and elements of maximalist interior design, authenticity is at the forefront of each piece.
What follows is a textural mash-up of jacquard, organza, tweed and wool in the form of streamlined trousers, plumed blouses and pagoda-sleeves coats. The collection, however, is more than just a smorgasbord of eclecticism. Being Yourself is also a whip-smart use of colour as cultural commentary.
“When times are bad, there is a need for fantasy. When times are good, people tend to be more reserved, more conservative for some reason,” she adds. While the pandemic’s impact has trickled down to even one’s everyday wardrobe choices, it has also had a ripple effect on creatives who hope to keep the wheel of fashion turning. Nguyen is no exception.
When times are bad, there is a need for fantasy. When times are good, people tend to be more reserved, more conservative for some reason.
She notes that her biggest challenge so far has been the acquisition of fabric due to the global-reliant nature of the fashion industry. Her roadblocks, however, have only reinforced a strong sense of resourcefulness—an aspect she hopes to bring forward in her future ventures.
Citing Dries Van Noten and Antonio Marras as her biggest inspirations, Nguyen elaborates on big entrepreneurial dreams. Over the next five years, she aims to establish her own brand in Asia. With her sights set on another colour-busting collection, she hopes to cut her teeth at various fashion houses and collaborate with an array of designers, with a particularly soft spot for eventually dressing Korean-American model Irene Kim.
And as for the customers she hopes to amass in time to come? “Those who are not concerned about what others think of their sense of fashion, who are all about defying rules and just having fun.”
Photography Darren Gabriel Leow
Fashion Desmond Lim
Hair Junz Loke
Make up Bobbie Ng
Make up assistant Prudence Wong
Photographer’s assistant Eric Tan
Fashion assistant Joey Tan
Models Ava Portman and Ally Teo of Mannequin, Michael Sagna of Misc Management and Ariel Dong