In June this year, we announced our partnership with denim giant Levi’s as part of the Vogue Singapore Foundation’s latest fundraising initiative. In a bid to support local talent, sustainability and innovation, the joint venture set out to spotlight a local fashion designer who would go on to work with materials from Levi’s extensive inventory.
After an in-depth selection process, Justin Chua, a recent graduate of Lasalle College of the Arts’ Fashion Design and Textiles course, was chosen to helm the four-week project. Here, we chart Chua’s design journey from ideation to the final garment and everything in-between.
Meet the designer
To 25-year-old Chua, entering the realm of fashion was a rather unexpected turn of events. What began as an unassuming interest in footwear soon transformed into something bigger. “I told myself if I wanted to do something for the long run, it should be something that I truly enjoy—and that is working with clothes,” he shares.
His graduate collection, Polymorphism—which means “to occur in several different forms”—is an ode to its name. With an aim to to advocate for conscious consumption and smaller wardrobes, Chua set out to create a capsule with transformative aspects that would cater to different needs, genders and lifestyles. The final collection consisted of 10 unisex and modular nylon base pieces that transformed into skirts, jackets and accessories.
The inspiration behind Chua’s garment for Vogue Singapore and Levi’s
Given Levi’s commitment to sustainable production practices, Chua’s passion for eco-conscious design was a natural fit for the Vogue Singapore and Levi’s partnership. Tasked with creating a garment from deadstock Levi’s denim, Chua took to the drawing board. His first point of reference? The Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom exhibition at Gardens by the Bay.
“There were these large floral-inspired glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly and I saw how repetitive layers in controlled randomness could result in something really interesting. I wanted to incorporate that and the concept of flowers, usually seen as soft, into something stiffer like denim to showcase the versatility of the material,” explains Chua.
The design process
Chua’s ultimate aim was to create a wearable interpretation of a floral sculpture. Having never worked with denim before, Chua began experimenting with fabric manipulations. As a means to generate softness and textures out of the stiffness of denim, he explored various techniques: strip-cutting it into smaller slivers, cutting it out in circles as well as stitching pieces on in what he describes as a “congested” technique.
In doing so, he was able to create small, petal-like structures onto an existing base silhouette that consisted of larger panels made solely out of the varied blue hues of the deadstock material.
Working with upcycled fabric, however, proved to be challenging in its own right. As with any design journey, Chua ran into some roadblocks along the way. For one, working without a laser cutting machine meant a lot of finer details had to be executed by hand.
Conceptualising out of existing clothing also presented itself with certain limitations. Elaborates Chua: “One of the biggest challenges I had was making sure the pattern pieces I drafted were able to fit the width of the denim. There was also the sorting out of its different shades, making sure the colours I chose would go well together.”
The final look
The final look, named “0307”, is a modular, two-way piece that can be worn on both sides, either as a dress or a coat. “It has an A-line silhouette and contrasting panel details, topped off with an irregular hem and a rolled collar. Individual hand-cut denim petals were stitched and placed on certain panels as accent details accompanying the raw edges and fraying found throughout the garment,” Chua adds.
And who exactly does the designer envision wearing it? As his affinity for polymorphic would attest, a host of different people, of course. He describes it as a statement garment that allows for both casual and formal styling. Another key aspect of it is its ability to either be layered with other pieces or simply worn on its own.
When reflecting on what he enjoyed the most about the month-long design process, Chua notes that being able to experiment without expectation was an integral part of the journey. The takeaways, he adds, are also invaluable. “The whole process of one idea leading to another and seeing it come together was the most enjoyable part for me.”
Moving forward, Chua hopes to implement upcycled garments into future projects. This experience, he adds, has strengthened his resolve for conscious design. “By incorporating upcycling into my polymorphic designs, it strengthens the conversation of sustainability and gives the old garments a new and longer lifespan.”
Chua’s garment will be auctioned off come October and the proceeds will be split between the Vogue Singapore Foundation and himself. The garment will be showcased in a designated space within a selected Levi’s store and will also be a contender for the Vogue Europe x Levi’s upcycling initiative. Readers will get a full look at “0307” in Vogue Singapore’s anniversary issue, which hits newsstands in October.
Fashion Director: Desmond Lim
Director of photography: Nikkla
Gaffer and Camera Assistant: Jufri Husne
Grip: Mohammad Haikal Bin Hassan
Writer: Maya Menon