Malaysian-born designer Jasmine Chong blossoms in her third collection at New York Fashion Week, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY FROM MALAYSIA TO NEW YORK FASHION WEEK FOR AUTUMN/WINTER 2018.
I grew up in Kuala Lumpur - my mother was a designer and made many of my dresses growing up. I'm lucky to have such a supportive family, with a mother and father who believe in my dream. The first "collection" I've ever designed was for the children from the movie Sound Of Music. I filled many of my brown school books with drawings of girls in dresses.
I then went to Australia for boarding school. Upon completing my secondary school, I enrolled in a more traditional university, University of Virginia, USA, intending to major in English & Economics. I still love writing and my approach to design often begins from writing – design can be a beautiful way to tell stories.
I transferred to the fashion design programme at the School of Art at Institute of Chicago, where I was immersed in both fine art and fashion design. At my senior design show, the majority of my collection was sold and things fell into place. I was lucky to have realised so early on what felt right to me.
Following that, I worked for a number of designers in New York – Anna Sui, Halston, Marchesa, Thakoon and Tory Burch – before deciding to enrol at Parsons, the New School for Design in New York. Upon graduating from Parsons, I launched my eponymous label, Jasmine Chong.
WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING AS A FASHION DESIGNER IN NEW YORK?
I love that it's a melting pot for creative talent. You see this reflected in how people dress, the visual merchandising of a boutique, the street art and the professionals you collaborate with.
I've been lucky to collaborate with creative talent like Emilie Heathe, who handles all the beauty aspects (hair, make-up, nails) for my recent New York Fashion Week (NYFW) show and photoshoot. We believe in each other and want to help propel the other forward, and we love having long conversations about the future of fashion and life.
Meanwhile, the fashion consumer here has such a strong sensibility for fashion and art that I learn so much from them as a designer. They notice the details in the design and they want to hear about the stories behind the pieces. It's humbling and validating at the same time.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LABEL'S SIGNATURE LOOK AND THE WOMEN WHO WEAR YOUR CLOTHES?
The label is about quiet luxury, an exploration of the subtle ways a woman experiences luxury. The pieces marry the romance of rich details like couture finishings with the functionality of ready-to-wear.
Jasmine Chong is also committed to celebrating the female form, with silhouettes that are fluid and delicate but also directional. The woman who wears my clothes falls in love with the story behind a piece and wholeheartedly embraces her femininity. She is soft, yet also strong.
WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND THE COLLECTION FOR A/W18.
I found inspiration in the act of dreaming and dreamscapes - that slice of hazy consciousness between being awake and being asleep. I also became utterly obsessed with nightwear silhouettes of the 1930s, and used fabrics like plush velvet and whisper-thin chiffon to convey the duality between weight and air.
YOUR A/W18 PRESENTATION USES DIVERSE MODELS IN TERMS OF ETHNICITY AND BODY SIZE. WAS THIS THE ORGANISER'S INITIATIVE OR YOUR OWN?
My first two collections shown at NYFW used straight size models, which is US sizes 0 to 4, because this is what I was taught and what is common in the industry.
I was thrilled with those two shows but as time went by, it became clear to me that this third show should be different. I needed to represent a wider range of women in terms of size and ethnicity. I wanted to celebrate women and their beauty, and not just a singular definition of beauty.
My entire world changed with my first internship with fashion designer Anna Sui, when I observed her as an incredibly talented Asian woman at the pinnacle of a competitive industry. Working under her made me feel like I too had a chance at telling my story. That's why diversity and representation is so important, and I hope to make a difference.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE OF THE JASMINE CHONG LABEL?
My next collaboration will be with New York composer/musician Sugar Vendil. She uses movement and music in such a directional way and I am excited to be a part of it.
I also hope to bring the label to Asia. We landed in Hong Kong a few months ago for a pop-up and the response was overwhelmingly positive, so I'm thrilled to bring it back to my roots. Europe is also hopefully in the cards.