Surface & Textile Designs inspired by Singaporean Nostalgia
East Asian names reverse the western order; in the West, Singapore surface designer Lin YiYing Serene is known as Serene Lin. Serene studied Fashion Textiles at Lasalle College of the Arts, graduating in May 2012 with a First Class Honours BA. Her very successful fashion textile degree collection Traces, consist of a series of designs using soft cottons, linens and sheer lightweight polyesters, all selected for comfort of wear in the Singaporean tropical climate. A playful colour palette of coral, dark teal, ice spearmint, sky blue and slate grey helps to create an air of youthful exuberance. Illustrative silkscreen prints paired with fabric manipulations and embroidery evoke strong folk influences, reinforcing Serene’s chosen themes of nostalgia and traditions.
Serene’s hand drawn illustrations bring out elements of the Singaporean past weaving them with the intricate layers of her childhood memories. Indeed one of the strengths of this collection is the evocative power of its motifs and their ability to take back in time the Singaporean public.
Lin, your collection is both fresh and nostalgic. How did you come to choose nostalgia as a source of inspiration?
At the beginning of this project I did a lot of research on trends and markets but my own childhood memories kept coming back to the forefront. A specific purpose for this collection slowly emerged: I wanted to help Singaporean remember their past, the things that make their cultures and traditions. Maybe I have an old soul; I really like old things, I see a lot of value in them.
So your collection is purposely nostalgic?
Singapore has evolved into a dynamic modern city that never sleeps. Despite great economic developments, this extreme industrialization and urbanization comes at a price. Scarcity of land meant open lands was seized and old buildings demolished. The loss of landscapes resulted in loss of traditions, cultures and identity.
As technology advances handcrafted skills and traditions are lost and this part of our heritage slowly disintegrates. I believe we need to remember and preserve it. The past should not be regarded merely as something to improve on, old techniques valued when used in innovative ways. The past must also be cherished for its intrinsic qualities, for nostalgia. With my work I want to help people remember.
I like this quote from Singaporean architect Pauline Ang: Our collective memories and shared experiences are precious. They define who we are, how far we’ve come and where we’ll be in the future. A city that does not cherish and build upon its historical lineage is like a person without a past—an ageless person who is eternally fresh-faced and bright-eyed, but ultimately devoid of substance. (Pauline Ang, 2011)
So what are the specific sources of inspiration of your collection?
As a Cosmopolitan city, Singapore has been influenced by many different cultures.
I looked at forgotten Singaporean places for inspiration, places like the city charming old mosaic playgrounds and the Haw Par Villa theme park, a unique place depicting Chinese folklore. I researched old buildings and streets that do not exist anymore as well as toys, sweets and food. This is where my own childhood memories kicked in; food is such a strong cultural signifier!
Your illustrations evoke Singaporean memories. Is your collection nostalgic in other ways?
My colour palette comes from the same sources as my illustrations: old streets and buildings, food and childhood culture. Coral, ice spearmint and sky blue are colours found in the old mosaic playgrounds; the dark blue comes from the Peranakan Dumplings, a local Chinese delicacy. I also chose to emulate Batik resist techniques as well as fabric manipulations like quilting and appliqué to bring in a folk art feel. The way I choose to repeat the fabric patterns also gives a local flavour.
Part of my research included various folk techniques, like knitting, embroidery, lacing and weaving. I was struck by Bjork; her global & modern image is inspired by her home land, Iceland. In my thesis paper, I studied Bjork’s dress and fashion. Dress historian Lou Taylor said ‘Clothing and artefacts are powerful tools for historical and socio-cultural investigation.’ Somehow I feel this statement also explains my collection.
How do people react to you work?
Not everyone shares the memories I tried to evoke. People do not always get what it is about, but sometimes they look at my work and their eyes light up; they have recognised a shape or a pattern and start to remember.
This moment is so exciting and it makes me very happy. What I really want to do is to bring that kind of joy to people while sharing my love for Singapore.
What did you learn through the process of your collection design?
I learnt a few things about myself and the way I work. From a practical perspective it is easy to get sucked in research[P1] , to get absorbed by all the wonderful images you have collected.
At times I felt I was spending too long researching yet I couldn’t move forward. Sometimes you need to step back and just start doing something that will allow the creativity to flow. Of course creativity and originality are important, but hard work and perseverance are a must.
What would you like to achieve going forward?
I would really like to be known for my work as a Singaporean Designer, as someone proud of her heritage and culture.
Recently, with some fellow graduates we have opened a shop as a platform to launch our individual fashion labels. The hardest thing about starting a business like this really is the selling. I had no illusion when we started; I knew that Singaporeans are more interested in mass fashion brands than local design. They don’t yet value high quality handmade products, products in which someone has poured their heart and soul. The next thing we need to do is to educate them!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to study fashion, to a future fashion student?
Studying fashion is not about dressing up and looking pretty. In fact studying fashion is hard work and at the end of the day, those with the most passion, drive and determination win. Talent is nothing without hard work. You must be ready for this, keep pushing and not self-doubt too much.