Analogous Juxtaposition of the Thar
Catherine Chew Hui Yu’s graduate collection, Analogous Juxtaposition of the Thar, – referring to the Thar Desert that runs along the Indo-Pakistani border – intertwines two opposing elements through the common thread of craftsmanship. Yearning for the clean yet skilful elegance of Cristobal Balenciaga’s designs but with a passion for the old-world values of Thar Desert women, Chew looked to their shared use of laborious but beautiful techniques for inspiration. The result is a collection of East-meets-West garments which, whilst wearable in the modern age, contain couture-like elements which conjure a nostalgia for traditional textile techniques.
A world away from the forensic scientist she dreamt of being as a child, Lasalle College of the Arts graduate Chew is now in the early stages of setting up her own label, which she hopes to market in her native Singapore. Whilst aware that the future of fashion lies with technology, a fact difficult to ignore in this city, Chew also knows the importance of history. Fittingly she says she would love to be able to hold a fashion show in the Tanjong Pagar train station, one of the few historical places of Singapore that is well-preserved.
Catherine, the inspiration for your collection seems to have come from two almost opposing places?
With this collection I wanted to explore ways to ‘invent’ Fashion. I wanted to do something different, yet produce modern and wearable pieces. To this end I combined entirely opposite elements such as the silhouettes of the 1960s together with the craftsmanship of a completely different culture. By combining art (Georgia O Keefe, a XXth century American artist famous for painting large scales flowers blossoms), fashion (Balenciaga) and culture (Indian Thar), the resulting designs are novel with pioneering prints and fresh colours.
This idea of craftsmanship runs strongly throughout your collection, what is it about these traditional techniques that appealed to you?
Craftsmanship requires a lot of effort and meticulousness. In honouring the art of Balenciaga’s masterful 1960’s pieces combined with cross-cultural references to the Indian Thar Desert women and their wood block printing, I was able to create beautiful designs suited for modern women. The production of my garments demanded a lot of attention however, it was not burdensome. I feel the realized pieces are contemporary and highly wearable, bridging past and present as well as linking different cultures. I am proud and happy that the thought and attention I put in each piece, whether hand-embroidered or printed has produced something special, one-off pieces.
What challenges did you face when making your final collection?
I felt that I should put time and efforts to ensure that the craftsmanship element of the collection was properly highlighted. The technique I used to embroider the prints is quite unique and I ended up doing it myself, by hand. It took long hours. I also used a heat-transfer printing technique to fix the dye of my prints which required more time that envisaged. Manually printing on fabric required stamina.
Do you have a particular woman in mind when you say your garments are suited for modern women?
Definitely, the ideal client is someone who is mature and confident in her thinking and her way of dressing. Nothing is overboard or messy about her look, it is polished and appropriate.
How do you think living in Singapore has influenced you as a designer?
I guess growing up in Singapore makes me a rather practical person. We do not have four seasons in Singapore and, as such, comfort and wearability are two very important factors included the collection. I wouldn’t want my clients to feel uncomfortable in my clothes.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a fashion student?
I really felt my sketching skills were lacking so I decided to dedicate a month, on top of the rest of my course work, to train myself at shading and rendering my croquis. That often meant sketching till the next morning but I’m glad I never gave up.
Your hard work has paid off, if I may say so! What have you done since graduating?
I have been designing and working on the label I hope to launch soon called CATCH. In addition, a few schoolmates and I started our own shop at Scape Underground, a non-profit organization which supports youth, talent and leadership development. The name of the shop is ROCKET, and it is a platform for us to further our dreams and propel us to the next stage as designers.
Catherine’s portfolio can be seen at catherinechew.tumblr.com