Hello fashionistas! Please update your bookmarks to SHUMI, where I’ll continue to share inspirational design, style and editorials, in addition to an array of other exciting topics, such as my foray into the world of classical ballet (I took my first class in over ten years just last Saturday – eek). Hope to see you there :)
Fresh, young talent Stephanie Leung has recently produced an exciting body of work called Revitalise for her Fall/Winter collection. Stephanie, now an intern at Alice McCall – and a recent textiles and graphics graduate from the College of Fine Arts (COFA), UNSW – agreed on a short interview exclusively for KUKLA. We caught up over bruschette at Surry Hills with a mutual friend, and she was as bubbly and energetic as ever as she answered my questions.
Describe the concept behind Revitalise.
‘Revitalise’ explores the concept of renewing and ‘bringing to life’ organisms that are considered grotesque and unappealing to the general public. It aims to redefine our understanding and visual interpretations of beauty. Our eyes are already mechanically trained to identify with what is already perceived to be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, and so we seem to inadvertently avoid looking at anything considered ugly or grotesque. We develop preconceived notions of the term ‘ugly’. It’s so easy to conform to what society dictates as beautiful.
Central to the vision of this collection were certain ‘ugly’, grotesque organisms, including lichen, decaying flora and fungi. I really wanted to bring out the beautiful elements in these forms. There’s a tendency to associate ‘beauty’ with a pleasant image and in a way I wanted to revitalise that term. However that said, I didn’t want to be too philosophical by just blatantly bringing to light everything that was ugly and say ‘here, this is considered ugly but deep down it’s beautiful – therefore it’s beautiful so you should think that way too’. In a sense, the process of revitalisation [in our conceptualisations of beauty] is the premise of this collection and the most important element in bringing to life this fashion range.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I know a lot of fashion designers say that they draw inspiration from past design eras and iconic fashion designers including Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent and the legendary McQueen. I’ll admit, these are designers that I have idolised, but I’m more inspired by my daily surroundings. For instance, this morning, I noticed some peeling paint by the side of my terrace, and you know to some people these cracks could be considered imperfections on a smooth surface or something of lesser value that was even worth considering, but to me it was a new concept, a spark that would probably evolve into something bigger, and I kept thinking how beautiful if would look as a fabrication or even a design print on a dress or top.
Sum up your design aesthetic in one sentence.
You know, I think I’m still in the process of finding my ‘signature design style’. I find that I am not committed to only one specific design aesthetic and I don’t like to be associated with a particular look, but I believe that as a fashion designer it is essential to embrace all styles. At the moment, my design aesthetic is somewhat minimal, bold and feminine, which are almost opposing elements. In a way I think they also harmonise and balance each other, sort of like ‘yin and yang’.
What is your dream job/plans and hopes after finishing at COFA?
Oh wow, that’s a big one. I guess the dream is to get a kickstart in the fashion industry, designing and doing production work for a fashion label. At the moment, I’m a fashion intern at Alice McCall, and I’ve been privileged enough to intern for other prestigious fashion designers, so hopefully that will help me with networking in this industry. I would love to have my own label one day but of course that will probably be a few more years down the track! Another dream of mine would be to travel the world. I’ve been studying for 18 years straight and I haven’t really taken the time to explore the world – I think I deserve a little R&R. Plans to travel to New York and Paris are definitely in the near future. It’s been the ultimate fashion dream of mine and I’m determined to make that a reality!
Most difficult part of the design process while putting your collection together?
Can I say the whole process? For starters, I didn’t have access to a lot of things including an overlocker. But the most challenging part of the design process would definitely be the developing the concept. Halfway through, I found the concept had become too philosophical rather than design based and that wasn’t ‘me’. The project started to become more of ‘chore’ rather than a passion and when that occurred, I had to stop and start again, as painful as it was. But I don’t regret it because that was a learning curve for me as well and that particular ‘bump in the road’ helped create the backbone for the ‘Revitalise’ concept.
What kind of woman would you say represents the ‘Revitalise’ collection?
Revitalise showcases a lot of strong, bold designs and prints. It is a couture-inspired range so it takes a really adventurous and bold woman to pull off the style, as it is range that really stands out when the wearer is confident about the look of the garment. Then again, each of the dresses differs each other significantly in style, so pretty much anyone who loves a dramatic and bold print and detailed fabrications can wear ‘Revitalise’.
Non-fashion interests? Favourite food? Favourite film?
Fashion is definitely a passion rather than a job for me so it pretty much dictates my life and my interests – is that corny? I’ve also recently gotten back into hair and make-up since the resurgence of beauty bloggers and it’s been really fun…and probably detrimental to my wallet since I’m spending a fortune on cosmetics! Aside from that, I love baking! Macarons, cupcakes, and cakes – you name it and I’ll attempt it! Oh, I’m also a beach person – I live within a close radius of Sydney’s best beaches so during summer you can always find my ‘responsibly tanning’ by the sand. Favourite food… I love a good Italian meal. Favourite film is a hard one, since I’m a bit of a movie nut. I think I find that I gravitate towards period films like Pride and Prejudice, The King’s Speech etc. I love fashion films too. And the LOTR (Lord of the Rings) series. Yes, I’m a Tolkein nerd!
Steph’s work has also been featured here on the Longina Phillips Design Studio website.
I’m absolutely in love with the work of floral stylist and writer Amy Merrick. She’s all about gathering materials from the landscapes around her (much like Andy Goldsworthy), and I can imagine the things she produces for weddings are quite mesmerizing.
I recently had the pleasure of watching the Imperial Russian Ballet company perform The Nutcracker as part of the Festival of Russian Ballet, and it was truly one of the most breathtaking things I’ve seen in my life. Aside from the prima ballerina’s grace and technical ability to move effortlessly across the stage, it was the costumes that I found so beautiful. Is it the movement and drape of the fabric that brings the ballet to life, or is it the dance that brings the dress to life? Perhaps it’s both.
And lastly, I know figure skating and ballet are two very different things, but aren’t Kim Yuna’s routines just as full of strength and grace as any ballerina’s? So much talent. I love this girl, she really is a living legend! Here she performs to the soundtrack of Les Mis:
By now, everyone’s seen these fantastic photos from Margherita Missoni’s wedding. Over a year later, I’m still struck by the beauty and whimsy of it all. At first glance, I remember feeling disappointed by her dress. It seemed dated, frumpy. Old, not in a classic way, but in 1980s Princess Bride kind of way. Old, like my mother’s poofy peach cream puff of a gown (sorry mum!) I just didn’t see the romance in it. So Kate Middleton’s dress had lace sleeves, and was a nice departure from the standard strapless sweetheart neckline. But this was too out there.
Yet a year on, I’m mesmerized by the sheer thought of this dress/wedding. It reflects her unique aesthetic, her charm, her background and cultural heritage, her sense of style – and isn’t that really what it’s about? Being true to yourself. More than the dress itself, I think it’s her youth and happiness that makes her shine, but this wouldn’t have been right with any other dress. It had to have been this one. That’s why I’m posting these pictures today. As a reminder that this is the attitude I want to have towards style/design.
Original reports told that the gown was designed exclusively by Valli, a rumor the bride took to Twitter to squash: “The dress was made by the women who saw me growing up, following my precise directions and with Giamba’s ‘couture counseling,’” she wrote (Source: Brides.com).
The concept for Margherita’s silk and organza off-the-shoulder gown was born 15 years ago when she cut a picture of a similarly designed dress from a magazine, according to Vogue Italia. The dress—created together with her mother Angela Missoni and under the “couture” supervision of friend Giambattista Valli—includes subtle nods to her family’s famous fashion house in its patterns and embroidery, and features whimsical, voluminous sleeves accented by large floral appliques.
My goodness. How blessed Margherita Missoni is, to have had such an opportunity/experience. I can’t help but think of [one of] my childhood dream(s), which was to be a couturier – but not just any old. I wanted to be a wedding dress designer.
The closest I got? Probably designing and making my prom dress (called a ‘formal’ here in Sydney) in my senior year of high school. But since then I haven’t touched my sewing machine. Haven’t even been to the fabric store, and stood there, running my fingers over chiffons, organzas, raw silk, cotton jerseys, to imagine what I could create with them. Haven’t even entertained the thought of making dresses, of wearing my own creations. Life just got in the way. Other dreams, ambitions, goals took precedence. That was already what – five, six years ago?
This year, I’m going to start again. Designing and making clothes. And I’m going to remember to be true to myself. Margherita Missoni is my inspiration, not because I necessary go for the whole prints/Italian Riviera look myself, but because of the way she approaches fashion and style. She’s always feminine, always fresh and fun, and she’s never afraid to be herself. The ironic thing about ‘being true to yourself’ is that likes and tastes change. They’re subject to passing whimsies. For instance, when I made that prom dress, I was a huge Francophile. Paris and Proust, ballet flats and minimal chic and all that. And I was seventeen.
Soon afterwards – not long after I entered university – I think I had this huge period of self-discovery where I really wanted to connect with my Korean heritage, and with East Asian culture and that’s really showing through in my writing, my academic/career decisions, the music and films I consume, etc. Maybe that’s also a passing thing. But there’s still something at the core that’s unchanging, and I want to tap into that source. There would be no point in trying to emulate some of the things which make Missoni so charming. Those things aren’t imitable. Her inherent Italianness. Her self-confidence, which may or may not come from being the heiress of a fashion empire. I’m me. And I’m going to find my own truthful aesthetic.
Pantone colour predictions, Spring 2014
From left to right: Cleaty in white (Lily v.2 with a chunky cleated sole); Lily in ‘Silver Spec’ (sparkles!); Fisher in tan leather – really love these, but they didn’t have size 5, so I bought these Masala sandals instead, also leather and made in India.
Dion (left), and Roudy (right) – beautiful, chunky platform heels in sleek white and blonde wood. ‘Dion’ looks adorable with those dainty lace socks and cloud-white nails. Definitely going to try this look, come summer.