By Heather I’anson-Holton (16A01E), Gao Yanxin Esther (16S03N) and Marilyn Kang (17A01B) Photographs by Esther Chin (17S06D) and Megan Gwee (16S07C)
Beyond the glitz and glamour, 14 May marked the culmination of months of preparation and hard work. It put on full display outfits that began conception in the Nov-Dec holidays and stood the test of quality checks every few weeks. After months of sweat, tears, and countless pin pricks, Mirrors was the final result. Anticipation for the show was thick in the air, as audience members dressed to the nines waited on white wooden chairs, and a thumping beat courtesy of self-taught DJ Akmal “AK” Hidhir (16S07D), filled the theatre. The hall boasted a stage and central aisle, flanked by two screens that were soon to project live close-ups of each garment.
This year’s theme set out to explore the relationship we each have with mirrors; in other words, the chasm between reality and our often warped perception. The outfits reflected the designers’ interpretations of their own dreams and nightmares, their own fears and desires, making it a very personal and diversified collection. These varied interpretations resulted in a spectrum of designs ranging from flowers and flowing fabric to leather and black spikes in a matter of minutes. Though initial assessments had the audience confused as to the overall cohesiveness of the collections, their power became clear when viewed in the context of the theme. The sheer diversity of the designs featured and the diverging manners in which designers interpreted the theme just go to show how unique each of our perspectives are, as the theme strived to demonstrate.
The show began with a video version of Runway’s publicity photos: snippets of models bearing stern and striking expressions while strolling through Coney Island or lounging on the steps of the National Gallery followed in quick succession. As the video flickered out, the runway came to life.
Entitled “Restraint”, designer Kim Haeyoung (16S06P) crafted her collection with the belief that the mind’s consciousness (and subconscious) is the very source of our dreams and nightmares. This stems from the fact that her deepest fear is a lack of self-restraint, while her biggest dream is to be able to let herself go free. In a combination of opposites, she encapsulated these ideas in her military-inspired outfit (pictured below). In this outfit, the military theme symbolized control and rigidity, representing restraint over her own consciousness. Haeyoung used army green fabric and gold tassels, as well as the more restrictive form of pants over skirts for her female model to represent her ideas.
For designer Tay Hui Lyi (16S06F), her collection “Into the Woods” drew inspiration from the intricacies and conflicts within nature, to translate the belief that people are different from mirrors – how we view ourselves is often not the same as how others view us. Yet, at the same time, people are multi-faceted, and are constructed of a myriad reflections pieced together in a kaleidoscope of mirrors. Hui Lyi used embellishment and accessorising to make manifest her theme, using flower crowns and feathered bodices to invoke nature.
A haunting collection, designer Ng Qian Qian (16A01C) infused her personal confusions and fears into the conception of “Tartotita”, rendering it a chronicle of self-discovery. While fashion is conventionally used as an outlet of self-expression, Qian Qian’s collection enabled her to navigate through a personal struggle with confusion and fears. What she came to was, in Runway’s own words, “we are nothing more than an amalgam of jarring and diverse experiences.” In what was perhaps the most unique of all the outfits featured in this collection, Qian Qian strung together with ribbon a series of plastic masks, which represent the many facades we put on as we struggle to find ourselves.
Other collections were just as visually striking and profoundly meaningful, dazzling and impressing the audience in equal parts. Some played on themes of darkness and light, others strived for fairytale-esque looks. Materials used ranged from a wide spectrum of heavy gold chains, black leather to crystals, yarn and even recycled can tabs. From this, it was made apparent that the sheer creativity of Runway designers had no bounds.
For many of the designers, concepting their collections bore a great deal of significance and weight, as it was a cathartic process that enabled them to make meaning through art. In doing so, the designers transformed the runway into a stage for their musings, hoping that they had inspired the audience in some way as well. For Chairperson Michelle Lee, she hopes that though the audience all saw the same pieces, they could each “take away something different,” and realise that likewise, “what you see in the mirror may not be what others perceive of you.”
One thing that was starkly different from last year’s RProject was that the audience found themselves travelling to the heart of the town – Capitol Theatre – to catch the show, as opposed to the Albert Hong School Hall. The CCA wanted to elevate Runway’s reputation from that of an amateur CCA to a more recognised professional group, and a natural step towards this was finding an external venue. This endeavour was not without its difficulties, however. Though after months of liaison and innumerable emails, they commendably succeeded in bargaining down rental costs by $10 000, the final price of $4000 still put a sizeable dent in their budget, necessitating Runway to cut costs in every other way possible. Fortunately, the fruits of their labour were felt as members of the public expressed interest in attending the show, and photographers offered their services after coming across their online publicity.
Venue aside, this year also saw a marked change in the models that graced the show. Since model auditions earlier this year assuring that all were welcome, Runway has followed through on its promise, with RProject’16 having Runway’s most diverse range of models yet. The change is most clearly noticeable amongst this year’s female models, who ranged from size 0 to size 10, with a height range of 158cm to 173cm. Yet, it is not as diverse as it aspires to be: of the 22 models of RProject’16, only three were non-Chinese, and a lack of plus size models remains. (Size 10, after all, is quite average.) However, as designer Cynthia Wang (16A01D) commented, Runway does not consider race or size. “We have our own standards, and we try to impose them and make the models meet these standards.” Michelle added, “we really don’t judge based on height or size but on the walk… it’s really how well you can walk.”
Cynthia further explained that this can be attributed to the pool of largely similar auditionees, despite our country’s many races and the many body types present in our school. She hypothesised that “those who audition, the tall and skinny ones…tend to have a higher self-esteem due to the affirmation” and are therefore more likely to audition, and more likely to get in due to the confidence this higher self-esteem gives them. The problem here, is that it then creates a self-perpetuating cycle: only confident, catwalk-ready models make it onto runways and the media, and so only those meeting these beauty ideals of height and slimness are represented. Hence, as each new generation looks for role models amongst these models, they find the same mold every time. So despite Runway’s ambitions of promoting body positivity, which are certainly heartening, more has to be done in the future. After all, with some training, it is possible to teach anyone the elusive walk that the CCA requires and, in the words of Cynthia: “in the future there can be potential in opening up this kind of dimension more.” On that promising note, future years may see RProject embracing even greater diversity, and becoming truly representative of the different images we each see in our mirrors.
Overall, Mirrors was a truly stunning collection, made even more beautiful by the models that sported it, and by its elegant venue. Runway’s skills both in fashion design and event organisation served them well, captivating all of its audience.
As recounted by Michelle, the days leading up to the show saw the core team staying back in school everyday. She spoke on behalf of Runway when she shared, “it takes a lot of effort to continue, because (of) the physical stress and emotional stress, as well as trying to cope with your studies and your friends, but altogether it’s a learning process, we can’t always have everything smooth-sailing”. Perhaps it was only with such a gruelling time of preparation and planning, could the show have been as mesmerizing as it was.
Without a doubt, Runway has achieved their goals to “break boundaries” and “challenge the process,” as established by their chairperson. With a touch of irony, the new standards RProject’16 has set for Runway were anything but a mirroring of its history – it marked a new chapter for Runway. Their steps towards establishing a greater name for themselves and their progress towards diversifying alongside the fashion industry make it one to excitedly look forward to.