Behind the Seams: The Designers of Raffles Runway

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By Rachel Lee (19A01D), Soh Ying Qi (18A01C) and Soh Gek Shuen (18S03B)

Read the first part of this feature on the models of Raffles Runway here.

When one thinks of fashion, one inevitably sees the results: the looks paraded on red carpets, international Fashion Weeks and runways that, to the untrained eye, almost seem endless. Rarely is anything made of the process behind the show, the countless hours that go into sketching and sewing and a billion tiny modifications.

Similarly, the preparation for Raffles Runway’s annual showcase is laborious and lengthy, a fact that remains hidden when one sees the dazzling results. In this feature, Raffles Press brings you behind the scenes with one designer, Dou Jingzhi (18S03C), for a look at how it all comes together.

Creating Designs

As with any other creative pursuit, planning is crucial to the success of any collection (and hence, the showcase as a whole). Despite requiring the least grunt work of any stage of preparation, the mental labour that goes into designing and sketching should not be underestimated. When asked about her design process, Jingzhi shared, “I try to have an idea of what I want to do… Then I draw my ideas out, or look for fabric to see what suits.”

Given the importance of being able to visualise (read: sketch) one’s ideas, is a background in art necessary to be a member of Runway? To any potential designers, Jingzhi offered some assurance: “If you’re worried about sketching, it’s not the main point of what we do because our sketches don’t end up looking like our final product most of the time. We actually make a lot of improvisations, even for people who know what they’re drawing.”

While it may seem relatively straightforward, the steps in the process of planning and designing garments may not always present themselves in order. “Sometimes shopping [for] fabric may even provide inspiration,” Jingzhi explained, sharing an example of how the fabric she bought for last year’s showcase was eventually turned into the highlight of one of her garments this year.

Some of the materials Jingzhi used for her garments

As the planning stage is where most ideas come to life, setting the tone for the creation of the final collection, it is undoubtedly time-consuming and often requires much effort. Designs go through several revisions before being approved, and creative snags present themselves at many points along the way.

“There was one [design] in particular which I wasn’t sure how to go about completing. I tried making changes to it over and over… [I] spent an entire afternoon moving fabric around, trying to see how it would fit,” Jingzhi said. To many, this may seem like a fruitless exercise; however, she stressed the importance of experimenting to see what worked. “Usually you’ll just play around with your garment if it needs to be altered and find a thing that works.”

However, she acknowledges that designing does not come without its setbacks, a fact of life in most (if not all) creative pursuits. “Some [designs] have to be completely scrapped if you reach a dead end.”

Still, when asked about her passion for Runway and fashion, Jingzhi’s response was simple but poignant. “Fashion is a bit more different from traditional art because it tries to combine it with the human body. Other forms of art can be used to express yourself, but I think fashion is about creating yourself.”

Getting Materials

After creating preliminary sketches of their garments, designers set out on their own to obtain a number of materials for construction, ranging from familiar swathes of cloth and spools of thread to less conventional add-ons and decorations.

“If you tell them you’re a student, they might give you discounts!” Jingzhi quipped, with a smile. People’s Park Food Centre, with its wide range of fabrics and supplies to suit every need at an affordable price, is the aspiring fashion designer’s heaven. Being there for the first time myself, it wasn’t hard to see why Chinatown is a top-frequented spot for many, whether to gather supplies or to soak in the atmosphere and seek inspiration.

Flitting from store to store, Jingzhi spoke excitedly to many store owners, examining and rejecting fabrics that did not suit her purposes, but, to the untrained eye, quite frankly, all looked the same. The cost of materials was also something to keep in mind.

“We have a tight budget to stick to, and anything over that comes out of our own pockets. Some of us really go all-out, but this year I’m trying my best to stay within that budget,” Jingzhi shared, as she visited store after store, trying to cop the best deals.

Following that, we made our way to Spotlight, a slightly pricier but just as popular destination for Jingzhi and her batchmates, perhaps for their more modern and unconventional supplies, like their unicorn-adorned and psychedelic fabrics.

“These flowers look really good, but they’re just too expensive,” Jingzhi sighed, as she reluctantly placed the small bunch of glittery flowers back on the shelf. After rummaging through multiple rolls of fabric and countless other add-ons, she left the store with a small bag of paints and ribbons, eager to get back to school to work on her designs.

Constructing Garments

“My collection is inspired by East Asian culture, and it’s similar to Korean, Japanese and Chinese clothing,” Jingzhi shared, when asked about the inspiration behind her collection. “I tried to modernise the traditional elements found in the clothing… I’m even trying to mix things like Chinese calligraphy into the garments.”

“Personally, I’m very interested and inspired by East Asian culture itself,” said Jingzhi. On why she chose to incorporate it into her work, she stated, “Every culture has their own traditional clothing, such as the hanbok in Korea, but [it] is now being modified to be more modern, by altering the top or the skirt. I think it’s cool how designers do that, and I wanted to do the same.”

Besides cultural influences, Jingzhi shared that she also gains inspiration from fashion icons and designers she admires, with her favourite being Alexander McQueen. “The brand just goes all-out and it’s very admirable,” she enthused. “They’re very talented… their attention to detail and structure of their garments is really incredible.”

“Other forms of art can be used to express yourself, but I think fashion is about creating yourself.”

However, ideas do not translate so easily into practice, as any Runway designer would be able to tell you. Depending on the design, putting the different elements of a garment together can be a complicated process. A designer may spend hours on a single garment, sewing, stitching, pinning and making any number of tiny modifications that add up to a whole.

For a glimpse of the labour involved in creating a garment, check out the video below:

For Jingzhi, time management was one of the most challenging parts of the process. “I’m rushing this garment two weeks before the actual show,” she confessed during the interview, while working on a half-completed garment. Still, it goes without saying that the most time-consuming pieces are often the most elaborate, leaving the audience in awe when they appear on the runway.

When asked what keeps her going through the long process of making a garment, Jingzhi’s answer was simple: “My batchmates! Also, thinking about my friends who will be going for the show. I want to try my best… I wouldn’t want my model to wear garments on the stage that the audience think are [sloppy].”

Runway Reflections

Despite the immense personal sacrifice (of time and effort, among other things) that goes into their collections and the annual showcase, most designers would agree that the hard work is entirely worth it, especially with friends by their side. To Jingzhi, the most enjoyable part of the process was “working with my batchmates, especially when we were planning the show together”.

“We always help each other out and give each other advice for the garments. For example, before my photoshoot, the size of my garment was incorrect and it didn’t fit my model, but my batchmate Vidhi showed me how to pinch the garment such that it would fit better.” Such displays of camaraderie are not uncommon in Runway, as the final product—the showcase—is ultimately a collaborative effort.


Photobooks from previous years’ showcases

At its heart, Runway is “a group of people with an interest in designing”, says Jingzhi. Referring to the annual showcase, RPROJ, she added, “Some would even say that we’re half event planning, half fashion design.”

Of this year’s title, MODE, Jingzhi said: “Mode is French for fashion, but [it] is also a synonym of ‘way’ or ‘method’—we wanted to express how everyone in our CCA has different ways, modes of doing things, but ultimately it all comes together in one showcase.”

What can audiences expect from this year’s showcase? “The show revolves around five to six collections, each with a dedicated theme and about four to six garments,” Jingzhi explained. This year’s show is unique in that it has no central theme, which allowed designers more creative freedom without having to worry about restrictions.

However, the cohesion of the show as a whole was still taken into account. “Despite not having an overarching theme, gold is incorporated into all of our outfits, to make our garments seem coherent… We wanted it to be symbolic, as gold is a very bright colour and we wanted our garments to have the same quality of attraction.” The presence of gold in all of this year’s designs serves as a touchstone for all designers, “showing that we still have something in common”.

RPROJ ‘18: MODE will be held on Friday, 25 May at 6pm at Joyden Hall, Bugis+. Tickets can be purchased from any Runway member or model.

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