Saturation and overconsumption in the fashion industry means it is no longer enough for designers to produce desirable garments; there also needs to be a convincing reason for those garments to exist in the first place What newness are they bringing to the table? What fresh point of view are they adding to the dialogue? From sustainability—not just in terms of material choices, but also in terms of their businesses in the long run—to conversations around craft, technology and supply chains, the designers at this year’s Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award had much to say, with each bringing a distinctive perspective to the sixth edition of the regional competition.
The designs of the Singaporean finalists were rooted in functionality and realism, elevated by technical inventiveness. Rena Kok set her work apart by exploring augmented reality technology, working with an engineer to create digital prints that came alive on a screen. The rest of her collection was imbued with a similarly futuristic spirit, with techie fabrics and Space Age silhouettes taking centre stage. Kok further pushed the futurist agenda with details such as laser-cut perforations and oil-slick surfaces. For her forward-looking ideas, she scooped up the second runner-up place.
Zoey Zhao, meanwhile, placed her clothes in an urban context, with a focus on workwear and tailoring-think white shirts with power shoulders, wide grey trousers and cinched bustiers. She made these propositions new again with her deft, slightly left-field take on deconstruction, asymmetry and layering.
While the Singaporean finalists designed with an eye towards practicality, the designers from Thailand took off on flights of fancy with collections full of colour, texture and movement. Inspired equally by the Eighties and the monochromatic outfits of Queen Elizabeth II, Ken Boonsong brought together puff sleeves and peplums with brilliant shots of brights and pastels, accessorised with Ascot-worthy feathered hats. His employment of Swarovski crystals-adorning kitten heels; forming a smiley face on a t-shirt-added a light-hearted charm.
Ice Pornchanok, on the other hand, was inspired by drag culture and the hijras, India’s third gender. The result was a joyful collection heavy on ornamentation, saturation and shine. Feathers sprouted out from necklines and burst out of sleeves; ruffles cascaded down the body; ultra-short hemlines were trailed by animal-print trains. Her Indian references peeked through in subtle nods to sari dressing such as single-shouldered silhouettes and draping on the hips.
For the designers from Vietnam, craftsmanship came first above all else. Both designers veered towards opulence and glamour with a pronounced emphasis on eveningwear, but expressed through different methods. Hoang Minh Ha zoomed in on fabric manipulation, sculpting architectural silhouettes inspired by the swooping curves of Ho Chi Minh’s modernist buildings. The shapes were grand and statement-making, but rendered in fabrics that swished with ease and lightness.
Le Hoang Son focused on dazzlingly intricate embroidery and embellishment, which he created in collaboration with local artisans from Vietnam. In a meeting of East and West, Savile Row tailoring was blended with details inspired by the armour of the Japanese female samurai. The collection was also a mix of hard and soft, with tailored pieces alongside sensuously draped forms and wispy tulle. For his evocation of dark glamour, Son walked away with the first runner-up prize.
It was the Indonesian designers, though, who impressed the panel the most with their carefully considered propositions on both the design and business sides. Dea Yuliana centred her collection on traditional Indonesian fabrics sourced from Java and Yogyakarta. She modernised the heritage textiles by rendering them in monochrome, but instead of being austere, Yuliana’s work showed clear signs of the human hand through her use of deconstruction, knitting, patchwork, shredding and raw fringing.
For sheer ingenuity, Kelly Vallerie took top spot. Her collection was geared towards maximum versatility, with pieces that can be adapted and worn multiple ways. A bag can be snapped off into four pouches; a top can be transformed into a tote, and a skirt, into trousers. She cut generous shapes that made allowances for an extensive range of sizes, and constructed complex patterns with clever hidden details and rich textures. “Kelly is a standout. Her vision of multi-functionality and her translation of themes into details-like her atypical application of Swarovski crystals-sets her apart,” says Ria Lirungan, Editor-in-Chief at Harper’s BAZAAR Indonesia, who guided her growth over the last several months.
Vallerie also smartly structured her business into three lines: a more affordable range of basics, ready-to-wear, and highly conceptual custom-made one-offs. This impressed Christopher Daguimol, Group Director of Brand Communications at ZALORA, who said: “It’s not often that you see a young designer with a balanced approach to expressing creativity through design and applying it to her business model as well.” For her blend of creativity and commerce, Vallerie was awarded the top prize, which included a cash reward and a scholarship for a master’s degree at the renowned Istituto Marangoni.
Though the finalists differed in their aesthetics and approach to design, what they all had in common was the drive and daring to push the envelope and explore new frontiers, even as they confronted issues their predecessors never had to contemplate. With impressively thought-out collections that belied their relative lack of experience, this diverse group of designers proved they have what it takes to go the distance.