Origin Story

by Rong Xin Choy


Today I decided, in preference to my law readings, that my designing aspirations should be documented. 

I started my designing dream when I was about 15. (Let's discount the doodles and the wrapping of long shawls into dresses which I did ever since my fingers could grip a pen or make a knot). Details are a little hazy but I started figure drawing when my mom took me to Nanjing, China, and I was under the impression everybody there was a tailor and I could make a million dresses. We were there for a week and of the five dresses I had my heart set on making, I could find materials for only two. 

My first successful dress! A toga with oriental collar and buttons.

My first successful dress! A toga with oriental collar and buttons.

Only one made it to the completed dress stage. Most of the tailors I met didn't quite understand my very limited and broken chinese, and also didn't get why I wanted to deviate from the traditional dresses that they were used to making. I was directed to a costume-maker rather than tailor, who made me the dress below- my first successful dress design. I don't have really good pictures of it, but it's twist on a traditional chinese dress by making it one-shouldered with a flare skirt rather than a straight cut and side slit. 

Black and gold cheongsam with an open corset back

Black and gold cheongsam with an open corset back

I didn't do much designing after that, but another opportunity to get dress tailor-made when I was 16 for my school's Founder's Day Dinner. It's my school's version of prom, although its in the middle of the year, there are no boys and nobody really dances. 

At that time Daniel Yen dresses were the standard stop for most girls at our age, but being a true princess, I refused to to wear something that somebody possibly might wear too, and decided to get my own dress made. I'm still searching for a proper picture of it but for now it's the gold and black cheongsam in the picture on the left. The front is a traditional front with cap-sleeves and buttons, but the back is a ribboned cut-out corset. I'll find more pictures when I can.

Cream and black in an attempt to be Chanel-esque

Cream and black in an attempt to be Chanel-esque

The next dress I designed was for my junior college graduation dinner, which was a real prom, I suppose. I was 18 and tried to create a dress that would 1) hide my significant lack of assets 2) would play to my strengths 3) was classy and vaguely chanel-esque with beige and black. I came up with the dress below- a fold-over cross top to hide the (lack of) boobs while still creating the illusion of volume hehe. Open low back, clean black lines in a crossover at the front to create a slimming effect. In hindsight maybe I should have made the cross a little lower. Hmm. 

Well it was a decent dress but I actually preferred my black/gold butterfly cheongsam. But you can't wear a dress twice for this sorta thing and I wanted to try something new.

After junior college I really wanted to do fashion. I applied to several design schools but ultimately was persuaded into doing law in Sydney. 

I started designing again when I went to the University of Sydney and had my taste of Australian college culture when living in the Womens College. I was introduced to Toga parties where everybody wore their college bedsheets to party. I really didn't want to just tie it around my shoudler so I tried styling it and created my first bedsheet dress. 

The birth of bedsheet dresses

The birth of bedsheet dresses

I created the dress on the furtherest left as well 

I created the dress on the furtherest left as well 

After that I couldn't wait to create more dresses and started experimenting :) as well as helping out whenever toga parties rolled around!

Taking Toga Parties to a new level

Taking Toga Parties to a new level

Transient
Handkerchief halter back

Handkerchief halter back

Accessorized with a vintage belt as a collar piece 

Accessorized with a vintage belt as a collar piece 

What I found really fun about these dresses were two things: No sewing. No pattern cutting. The whole process was profoundly organic- I worked with whatever size sheets were available, often the sheets I could get were stained or torn- so I would tear around the area or cut off whole chunks. Then I would drape the cloth onto the model and see which form was most flattering, before tearing the fabric further, and working to fasten the cloth around the person. You could wear the dress only once, but hey, once is enough isn't it? 

An example of how a dress starts out

An example of how a dress starts out

This is an example of how a dress would start out. I tore this one down the middle and decided that the way the fabric fell would make a good collar, then start draping it onto my model. I then tied the shoulder together and start fitting the back after figuring out what goes where.

I made some dresses on my own time and started experimenting with cut-outs and actual pre-cut holes in the fabric for arms/heads. Still no sewing at this point. Most seams were left raw, or occasionally I would fold them over and glue it to create clean lines, like at the back of this dress. I also tried creating circle skirts, I was fascinated that you actually cut out a circle to get the perfect draping.

Playing with circle cuts and lattice backs

Playing with circle cuts and lattice backs

Transient

My favorite ones were always long and flowy though. Had to wear safety shorts under this one!

Transient

After this point I'm afraid I haven't done anything as substantial as I'd like to, and this blog is me taking the first step to doing something about it. I always lament my fate of not pursuing design and yet I've never actively done anything else to better myself in the area other than subscribing to Vogue. 

Here's to the beginning of something.