When it comes to fashion and its relationship with the human body, some designs are quite popular given their de-shaped and constricted nature, which then gives the word ‘shape’ a new definition. One of those who perceive silhouettes differently is Chie Kaya. Last year she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Womenswear at Central Saint Martins and her graduation collection lets people see alternative frames, constructions and anatomy of a dress. She is one of those young designers who put concepts not only into clothes but into the space of it and around them. Nourished by ancient Japanese concepts, her creations channel not only deconstructed beauty but traditions of cultural heritage.
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Let's start our interview with a discussion about what dragged you into fashion and why you love it.
It was quite spontaneous to carry an interest in fashion since my early childhood. I started with doodling reimagined fantasised girls I would see walking on the street and different versions of myself wearing evening gowns and wedding dresses.
Another reason is that I was influenced by my mother. She would bring me to her studio and I would stay beside her to watch her work, sketch and visit trimming manufacturers. I love it because as a designer, we feel a big accomplishment and pleasure when there are women who adore your collection in their daily wardrobe, and that would bring them to a nice place with confidence and embrace their insecurities.
How do you think your fashion vision has been evolving through the years?
Fashion for me was a self-expression of state of mind. As the fast fashion trend has gradually grown into the main market, I am definitely trying to create pieces that are well-considered in their longevity and quality. I think we are in the generation of thinking about how to contribute to society with our creation. In a broader sense, circular fashion will play a big part in future fashion and we are here to design clothes that can bring life from old to new and it would eventually return to its circularity.
What do you think you have learned about yourself ever since you started taking designing more seriously?
The functionality and wearability when it comes to the reality of considering what women would actually prefer to purchase for their wardrobe. Currently, I am still at the stage of exploring my design journey in the CSM Master of Arts womenswear course, and I think this is the place where I need to learn and think about the modern wardrobe that can be more relevant to contemporary women – how can I design a unique piece that is easy and comfortable to wear in everyday life? If I was the woman, would I want to wear it and think that the design is worth purchasing? And would it fit the current market? There is more consideration coming from the perspective of a broader vision – positioning my group of clients and the identity of the brand that I am trying to grow since this course. Designing something meaningful is the least we can do.
What about your personal history of influences? Are there any particular subjects you love to explore within your work?
I spent most of my time in Japan and China but I was also surrounded by Western culture since early childhood. The thoughts towards sexism have definitely subconsciously influenced me – the female gaze and femininity are one of the subjects that I have been exploring
How has your degree in Womenswear at Central Saint Martins helped shape the present concepts of your ongoing projects?
Every designer has a different personal background. And that unique background builds our own design language and world. It helped me to recognise who I am and where I come from and how my past experience inspires me during design development. It was a great opportunity to open up our creativity and enlarge our interests in certain topics.
You have mentioned that you aim your clothes to be spiritual and sensorial. Do you have any specific design routine that makes your work spiritual and sensorial for a wearer?
No, I don't design them purposely to be spiritual and sensorial, but I definitely consider a lot about the proportion of the clothes when they are on the body. Draping is another thing that secretly makes my work more spiritualñy with a sense of elegance and timeless beauty.
You often mention your Japanese heritage when talking about your creations, how do you think this has influenced your work?
I didn't live in Japan for too long, but the heritage foreshadows the designs and I only realised that after creating the collection. The colour and the wrapped silhouette were influenced by memories from when I was living in Japan. The atmosphere in the tube every morning, the women with fully suited workwear on the street, and the complex feeling between restriction and freedom that I felt from people inspired the work.
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Also, you talk a lot about timeless beauty, can you describe what it means to you and how can it be shown in fashion?
My inspiration was the journey of finding beauty and tension within imperfection, celebrating the asymmetry in nature. My grandmother used to tell me “Women preserve beauty naturally and age gracefully.” The frustration of admitting that it is human nature to age, meanwhile believing the idea of aged beauty, led to the exploration of this unspoken ‘tension.’ It was very challenging to try to evoke a very specific thing that departed from an abstract feeling.
Covid was definitely one of the subconscious factors that in fact pushed me further. There are techniques and fabric manipulation such as the stretched and ruching technique on top of foam structures and crinoline, the two-way crystal pleats technique and stretched knit lace that expresses emotions towards the idea of youthful beauty and the contemporary obsessions with youth and status. Throughout this journey of exploring the fragility of femininity, draping and tailoring played the role of my own unique language to empower and interact with the multifaceted women I am depicting.
Your graduate collection is in some way an exploration of deconstruction and the ways in which the body might be shaped or fashioned. What has made you stray away from classical shapes and explore something new for your graduation collection?
Each look speaks of the different personalities of groups of women I design for. I like the draped twisted tailored jacket scarf that's refined with a very sharp edge and seemingly odd asymmetric skirt silhouette. It was inspired by Karl Blossfeldt who captures enlarged abnormal shapes of plants that were black and white. It actually started quite abstract with complex emotions. We created everything under Covid restrictions, there was a lot of feeling about restraint, tension and nostalgia and we wanted to create pieces that would be able to speak for themselves. The concept was inspired by the power of wisdom within a dried flower. It was the beauty found in the imperfection and asymmetry of nature. It came from me noticing the current situation of people over obsessing with youthful attractiveness and the frustration of neglecting the beauty that wouldn't be seen on the surface. It's the beauty that comes from old age.
How have you started experimenting with shapes and silhouettes? When and why first did you first think about it?
I think it was the state of my mind that there was this abstract feeling I wanted to express. I started by observing the crease and fabric tension that was created upon a structure. There was this ‘pulling’ that I was keen on exploring. Especially the shoulder pieces that I emphasised on almost every look, that showcase the empowerment of women. I think the shoulder is the part of the body that expresses confidence and strength.
Do you use any special techniques or materials for your creations? Can you talk us through it, how have you implemented it in your production?
I have used different techniques to design ‘the tension’ using two-way crystal pleats, stretched knit lace and woollen jersey throughout my graduate collection.
As a young designer who has just graduated, what are your prospects for sustainability in fashion?
I want to start to focus more on comfortable wearing and craftsmanship. My interpretation of luxury fashion is to create a wardrobe that women can enjoy in the long term. There would also be more focus on a selection of high-quality materials and fabrics to achieve a significant label of having a high-end and long-lasting timeless brand that has not just been simply displayed, but very skilful, beautiful and comfortable that would give a sentimental value towards my client. The long-lasting timeless piece is my interpretation of sustainable fashion, which would never be overtaken by the fast pace changes in fashion trends. I'm setting up a goal that I make a minimum production of refined qualities of clothes that we can wear for 10 years. Less production, longer commitment to what we wear – that is why I think craftsmanship is very crucial to creating a unique piece.
How do you think you can commercialise such avant-garde creations of yours? Or do you have a different idea for the business side of your designs?
At the moment, that is the main focus that I am trying to explore during the MA course. How can I merge the unreachable, mysterious glam into effortlessly easy and comfortable close to commercialise the pieces for more women to be able to attire in mundane life? It is quite challenging to design something minimal but unique.
What’s next for you?
I am excited for the MA graduate collection upcoming in 2023. Circular fashion will be my focus along with designing for the new collection. I want to aim to achieve my own sustainable system to source materials, to be able to collaborate with more sustainable trimming ad fabric companies to raise awareness of an environmentally friendly fashion future.
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