Designer Showrooms Interview: Jamie Wei Huang

Central Saint Martins graduate Jamie Wei Huang has showcased collections at London Fashion Week for the last four seasons, having launched her eponymous label to much fanfare in 2013 after winning the prestigious ‘Designer of Tomorrow’ award. Her directional designs combine conceptual ideas with ultra-contemporary silhouettes, helping to channel the wearer’s unique personality with innovative combinations of material and shape. Alongside her work in fashion, Jamie also has a standout background in art, having scooped numerous prizes for her unique paintings and sculptures. 

We recently caught up with the designer at the British Fashion Council‘s Designer Showrooms exhibition to find out more about her exciting new Spring/Summer 2016 collection, along with her thoughts on increasing trend of fluidity in fashion and the competitiveness of the UK industry.

 

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Tell us a bit about your new S/S16 collection. 

S/S16 is named Nibbana, after the old traditional language from Buddhism. It relates to what Buddhists think the afterworld is, and means ‘afterlife’. The collection itself was made from researching all these different religions, cultures, countries and people; how they think the afterlife will be. For example, Christians think it will be heaven, all bright, white, happiness, comfortable; and for Chinese they think you go through levels of hell, with fire and torture going on, and after this you go to another world with only happiness. There was another element taken from the Mongolians as well, from the traditional makeup and hair. I wanted to create a collection where you could not tell what nationality it is, leaving a space for people to fill with their experiences and what they thought their afterlife will be. [The collection] is playing with surreal colours and symbols, and mask faces… with some colour combinations people might think they are a little bit Japanese while others would think they are Russian; it’s neither here nor there. [I wanted] to create something without a certain nationality, but with its own independent space.

 

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The cross-cultural feel of the designs is really intriguing. Do you think fashion is moving towards a more inclusive place? We are already seeing gender definitions blurring, so maybe culture is next? Especially when taking into account the global leveller of the Internet. 

Definitely – I never set a gender in my collections or designs, or a nationality. Some press focus on where I come from, and the Oriental side, but when I’m designing, seriously, I don’t have myself in there. It’s funny – what [designers] do is really personal, but I leave the decision to the viewer – it’s subjective. How you receive that message is also a part of the work. I think the original message of fashion is too overwhelming; the piece is just to express the person wearing it. You can choose a language to tell people who you are, write a poem, compose some music, paint a picture… or wear this jacket.

 

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What kind of person did you have in mind when designing the collection?

Anyone; it could be a boy, it could be a girl. This is reflected in my choice of models too – I don’t use really feminine ones. I wanted to see a person’s real personality, their inner self, in their look. So, every story from every person wearing [the designs] is part of the work.

 

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As someone who’s gone from strength to strength in a relatively short amount of time, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing emerging designers today? 

The difficult part is that we are still following the traditions of the industry, which is season by season, so emerging designers have to chase those seasons. They don’t have much power and people helping to put their clothes and what they wanted to say on a platform – and then they have to start again. After a season [a designer] might feel tired or lost in what they are doing, and might not be able to find inspiration, but if you believe in what you are doing [the work] won’t be as difficult.

 

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You have a pretty impressive history in art as well as fashion. Do you find that the two mediums complement each other when you’re creating (does your art feed into your fashion, for example)? 

For me, I don’t feel like I changed pathway – I just changed the material to communicate what’s in my head. It used to be a painting, maybe, or a sculpture; now, it’s another 3D object with the clothes, using fabrics instead of clay. Everyone is different; every element of you over the last 20 years is building up this object, this person, in this space, into who you are today. All the skills, learning and progress I have gained give me a language that help to tell the story better.

 

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What was your favourite part of London Fashion Week this season? 

It’s really competitive for designers – you aren’t learning from yourself, you are learning from others as well. Everyone is pushing forward, and if you don’t you are left behind, which is a really good thing compared to other countries.

 

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