Representing the creative future

New Waves: Angela Chiang

Having a vase of withering flowers in a room is believed to bring bad health, and some of Taiwan’s older hospital buildings don’t have a 4th floor as the word has the same pronunciation as death. Looking at these themes, Angela Chiang started to discover the deliberate avoidance towards the inevitability of mortality in Oriental myths, which led her to develop a collection based on Chinese taboos. It was a practice in how to display mistrust and sinister elements in a beautiful manner, yet looking back at how traditions and cultural myths have shaped our senses. As she came across our often immediate affinity with prettiness and the sublime, Angela wanted to celebrate the rotting flowers; the impossibility of sustained perfection.

What was the conceptual starting point of your graduate collection?

During the summer before final year, I visited my grandparents in Taiwan and joined them to refurbish a countryside garden that was passed down by my great-grandfather 60 years ago. As I walked along the garden path, there were crushed petals scattered all over the muddy ground. Ran over by footsteps and vehicle wheels, they were withered and had quietly sunken down into the earth. I found that the flower, as it blooms and decays, has a degree of romance and unease. Each flower’s mortality is so unique, there will never be another stem decomposed and crumbled down the same way. I was very inspired by Anya Gallaccio’s ‘Preserve Beauty’ installation, composed of 800 fresh gerberas laid out systematically in grids and pressed in between sheets of glasses. During the period in which it was displayed, the flowers withered and died, and this decay process was visible to the viewers through the glass. In one of her interviews, Gallaccio expressed how one “loses authority over the material” due to the characteristics of nature, and the unexpected quality in the transience of life. I think the flower offers a contradictory degree of perspectives. The flower is a well-recognized symbol, popularly seen in fashion, common and very available to the public. It could be seen as randomly beautiful, cliche, or even mundane. In fengshui and Chinese cultural myths, symbols of jinx like the withered flower, which is perceived as a symbol of bad luck and foreshadows a woman’s misfortune in classical Chinese literature, and the number 4, which has the same pronunciation as death, are consciously avoided. This paradox led me to focus my final collection around these ideas.

How do you create a visual narrative out of an abstract concept?

It was challenging to translate the conceptual idea of feng shui and taboos into visual narratives. The process of narrating my cultural memories and childhood experiences was very vague at first, but at the same time, one’s memories are so abundant and unique. I began seeing visual narratives in my head when listening to elders back in Taiwan, who talked to me about their experiences growing up, and the myths they’ve encountered during their lives; like how bridal couples were dressed head to toe in red as a symbol of prosperity, or how kids were taught not to leave a single grain of rice when dining so they would marry a good spouse. As I began seeing life through other people’s perspective, I started to accumulate the visual ideas for my collection.

How did your collection develop during the course of the year?

My collection encountered quite a lot of issues throughout the year. One of my most memorable challenges was during the fabric development stage working in the print room. Before finding the solution to maintain and treat the fabrics, my printed fabrics used to stick to each other like a melting meatball. I remember at one point an entire piece of two metre long fabric stuck to itself. The print room technicians, as well as my helpers, each held a corner of the fabric and tried our best to stretch it out, whilst my tutor was heating the fabric back to its initial state. It was a very hardcore experience having both helpers, tutors and technicians helping me rescue my work.

What does your development process usually look like?

It focuses a lot on working in sketchbooks and making illustrations. Especially I enjoy drawing directly on toiles and white garments; it helps me to think about garment constructions. I also like to get inspired by looking at fine art installations, paintings and books before I begin to sketch.

How does the conversation between 2D and 3D work for you?

I think I might be used to looking at my surroundings from a 2D perspective, as if the silhouettes of passengers on the street are like painted paper dolls. Most of the time I start with 2D right away, as I prefer creating print placements before developing the silhouette. I like to layer coats of paints in acrylic, I think the amount and placement of colours in my sketchbook often influence my cuts and silhouettes.

What did you do during your placement year?

I worked at Apu Jan as a studio assistant. They’re in their early days of developing the brand. I was able to work closely with the creative director, and learned about building an independent design company: from running the studio to the production chain. Afterwards I worked at Jonathan Saunders as an embroidery intern, and continued at Preen Line as a studio and print design intern.

Did your experience in the industry give you a better insight into how the business of fashion actually works?

My placement year was a very valuable part of my education. The experience from the industry gave me an insight of the important teamwork needed between different departments, and the process to realize design visions into products. During my placement at Preen Line, I helped working on flower illustrations that were later developed into variations of prints. Seeing the drawings getting sent to factory production was a rewarding and memorable experience. Coming back to university, I now understand that creativity and commerciality are not two contradicting angles, they support each other.

What advice would you give for students choosing their placements?

Try to have as many different experiences as possible to see the diversity of companies, and how it bridges their creative visions with realistic production goals. Stay out of your comfort zone but remember to do whatever feels right to you.