Representing the creative future

Heather Chang – A human approach to the refugee crisis

Part two in our selection of White Show designs from last year.

One of the images in Heather Chang’s sketchbook is reminiscent of Samuel Aranda’s award-winning photograph: veiled Fatima Al-Qaws, holding her wounded son in a mosque in Yemen. Heather is almost religious in the heavy layering of meaning in her work, and the White Show proved to be not just a technical task; it was a reflection of her personal experiences mixed with the tumultuous environment not only in fashion, but current affairs worldwide.

Heather’s inspiration predominantly came as a response to recent political changes, such as Brexit and the US election; putting the main emphasis on the refugee crisis in Europe. The mentality of the “us” vs “them” argument triggered Heather to reflect on humanity: “Images convey just masses upon masses of people – it’s difficult to see these refugees as people with souls, feelings and dreams,” she explained.

Heather feels that one way for large groups to maintain their humanness is for individuals who share similar social struggles to come together. Perhaps this is a reason for the voluminous shape of the garments, which are reminiscent of life jackets, with the model sinking and blending into the fabric. Heather explains the idea further: “The coat is made up of individual garments, each with their own details and spirit, representative of individual people each with their own qualities. Then, by layering them on top of each other, we are able to see the beauty of combining the individual to form a group that is still unique and with its own life.”

This conceptual approach was not without its challenges, however. The biggest struggle was figuring out “how to layer the pieces in a way that was artistic and not so literal, like me dumping my laundry on top of her.” Heather intended to make the garment appear as if it was hovering above the ground, despite the sheer amount of height that all the fabric had combined. To solve the dilemma, Heather had to balance the pieces’ patterns to fit each other well, cutting them in order to form the drape, along with “stuffing it with anything I could find to provide the volume I was looking for.”

The learning outcome of creating the look was a long journey for Heather. The best advice a tutor gave her was probably not to expect any final results from the very beginning. “It’s not exactly what I pictured in my mind; it’s better.” Step by step, she learned not to have a “grand plan” about every single detail on the project. The importance of spending countless hours draping, going through the love-hate catharsis until she finally learned how to fully experiment and love her piece: this was the greatest lesson she could ever have learned.