New Waves: Catherine Whang
Korean-born, Canada-raised BA Fashion graduate Catherine Whang studied the aesthetics of Amish adolescence for her final collection — that is, Amish adolescence gone drinking in Las Vegas. A skilled illustrator, she produces beautiful fashion-related drawings and portraits, while investigating the boundaries of textile technology.
Catherine Whang was born in Korea, but moved to Canada with her family at an early age. She was studying design when her tutor recommended her to apply to Central Saint Martins in London, but in fact, she was already familiar with the institution, as she used to collect interviews of fashion students around the world from various magazines. “Students from CSM talked so highly about the course and school,” she tells us over e-mail. “I felt like it was the right thing to do.”
She commenced on BA Fashion Design with Marketing, as she was keen to know more about the business-side alongside the design process. “I thought it would be beneficial in the future when you are setting up your own label,” she says; “also, the fact that the class size is smaller really interested me.” She mentions her tutors Heather Sproat, Rosemary Wallin, Jan Bigg-Withers and Paul Whitaker as essential in her training, as well as important visiting talks from the likes of Imran Amed (BoF) and Johnny Coca (then Céline, now Mulberry), who gave their trusted opinions from within the industry.
“I WANTED TO DEVELOP TEXTILES THAT WERE INSPIRED BY THE CITYSCAPES OF VEGAS AND EXPERIMENT WITH TRADITIONAL AMISH CLOTHES TO COME UP WITH NEW SILHOUETTES.”
“THERE’S NO LIMIT IN DEVELOPING TECHNOLOGICAL TEXTILES.”
There was one moment that triggered Catherine to develop her Amish-themed collection, entitled Rumspringa. Since her relocation to Canada, she had always been intrigued in their lifestyle, and one particular article caught her attention and remained in her memory for a very long time. It came again to her attention as she was thinking about her degree project, so she decided to begin a thorough investigation into the secretive culture. “I started to watch documentaries and films about Amish culture,” she explains, emphasising how one particularl film provided a source for her design. “It was called ‘Electrick Children,’ and was about an Amish girl escaping to Vegas to avoid an arranged marriage. I loved the contrast between her plain costumes and the bright lights and neon signs of Vegas. I wanted to develop textiles that were inspired by the cityscapes of Vegas and experiment with traditional Amish clothes to come up with new silhouettes,” she says. Her garments express a form of an amalgamated American-dream, part melancholic religious freedom, part hedonistic capitalist dystopia. She translated the familiar typography of Vegas signs to her own textiles while collaborating with an Italian fashion company. “I learned different techniques that can be used, and that there’s no limit in developing technological textiles,” she says.
Overall, technology plays an important role in the oeuvre of Catherine Whang. “It opens up so many possibilities,” she argues, as she tells us about her 2nd year textiles and tailoring projects. “I did researches about different technological textiles, and it was fascinating to read about inventions like an antibacterial fibre containing silver ions that kills harmful germs; nano-coated textiles that require less frequent and lower temperature washing, etc. So I wanted to make fabrics that are quite technological but also visually interesting, with a texture.” As a contrast to the traditional historicism of Amish culture, she juxtaposes the ultra-modern with futuristic materiality.
Along with her fashion design work, Catherine is an eager fashion illustrator and makes exhibition-worthy drawings, completely separate from her garments. Her style is concise, neat and rich in character. She draws mostly women, but feels that her illustrations of men move more freely and are slightly more inattentive compared to her female counterparts. But while she doesn’t consider design and illustration as two separate practices, she does approach them differently: “When I’m designing I draw very quickly because it is part of a design development process and you are just jotting down the ideas,” she explains. “Whereas when I’m doing illustrations I tend to relax more and just enjoy, not thinking about anything else other than trying to draw the figures in time.” Life-drawing models enable her to more closely capture details of the garments. “Every now and then I try to draw my friends in some of the garments that I made,” she adds.
Initially, Catherine Whang is celebrating graduation with a well-deserved holiday with her family. “Eventually, when I have enough experience, I would love to set my own label,” she reveals: “but at the moment, I would like to learn more!”