In this week’s Artist Spotlight, we showcase pieces designed, created, and modelled by Angela Kong, an AUT Fashion Design student. She walks us through her first sparks of design inspiration, the difficulties of working through a fashion degree, and what fashion is about for her.
Could you describe your approach to design in three words?
Experimental, artistic, non-conventional.
What first sparked your interest in fashion design as a mode of study and a potential career path?
Well, my mom was a fashion designer. I had that desire to do that when I was a kid… I had a lot of motivation to create things in general. I’d consider myself an artist, as I just like to do any type of experimenting [and use] different mediums. I feel like fashion is very close to me, because it’s just something I can see in people, it’s very presentable… I feel like everybody’s fashion style has something to do with themselves, so yeah, I like fashion.
Do you recall the first piece that you brought together?
It depends on how early we’re talking? Well, I can remember when I was maybe seven years old, making… Do you know what Monster High dolls are? The Monster High dolls are like monsters, creatures, but they have like cool fashion that’s super punk and alty and androgynous. I tried to make clothing for them. And I made a bunch of small Barbie clothing that was like… really creepy and funny.
And what was the development of your interest like as you were growing up?
I wanted to do fashion all through life… the development honestly had to do with talking to people who knew how to sew, like a teacher in high school, or like an older figure, you know. They would just teach me all the basic things. And like, I was never super creative or experimental until I graduated high school, I think.
What do you think sparked that change?
Honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with being queer. Like, I think people who are alternative and queer and just not very of the norm, they create such incredible artistic things that I could never think of. I want to do stuff like this because I don’t want to make commercialised clothing that a bunch of audiences would buy. I want to find this group or audience that resonates with what I resonate with.
In the process of designing, are you thinking about how clothing works as a mode of communication?
I definitely do. I think in terms of subcultures and communities, fashion is one of the really big things that separates you from people who are in a different subculture… You’re [engaging with] personal identity, communities that we each belong to.
What textures, fabrics, and cuts are you drawn to? How would you describe what your designs look like?
I couldn’t figure out my aesthetic and style for so long. Especially when it came to fabrication and silhouette and proportion… I am very drawn to knit fabrics. I’m drawn to distressed things. I’m drawn to mesh and any sort of knit fabric that’s a jersey, or crochet… something with a lot of texture. I’m mixing different textures, for sure.
It’s the same as how I would do a painting. I wouldn’t just use oil paints, but I would use acrylics, and pen, and I’d dye it. [I use] different mediums to do it because I just think it looks fun and original and creative.
Can you talk about what it’s like to study fashion within an institution like university?
My dream was to study fashion because I thought it would teach me so many practical life skills and I could experiment however I want. In my opinion, [the reality] it’s very like… not that. [I’m] having to follow this guide so I can commercialise my clothing and then capitalise and profit off it.
The industry is very strict and, in my opinion, very traditional and kind of fucked up because of all the standards… in terms of like, body image, mental health, physical health, and environment. It’s not good, you know?
I think it’s definitely part of the issue when lecturers or whoever’s in charge don’t discuss the problems and the issues within the industry.
They send us into making assignments to fix a problem, right? They’re sending us to make a solution, but they won’t really want us to focus on the problem with it, which I think is kind of backwards. I think we should delve into the history and the problem behind the things that we’re creating first, and then think of creative solutions and alternatives.
So, are you more interested in approaching design through subversion and challenging those standards?
Definitely challenging… My idea of fashion, and art is challenging, and it’s not supposed to be commercial, in my opinion.
A lot of our assignment prompts can be really good. A lot of them do help with developing skills and developing where we want to be in the future. But generally, I feel like even if you didn’t study fashion, you could become an incredible artist, just by reading books about it, or watching runways, and just figuring out what your aesthetic is.
Do you see it as more exciting to rebel and address these issues through fashion?
Yeah, exactly. It’s backwards, because it’s preparing us for the industry that’s already been standardised. Whereas a lot of fashion students want to challenge the standard definition of what fashion is. We’re taught to be part of the industry, and to work for it, to be honest.
Do you feel that you’ve found a community through those feelings and frustrations?
Yeah, for sure. I feel like all my friends are so artistic and creative, in different industries. They’re so passionate and creative, and very much creating their own things rather than trying to set the standard. It’s hella refreshing, honestly.
Can you talk a little bit about your personal design processes? What do you feel like you’re pulling from and referencing?
[These pieces] are based on a very loose idea of childhood and nostalgia combined with the aesthetics of very mysterious creatures. As well as like, just like delving deep into a category.
I was researching a lot about fairies. They are super, like beautiful and enchanting, but also very devious and sexual creatures. Very murderous as well. And so I wanted to put aspects of that into my work.
Do you look to specific reference points of a figure or time or idea very often?
Yeah, like prompts and things that I’m passionate about. I really like to find creative methods to just showcase what I’m thinking in my head and how I feel about these specific things, these specific topics.
I’m trying to bring a perspective to things maybe people don’t normally think about.
Is fashion design ever a critical or political lens for you?
Yes, actually, I think that’s very important. I’m very outspoken about the things that I believe in. And I’m currently designing a collection based on my feelings towards Roe v. Wade, because personally I was so emotionally affected by it… I want to do a collection about what the world thinks about women and people with uteruses, and how they view us really. It’s just like, I don’t know, kind of taking the power back. I’m trying to bring my feelings and politics and morals into my clothing and my artworks.
Photos by Flora Xie