These 2017 AUT rookie fashion designers' collections are incredible

by Johanna Thornton / 22 November, 2017

Choi Eun Ji’s collection reinterprets a traditional Korean hanbok.

No rookies

Seven final-year fashion design students, seven extraordinary collections: How these students wove their identity and heritage into a series of incredible garments.

Auckland University of Technology’s Bachelor of Fashion Design degree produces some of the country’s finest fashion talent – and this year’s crop of 35 students is no exception. A selection of these fledgling designers sent collections down the runway this month at their fashion event of the year –The Rookie Graduate Runway Show at Shed 10 – to a rapturous audience. The clothes were mind-blowing, and a clear theme emerged, with students channelling their heritage and experiences growing up in New Zealand into their clothing in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Here, they explain their collections.

Choi Eun Ji, 23 (shown above)

You moved to New Zealand from Seoul when you were 14. What prompted that move for you? I moved here with my family members to study English. I learnt English in Korea as well but mostly grammar and writing.

Your collection is amazing. How long have you been working on it? Since the beginning of my final semester [17 July]. However, I did create a denim hanbok [a traditional Korean dress] in a previous project, so you could say that this collection is a more developed version of that.

Can you tell us a bit more about the hanbok? It has been around for about 1600 years. It is one of the oldest pieces of clothing in the world. Its loose form is built for doing activities and suits every type of body shape. The material used is different in summer and winter, which means that people can choose what to wear.

Your pieces seem quite wearable. Is that important to you? Yes. Traditional hanbok are mainly worn for special occasions such as New Year, the mid-autumn festival, and mostly by kids and recently married couples during their wedding photoshoot. I chose to make my collection in denim to give the pieces a more everyday wearable type of look.

How have you interpreted hanbok in your collection? All of the jacket sleeves from my collection have similar shapes referenced from hanbok. One of my dresses also features overlapping jackets and the Korean knot.

Why are you drawn to western denim detailing? Traditional western denim was made with elements such as topstitching, keyhole buttonholes and jean buttons. I like red lines on selvage and for its great finishing.

Your collection is made from Japanese milled denim. Why this type of denim? Because it suits my concept. Selvage denim is good quality. I bought it from Fabric Merchants.

Ariane Ilagan’s giant chunky knits.

Ariane Ilagan, 21

Your collection is called ‘Monsters of the Norm’ – what does that mean?
I wanted this collection to reflect the monsters that ordinarily exist within us. These monsters are representations of the fears, craziness and failures we all have. We shouldn’t hide or reject these monsters but instead wear them out!

What was it inspired by? These monsters have different meanings and represent different experiences for everyone. Most of the monsters that have inspired this collection reflect my journey of migrating from the Philippines and then growing up in New Zealand. This experience created monsters of fear and misunderstandings.

How did growing up in New Zealand affect your design style? I realised that almost nobody looked like me and talked like me when I moved here and so I kind of perceived myself as an outsider; like a monster. This collection accepts and celebrates the monster. I want to see the monsters of fashion and create monstrous, yet playful clothing – clothing that reflects us and our experiences.

How would you describe your design aesthetic? My style derives from my approach to design. It’s very conceptual and experimental so most of the time it can get pretty crazy and messy.

Your knitwear pieces are incredible! Where did you learn to knit? Thank you! I wanted to explore other ways I could express the “monster” and working with giant chunky wool yarn really made me excited about my project. I learnt to hand-knit by watching YouTube tutorials. Once I learnt the basic hand-knitting process I could knit to the shape of my garment while also playing around with colour.

Can you describe some of the silhouettes and shapes? The monsters represent internal feelings and so I wanted the clothes to physically reflect those feelings. For example, fear and anxiety can make your knees weak so one of the pants in the collection is shaped to give you “jelly legs”. Most of the silhouettes and shapes are like drawings. I like to “draw” my pattern pieces to make the garments.

Daniel Han’s clothes fuse 1950s Korean womenswear and US army aeroplane jumpsuits.

Daniel Han, 23

How did it feel to be selected to show your collection in the Rookie show? Quite emotional and very exciting at the same time, because it was my first time showing on the runway and to the public.

You’re originally from Seoul. Have you integrated your cultural heritage into the clothing designs in your collection at all? As I am Korean, I always wanted to use Korean culture in my designs. However, I wanted to conceptualise something meaningful that wasn’t too serious as well. I was inspired after I did some research about the Korean War, Korean clothing, army uniforms and American army foods. 

How would you describe the collection? It’s about the disruption of Korean culture by the US army after the Korean War. It’s a womenswear collection that fuses 1950s Korean everyday womenswear and US army aeroplane women’s mechanic jumpsuits with vintage American army food and chocolate logos made into digital prints to create some quirkiness.

And how did you create all of those prints yourself? I found combat food photos and 1950s American chocolate logos from the internet and combined it with photos of Korean people during the Korean War.

Do you have a favourite piece in the collection? Every piece is precious to me but my favourite pieces have to be a reversible Hershey’s coat and jumpsuit. The coat is very western but features traditional Korean details in the collar and sleeves, and also features my favourite chocolate logo print.

How do you want people to feel when wearing your clothes? I want them to feel this is a new type of fusion fashion, and for them to want to know more about Korea.

Janet Lee’s collection interprets traditional hand-woven wraps from Malaysia.

Janet Lee, 48

What is the inspiration for your graduate collection? Time and memories. As I grow older, I learn from past experiences and develop layers of characteristics that comfort and protect me from bad memories, and accentuate the good ones. All of these have influenced my design silhouettes.

Where does your fascination with Malaysian Sarawak fabric come from? The pua kumbu is a hand-woven wrap from Sarawak, Malaysia, made by the ancient form of ikat weaving. It represents the quintessence of the indigenous Iban culture. This craft is from my home town – Kuching [in] Sarawak, Malaysia – and I started researching it during my summer holiday in 2016.

How do the shapes in your collection pay homage to Malaysian cultural costumes? With creative thinking and innovative design approaches, I believe ikat fabric can be redesigned into a contemporary modern fashion for everyday wear. I wanted to bring a new life into age-old hand-crafted ikat textiles.

This is your second time around at AUT. Why did you decide to go back to uni to pursue a fashion degree? I studied Apparel and Textile Technology at Auckland Institute of Technology (A.I.T) in 1991. After 20 years in the fashion and retail industry in South East Asia, I became very “commercial” in my design thinking and I felt I’d lost touch with my creative freedom. With my husband’s encouragement and support, I returned to AUT in 2016 to commence a Bachelor of Fashion Design. My goal was to further develop my design skills and hopefully, to pursue a career in New Zealand’s fashion industry.

Portia Obi-Odu’s clothes celebrate the vibrancy of African culture.

Portia Obi-Odu, 28

What is the inspiration behind your collection? My collection is inspired by my African heritage and my Christian faith. I also wanted to pay tribute to my home – Aotearoa – which is now part of me, so I’ve added the odd reference to western pieces.

What does the name of your collection ‘Nokukhanya’ mean? Nokukhanya translated from Ndebele, which is one of my native languages, means to bring light/enlightenment. It felt appropriate for this collection as that is exactly what I want whoever wears my pieces to feel – enlightened and vibrant.

How would you describe your collection? It celebrates the vibrancy of African culture, the life and the colours. It is also about the celebration of the “queen” and beauty within each woman regardless of how old they are.

Are you originally from Auckland? I was born in the city of Gweru in Zimbabwe. I moved to Auckland to live with my dad in January of 2007 after the death of my mum in 2002. Since then Auckland has been home and I have no plans to leave just yet.

Why did you choose to study fashion at AUT? Fashion has always been a passion of mine. I made my first garment at the age of 13 and I was eternally hooked from then. AUT was the place to help make my dreams as a designer come true. 

Wilbur Hsu’s poetic prints are recreated from family photos.

Wilbur Hsu, 22

Tell us about the inspiration behind your Rookie 2017 collection. The collection entitled ‘To...’ is inspired by the past and takes the form of poetic communications; the intention is that each piece is posted as a letter from the present to the past. My parents met through letter writing during the 1980s in Taiwan.

You feature a lot of prints in the collection. Can you tell us a bit about these? The prints are all based off old photographs that have been cropped and layered in an abstract manner. The prints range anywhere from my father’s birthday and the food prepared to family vacations and my parents’ wedding banquet and the guests.

How would you describe your collection? Controlled, permanent, textured and nostalgic. It looks colourful, considered and full of hidden memories.

What is your favourite piece in the collection? The last piece I made – a yellow textured crop top, as this was a piece that was created through spontaneous intuition.

Can you tell us a bit about your heritage? My parents are both Taiwanese. My father escaped from China to Taiwan and my mother is from a mixed Japanese and Taiwanese family. I am a first-generation Taiwanese-Kiwi from Hamilton, New Zealand.

What has your experience of studying fashion been like? Challenging, but in the most satisfactory way. It has taught me a lot about myself and how I can be tested and pushed.

Doris Lu’s voluminous silhouettes nod to Japanese samurai pants.

Doris Lu, 22 

You’re of both Japanese and Chinese descent. Have you brought elements of your ancestry into your design style? Yes, all my designs are based on the hakama, which are traditional Japanese pants. The hakama was mainly worn by Japanese samurais. I was also very inspired by a traditional Japanese character, Tomoe Gozen.

Who was Tomoe Gozen and why were you drawn to her? She was a female Japanese warrior from the late 12th century, known for her legendary bravery and strength. In ancient Japan, women were often perceived to be powerless, and warfare was mostly a male affair. Tomoe was unlike any other woman at that time, she was an onna-bugeisha, a female consummate warrior.

How have you fused the hakama pants into your clothes? This is seen in the dramatically wide legs, the unique way of dressing and, mainly, the seven pleats divided into five on the front and two on the back of the hakama.

What effect do you want these clothes to have on the person who wears them? Tomoe’s achievement shows the power of oneself to break stereotypes and discover his or her true strengths. I hope my collection can inspire wearers to gain the strength and confidence they need to defeat adversity and direct their own lives.

What are you most proud of about the range? For this collection, I am proud of the detailed collars, the proportion of layers, and the combination of Asian and western silhouettes.

What’s next for you after graduating? I want to be a fashion designer one day. However, I am considering further studies in Japan to gain more experience and to further develop my skills.  

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