S'porean designer Chelsea Scott-Blackhall embraces contradictions in designs

S'porean designer Chelsea Scott-Blackhall embraces contradictions in designs
Chelsea Scott-Blackhall

Dzojchen", pronounced "doh-jen", is a Sanskrit word for wholeness.

When Singaporean designer Chelsea Scott-Blackhall used the term as the name of her debut label in 2009, she wanted to bring across the idea of individuality but with an emphasis on the suffix "duality". She wanted to show that "wholeness" can be derived from embracing contradiction and paradox.

These may seem like abstract ideas, but the 32-year-old British-Singaporean designer has managed to effectively articulate them through her collections.

Her clothes, which are stocked exclusively at Keepers in Orchard Green, incorporate Eastern and Western influences with an equal consideration for aesthetic and practical needs.

It is a fresh amalgamation that has proven to be successful - in 2012, Scott-Blackhall showed her spring 2013 collection at Paris Fashion Week; last year, she exhibited her fall 2014 collection at Seoul Fashion Week.

Marketing manager Vicky Lyoo, 39, who flew from Seoul to attend Singapore Fashion Week (SFW), remarked that she was deeply impressed by Dzojchen's showing in South Korea. Apart from American designer Diane von Furstenberg, who opened SFW,

Ms Lyoo was most excited to see what Scott-Blackhall had in store.

More recently, the designer was invited to take part in this year's Fashion Futures talent programme for Singapore designers and, at the time of this interview, was days away from a showcase at SFW.

"We are being thrown into the laps of the fashion industry's big wigs," said the designer about the programme. "We are like tadpoles being put into the ocean to learn how to swim, and the amazing thing is that I think we will."

Established to assist local fashion designers bring out their brand in the global marketplace, the Fashion Futures programme has managed to attract the attention of global buyers such as Asos and Opening Ceremony from Japan.

Accompanying Scott-Blackhall in the deep end are Sabrina Goh from Elohim and Priscilla Ong from Ong Shunmugam. The three have formed a close support system.

"We have a group chat and we update one another every day. There is absolutely no competition because we have such different backgrounds and styles," she explained. "This is such a big opportunity and it is comforting to have people to share it with."

Scott-Blackhall entered the world of fashion in 2003 as a model. The years she spent working in New York City gave her a keen sense of the industry that few other striving designers possess. In July, Scott-Blackhall, who is single, will return to the fashion capital to tour manufacturing plants and meet more retailers.

"After six years, what I have learnt is that I can't spend all my time on the clothes. I also have to invest in tradeshows and lookbooks to make sure the buyer sees the products in the same way that I do," she reflected.

Chelsea Scott-Blackhall may have started out building a visual statement, but now, she looks after a brand.

"If I did not have to worry about the business side of things, I think I would tire of having to do pure design," she noted. "What I love is handling a collection in its totality."

This sentiment makes sense coming from the self-described "regimented individual". The reason she was drawn to fashion in the first place was because she saw it as practical art - ideal for her to explore both her romantic and pragmatic sides; ideal for her to explore "Dzojchen".

Even after four years, this principle of duality continues to guide her work. For her Cruise 2016 collection, which was exhibited last Thursday, Scott-Blackhall drew on her observations of conflicting aspects of horse-riding.

"It is a very technical sport, but at the same time, when you ride, you get this feeling of strength and wild romance."

The designer goes on to relate more of her equestrian experiences in vivid detail, but ultimately concludes that the essence of her collection exceeds rationalisation.

"Sometimes, I just don't have a logical reason for creating something. I'll look at a fabric and I'll just like it."


This article was first published on May 22, 2015.
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