How did Time Taken to Make a Dress (TTMD) end up dressing Constance Lau for the red carpet of Crazy Rich Asians’ (CRA) movie premiere in Hollywood?
Her stylist spotted the dress on our Instagram and he was the one who urged her to come and give it a try. It was very unexpected as we did not loan her the dress thinking that it would give us that much of a reaction. In fact, I nearly didn’t loan it purely because we were very busy, and when she finally confirmed that she was going to the premiere (a few days prior), it didn’t fit her. It was four inches too big and also too long, but she said it was fine — that she would go out of her way to make it work. Now we thought, we have to support her. She’s representing Singapore.
The dress was first made for your presentation at Chinese Cultural Week in 2016. What informed the design?
We felt like it had to be about the cheongsam, but we didn’t want it to be too literal. When we design, we think about balance; some parts [of the dress] must be sheer and others opaque, for example. We consider the fabric, the movement, and the details you’ll see up close and from far; we wanted the dress to have all these elements. In terms of colour, red is typical of a cheongsam, but we wanted the red on this dress to look like it was fading away which explains the ombre at the bottom of the dress. Red is a very traditional colour, but what we’re doing is modern. It’s almost as if tradition is melting away in this modern take of the cheongsam.
We have to ask: how long did it take to make?
I honestly have no idea (laughs)! It took too long. We wanted to do more than one piece for Chinese Cultural Week but it just took up too much time. The painting of the fabric itself took about a week as we had to trial and error different colours and fabric paints. The tassels were handplaced and took awhile too. The lace was all hand-sewn, as with the beading. We were working on it alongside other customised orders so we were on it here and there for at least a few months.
Can people come to you for a version of the dress now, should they wish to?
Yes! We always started as a dress customisation company, so we’re very used to being flexible. When someone comes to us, it’s not like it has to be our design or the highway. Though, this particular one does not work for every body shape, so we’ll know how to tweak it once we meet the client, and also take into consideration any insecurities she might have and adjust the design and function of the dress accordingly. We pay attention to their needs.
What does a customer need to know about the time it takes to make a dress, and a healthy budget to have, when coming to you for the first time?
When we meet a client, we always ask about her style and personality. People sometimes feel it’s easier to show us pictures instead of just using words, and from there we get a sense of the direction and how far to push the boundaries — to go more avant-garde, or stay classic. Their budget then informs us how far we can push the detailing. We source our fabrics from China, Japan, France and Italy, and in terms of labour cost, we’ll know that we can afford to do more handcrafted stuff if their budget is high. However, if the budget is lower, we try to give different options that won’t compromise the effect of the design. So far, a $5,000 budget is about the minimum. If we were to replicate the same dress [that Lau wore], it’ll cost about $8,500. A good timeline to work with is about four to six months.
Would you consider having your design on the Hollywood red carpet a milestone, and what are some other milestones you’re proud of?
Our proudest moments have always been when we execute good designs. We don’t bother too much about fame, but what’s important to us is that we’re proud of our work. We feel that way quite often with the pieces we do for our clients. Also, I don’t think we ever thought anything more than that. We started because we love what we do, and that’s also why we’re still around.