The circuit-breaker has not just taken a toll on retailers and small independent businesses, it has also changed the way fashion is taught today. In the wake of current restrictions and social distancing measures, Lasalle College of the Arts has decided to take its highly-anticipated annual graduation exhibition, The Lasalle Show, virtual – following in the footsteps of Fashion Week organisers in Shanghai, Milan and London.
Originally scheduled for May 15 to May 28, the digital event will be hosted for the general public on tls.lasalle.edu.sg from June 2 till the next graduate show comes around next year. The site will house the final-year projects by over 800 graduating students from the diploma, bachelors and masters programmes spanning the college’s eight different schools.
“With digitalisation, we seem to have travelled centuries back to a time when clients of fashion houses received designs through hand-drawn plates and samples of fabrics. Does this not mirror our current online shopping habits where we purchase from a screen without ever touching the final product?” – Dinu Bodiciu
One of the highlights for any fashion observer would be the graduate runway show which is traditionally the launching pad/breeding ground for many acclaimed international designers like Alexander McQueen and Michael Halpern. Among Lasalle’s Class of 2020 are 17 students from the Fashion Design and Textiles students BA programme which had produced alumni such as Sven Tan of In Good Company and Sabrina Goh. Each of them will be presenting a six-piece collection.
Dinu Bodiciu, lecturer-in-charge of the BA(Hons) Fashion Design and Textiles programme shared that the coronavirus served as a catalyst for the college’s plans to go digital. He said: “Our plan this year had long been to replace the typical runway show with a digital experience that imagined models as fixed entities and the audience as the ones moving or perusing the collection. The current pandemic therefore concurs with our initial intention.”
Here, we spoke to Professor Steve Dixon, president of Lasalle College of the Arts and Bodiciu on what the digitisation of a graduation show means for the fashion student of today, and also take a peep at four of the works of the fashion design students which will be exhibited on the site.
What were the reactions from the students when news broke that the graduate showcase had to be cancelled?
Professor Steve Dixon (SD): The migration of such a celebratory event to the digital sphere, where physical interaction is limited, undoubtedly brings some disappointment. In these times, we are very proud that students and staff have proven their agility and risen to the occasion to make the online showcase a success.
When the website goes live on June 2, we look forward to the congratulatory messages and virtual hugs our graduands will receive from friends and family. We also hope industry partners and audiences from around the world can see the massive potential of our graduands as presented in a new light. We plan to reunite our class of 2020 in January 2021, with all being well, to stage a physical exhibition at Lasalle as well as a series of performances in celebration of their fantastic work.
What does creating a graduate fashion collection during quarantine look entail?
Dinu Bodiciu (DB): Before the World Health Organisation classified Covid-19 as a pandemic, we were already underway to shift most of our lectures and tutorials to online platforms.
Prior to the College closing for the circuit-breaker period, studios and workshops were kept open for students who required the use of specialised facilities (like overlocking machines, silkscreen-printing equipment, etc.) to complete their assignments. However, we greatly reduced the number of students allowed into these spaces so that social distancing was maintained. We loaned students who opted to work from home domestic sewing machines and mannequins.
The situation brought new sets of challenges but also opened up new ways of creative expression and communication. Critical to our success in enabling students to complete their collections was open dialogue and a willingness to collaborate throughout all levels in the institution.
How do you replace the sensorial experience of being at a physical fashion show through a virtual space?
DB: Although the world of fashion still functions based on the expectation that a runway has to be present, there are a plethora of ways to re-imagine the way a collection is unveiled to audiences. With digitalisation, we seem to have travelled centuries back to a time when clients of fashion houses received designs through hand-drawn plates and samples of fabrics. At that time, this was enough for the customer to imagine the final piece. Does this not mirror our current online shopping habits where we purchase from a screen without ever touching the final product?
We are always seeking new experiences and I think the current situation is an exciting avenue to explore technology, augmented realities, and the limits of our imagination. I personally believe that the fashion world is already close to this turning point and Covid-19 is simply accelerating this process.
Does going digital reduce the theatrics we have come to expect from a fashion show?
DB: Fashion presentations appeared at the turn of the 19th century in Western civilisations. From then till now, the theatricality of the runway and its corresponding production costs and value have reached astronomical amounts – something critiques and theoreticians alike have questioned.
In the early 2000s when digital mediums became viable options for presentations, brands like Viktor & Rolf or Alexander McQueen were quick to embrace these modern technologies to give a twist to their runways, adding new layers to the show experience. Presently, digital studios like Frederik Heyman or The Fabricant have fully shifted the fashion experience to the realm of the virtual and the theatrical aspect continues to persist there.
“Be it a physical or digital showcase, fashion designers continue to rely on our garments as source and instigator of our presentation. The relevance depends on the designer and his/her ultimate vision of what to convey.” – Dinu Bodiciu
Does this episode bring into question the relevance of a fashion show in today’s context?
DB: Be it a physical or digital showcase, fashion designers continue to rely on our garments as source and instigator of our presentation. The relevance depends on the designer and his/her ultimate vision of what to convey. We chose a virtual route for the graduate fashion show at Lasalle this year because we wanted to open up dialogues between digital and analog spaces, and invite audiences to experience a juxtaposition of realities.
How will the appeal of studying fashion design in the future be affected by this new reality we’re living in?
DB: The dressing of our bodies remains a basic human need, hence fashion design will continue to be relevant. That said, many business sectors have indeed been affected by Covid-19. This is a good moment to question existing ways and envision new directions. For fashion, we have to look into new approaches to clothing. The fashion industry is a very fast-paced system that is always ready for change and re-framing. I believe that with the current situation, we are on the cusp of transitioning into something new, something exciting, and something for which our students will be prepared.