The timeless appeal

Womenswear label Shaofen’s no-fuss, minimalist spirit and its conscious collections transcend time

29 Jul 2020 / 12:34 H.

FRUSTRATED by fast fashion, fleeting trends and a throw-away society, designer Seah Shao Fen decided to challenge fashion’s notion of timelessness, while speculating about our innate desire to be timely and our relentless obsession with newness.

However, with the recent turn of events around the world, the pressure to change is notoriously high. Even more so when the global fashion landscape makes for an unpredictable domain, changing its erratic mood with every season – but what action is being undertaken to implement structural and systemic reformation?

In any case, Seah mentioned how much she’d like to be the catalyst of imperative change, considering how designers also hold the power, and with the responsibility to inform and educate their audience.

Shaofen’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection.
Shaofen’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection.

She shares: “We are all well aware of over-production in the textile industry. Instead of creating more unnecessary clothes and buying into trends, it is more of a long term solution to invest in clothes that will last. These choices are ultimately the end user’s responsibility, but I also want to encourage this behaviour by only selling quality products.

“Fashion designers are able to inform and influence the public through different platforms. An idea or message can be easily conveyed through a product or an image. Through it, a person’s opinion on a subject can be redefined by the designer’s perspective.

“When a lot of things have been done within the fashion context, it is stimulating to wonder what else can be done, or how well can you redo it. It is challenging, but fulfilling afterwards.”

Change is not only possible but inevitable, and surely doesn’t happen overnight.

Revered Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa once described what fashion was like at the time, in an interview in 2011: “For a long time now the system of fashion has had nothing to do with our time – it doesn’t suit our time at all. The world is changing rapidly. We see the proof of change every day in the news.

“Young people want change in this industry, too, yet we continue, just like in the 19th century, to do defiles (desecration). There is no need – no interest, really. We could do fewer collections and obtain the same results. We don’t lose any money if we do less.”

Seah’s creative impulses with her own label Shaofen have made it quite clear that she eschews short-lived garments in favour of permanency.

She describes her designs as “no-fuss, simple, beautiful pieces meant to transcend seasons and trends. They are simply clothes you will wear in a heartbeat without much thought; clothes that you will always go back to.

“I always ask myself if I’d wear the clothes I make, by approaching it from a designer and a consumer’s point of view. However, I won’t hold back should I have something I want to create.”

Seah carefully developed a modern wardrobe filled with staple essentials that serve as a bare minimum; the idea was to reinvent and introduce simple designs made from a selection of natural fabrics such as sand-washed silk, natural cotton and deadstock fabrics.

As seen in her debut Spring/Summer 2020 collection: the clothing’s clear lines and classic silhouettes, the absence of prints and patterns, as well as its timeless elegance gives the wearer sophisticated ease and comfort.

In the label’s sophomore Autumn/Winter 2020 collection, Seah continues to evolve the modern wardrobe without compromising comfort and style as the fundamental elements she has laid down in the previous season.

She focused on materials, featuring a variety of wools and Tencel fabric, and introduced restrained and sober prints.

She says: “Pieces from both collections symbolise a permanent state; even if we were to refer to it a few years later, it will still work for its time.”

Seah’s designs are by nature minimalist. It would be easy to pass off the neutral and classic colour palette as lacklustre and unexciting, but the point is to build a contemporary wardrobe for the modern woman.

When asked whether her idea of timelessness could be equivalent to or potentially translated as ‘versatile’, or even as far-fetched as ‘universal’, she replies: “Most definitely! It can go beyond its dynamics as long as it is reasonable.”

It seems almost contradictory and unfathomable that clothes which are produced two seasons ahead have the ability and capacity to withstand the test of time.

“We’re essentially designing for the future, thus, learning the needs within a social and cultural context is compulsory. By merging this information with what a designer does best, the products when released will be suited for the climate.

“It is inevitable that there will be hits and misses as we cannot exactly predict tomorrow,” Seah shares.

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