FEATURE – RACHAEL CHEONG
Peer into the dark and colourful world of Rachael Cheong (VA '12), as she shares her practice in fashion and her most recent collection with us. Having graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague (KABK), she is currently back in the Netherlands to continue her work.
Freshly Pressed: Hi Rachael! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Where are you now?
Rachael Cheong: I'm currently back in the Netherlands and finding my way through the black hole of post graduation life. I recently got an offer from this year's LVMH competition winner Marine Serre to join her design team in Paris for 6 months. As I'm typing this, I'm on my way to Brussels to apply for my Talent Passport Visa.
FP: How has your time in Europe and at KABK been for your artistic practice?
RC: It's been such a good time because my teachers and the school embrace my crazy ideas. They are just so open minded here, and in a way it feels like a natural continuation of SOTA. I still do sketchbooks and a lot of research. We have classes on fashion history, theory and philosophy, and it really adds another level to the work. I like to prove that fashion isn't that superficial as it can be seen to be.
I think it's also great that I chose a place where Singaporeans are quite rare. You’ll at most have one other Singaporean and two Malaysians (in case of a laksa party) in a different department. But hey, I went abroad to meet different people and to experience new things! Having homemade bibimbap from your Korean friends is a blessing.
FP: What would you describe your aesthetic as?
RC: Horror manga chic, mixed with bad-ending fairytales. There's always something innocent and romantic involved in the design, but the overall image is very twisted. I think I never got over the fairytale and women writers chapter we studied for IB Literature. It keeps creeping back into my work. I use a lot of colour and familiar patterns or textiles to talk about dark things. I love the idea that darkness is deceptively colourful.
FP: Can you tell us more about your graduation collection, We Know What You Are Hiding?
RC: My graduation collection is about the hiding of your deepest darkest secrets through the eyes of a porcelain doll. The body of the doll is seen as a medium for hiding as we project ourselves into them. They sit in your room, they know everything you do and say, and everything you mutter in your sleep; but they can not say anything. They are the perfect partners in crime with their romantic outfit, false innocent smile and cold glass eyes; witnesses to horrible things who yet will never pass judgment.
Photos by Viktor Naumovski
FP: It’s interesting that striking themes we pick up when we are younger still manifest in our work as we grow as artists. Does your personal fashion reflect your work?
RC: My personal style is a huge contrast to my work! I am always in black because it's easy to look good and wear the same thing over and over, and no one will care. I almost have a uniform because it's cold most of the time- turtleneck, skirt, tights, boots or maryjanes, and a Yohji Yamamoto coat– think Hotaru (sailor saturn) from Sailor Moon. Occasionally I do wear colour and I've been into pink lately. For those days where I don't feel like a *tsundere waifu*.
FP: What is your process like when you create your collections?
RC: Usually I start by reading or watching things that touch on the darker side of life to pick out a particular theme. I was reading Naoki Urasawa's "Monster" and there was a scene that really caught my attention. It was a scene where a serial killer recalled his abusive childhood, in a room where there was this doll. He would cry out to the doll for help, but she would just sit there, smiling in the darkness as his mother beat him. That is where I got this idea of dolls as a medium to hide. I have never been scared of dolls and I in fact collect them. I understand the horror and uncanny element a doll brings: the feeling of being watched; that she can come alive anytime.
I decided to bring that to a larger scale and turn all my models into dolls. I also did my research on smuggling garments, to bring this idea back to clothing, fashion and the body. In my research of the history of smuggling, I found out that dolls were used to smuggle drugs during the American Civil War, and this piece of information made my collection more grounded. I literally live for these “aha!” moments during the research period.
After that, I go into form, colour, and fabric research. The key is always to put a modern spin on clothing. I decided to research into certain fetishes that people keep secret, like being an adult baby or female masking. I loved the use of PVC because there's something kinky and deviant in contrast to the girlish romantic aesthetic of doll clothing. In the end I created a collection reeking of perverse innocence.
FP: What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
RC: I guess the highlights so far are Amsterdam Fashion Week, having my work and photoshoot with my friend Viktor featured on Vogue Italia, winning the department award and the academy award! I have another upcoming show during Prague Fashion Week at the end of October.
FP: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
RC: Besides the obvious cat lady trope, I think I would be established as an artist who works with garments! Would also like to have my own label, but not on the level where I show during fashion week. I'd rather it be an indie label. I want a nice studio space in Europe and a personal chef.
FP: Do you have any tips you might give to aspiring fashion, fiber, or design SOTA students?
RC: Fashion/fiber and textile/design is very labour intensive and stressful. School is also very emotionally exhausting so know what you are getting yourself into! You need the passion to persevere. If you think you've got it, go all out. Also never be selfish and competitive. You need friends to help you out. It's a team effort. Be nice!
FP: Thanks for chatting with us Rachael! Any closing comments?
RC: The Netherlands has this chocolate milk called chocomel. Give it a try if you ever drop by, best thing ever!
*Editor's note: Chocomel is the best thing ever