Quite often in the history of fashion, designers appropriated elements and motifs from Native American culture. Recent seasons also saw High Street retailers joining in, borrowing this trend, and unfortunately ending up exploiting this inspiration without showing any respect towards Native Americans. This wasn't certainly the case, though, with two young graduates from the School of Fashion at San Francisco's Academy of Art University.
Fashion designer Pipatchara Kaeojinda and knitwear designer Emma Mengchen Yang, moved for their collection - presented in May during the school's fashion show - from Native Americans. The designers approached their inspiration with respect, studying and researching various aspects of the Native American culture, and then reworking some elements from traditional costumes and accessories in knitted pieces (in an earthy palette borrowed from Native American art) characterised by an innovative combination of different stitches.
Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Pipatchara Kaeojinda: I was born in Bangkok, Thailand. I studied at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, for a year and a half, and then transferred to the Academy of Art University to begin my path as a fashion designer. I was inspired a lot by my mother who is an artist.
Emma Mengchen Yang: I come from distant Beijing, China. From the tapestry of this city I came to feel the strong vibrations of art and fashion. As a young girl, my interest in fashion went from my doll's clothes to the clothes that adults around me were wearing. As I grew older and came to graduate from high school, I came to a point in my life where I should choose the direction of my higher education. I was fortunate enough to have parents that allowed me to choose where my interests were and I opted to follow my interest in fashion design at AAU.
What's the most important thing you learnt from your years at AAU?
Pipatchara Kaeojinda: I’ve learnt so much and not only just design and construction-wise, but also regarding the responsibility that designers must have - punctuality, time management, friendship and so on. I also got an internship with Ralph Lauren in New York during last summer through the project I did at AAU for Joe’s Black Book competition.
Emma Mengchen Yang: When I began at AAU I started with a major in woven design but, after taking a course in knitwear, I found myself stimulated by this form of art. I learnt a lot of skills as a double major woven and knitwear designer. But, to me, the school doesn't only teach students the skills but also art and the different ways you can think about it or approach it.
How did you feel at showcasing your collection at the Academy of the Arts fashion show?
Pipatchara Kaeojinda: It was a very exciting moment seeing the garments we worked on for the past six months on the runway. Even if it was for just about 5 minutes for each collection, it was definitely worth all the hard work!
Emma Mengchen Yang: It was a successful fashion show to me. We spent a lot of time on the collection and the show gave us the opportunity to check our work with all the audience.
Can you tell us more about the main themes that inspired this collection?
Pipatchara Kaeojinda: The collection was inspired by the tribal elements of the Native American culture. The collection includes indeed traditional motifs, details and silhouettes translated into modern pieces. The neutral colour palette and fabrication that I chose reflect the idea of nature and untouched beauty. Many of the designs included incorporate leather as a reference to the main inspiration.
Emma Mengchen Yang: As I researched and explored the main theme for the collection and the history and background of Native Americans, I found myself getting more and more interested in it. There is a special connection between art and Native Americans: you can clearly and easily spot special details in their clothes, furniture, jewelry and headdresses that can be considered as art and that can offer a knitwear designer infinite inspirations.
Which yarns did you employ for this collection and were you inspired by particular stitches or techniques for your knitwear?
Emma Mengchen Yang: Merino wool, cotton and viscose, since this was a Fall collection. While developing the swatches I transferred the decoration and details of Native Ame rican clothes or accessories into new knitwear techniques. I did explorenew techniques based on ripple and ladder stitches. For example, one of my knitwear swatches is based on the woven fabric and special totem found in the native American culture. The first time you see the swatch you probably think it is a piece of interesting and flat fabric, but the design is not actually flat and, if you look at it more closely, you realise that the piece is composed of three-dimensional strips, that make the whole look standout. I also combined the cable stitch and a lot of hand stitch techniques into my garment designs to make richer pieces.
Did you find any stages of your collaboration difficult or challenging?
Pipatchara Kaeojinda: I was lucky since Emma was a great collaborator. We always talked and discussed about everything throughout the whole process. For me it wasn’t difficult at all. I also think I’ve learnt so much by collaborating with another designer, it made me understand more about the constructions and yarns in knitwear design.
Emma Mengchen Yang: Whenever there are two designers working on one collection things get a bit more complicated as different people have different ideas. Yet in our case we never got any communication problem as we always talked about the designs together and shared our real feelings, finding a way to balance the entire collections.
Is there an artist/designer who inspires you?
Pipatchara Kaeojinda: Stella McCartney. Her designs always inspired me. I love her design aesthetic.
Emma Mengchen Yang: As a fashion designer I'm interested in any good design. So there isn't just one designer or amazing artist who inspires me in particular.
What are your future plans?
Pipatchara Kaeojinda: I got a scholarship from AAU to go and study abroad in Paris, France, for a year. After that, I would love to come back and work in New York as a designer.
Emma Mengchen Yang: Fashion to me is really close to my life, it may include style and beauty, but it is not limited to an expensive garment - it is an inspiration that pervades my life. I see my future in fashion design as a work in progress opportunity to continue to grow my skills and develop a better knowledge of this industry. I have the opportunity to do a one-year scholarship as an exchange student at the Ecole de la chambre syndicale in Paris, France, to study fashion design. If all goes well, I will be able to gain further experience in the fashion design industry over the next few years, and eventually build and develop my own fashion brand. This will be my chance to make my dream come true while serving at the same time the community I'll live in in a very special way.
Images of Pipatchara Kaeojinda and Emma Mengchen Yang's collection in this post by Randy Brooke/WireImage
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