DAWN BEY: WHAT FASHION SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE

by: Alicia Chua

Here's fashion student Dawn Bey's life in a nutshell: pursued fashion despite prior unrelated education, left Singapore and chose to begin her fashion path in a foreign land, ended up excelling.

Pretty impressive, huh? But that's what you get when a go-getter is propelled into a new environment, especially one that endlessly thrills her. Now a top graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design Hong Kong, Dawn Bey tells us her story and what it actually takes to excel as a fashion student.

DAWN BEY: WHAT FASHION SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE

Hi Dawn, tell us more about yourself and your journey as a fashion student at SCAD Hong Kong.
I spent 22 years schooling in Singapore and did a degree in Business at National University of Singapore before deciding to move overseas to study fashion design. I always wanted to study fashion but wasn't seriously passionate about it until after I completed my degree and dabbled with the business side of fashion (PR, writing, production, etc.). I wanted to further utilise my creativity and fashion design was a way for me to push my boundaries.

Were there any notable differences between the curriculum in Singapore and Hong Kong?
I didn't study fashion in any of the Singapore schools but I did take a few courses in pattern making and dressmaking with a traditional school along Smith Street! I learnt how to make clothes via mathematical calculations but when I came to SCAD, we learnt to drape from nothing and made our own patterns from draping. It opened my mind to the possibilities of clothes I could make and I felt so much freer being able to experiment!

What would you say are some advantages and/or disadvantages of studying fashion overseas as compared to Singapore?
One obvious advantage would be the resources! I know the students from a design school in Singapore took a trip to Hong Kong to source for fabrics. My school is located near the fabric street in Hong Kong so that's our playground and our 'hood’. I've come to establish relationships with the wholesalers and can even call them to make orders which is so convenient.

Other than that, I love that people in Hong Kong are full of character. They don't care what others think and dress in their own style. Some people are super crazy but they're unapologetically themselves. They're not necessarily the most stylish dressers in the world but I love that they're not self-conscious when it comes to fashion. In Singapore, I can feel people looking when I try to experiment with different 'wilder' styles of dressing.

But other than that, I didn't move out of Singapore for any bad reason. I love it and it's my home but I knew it way too well and was so comfortable that I didn't feel the inertia to see things in a different way. Moving to Hong Kong gave me some distance to view Singapore from a critical and objective viewpoint.

DAWN BEY: WHAT FASHION SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE
DAWN BEY: WHAT FASHION SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE

It must have been an honour presenting your collection at the graduation show in SCAD's U.S. campus. Talk to us about the experience.
It was! I was very honoured to be flown over and I've never been to our main campus in Savannah so it was seriously a once in a lifetime experience. The campus is beautiful and there's so much heritage in the school's buildings. SCAD is an expert at repurposing old buildings—be it elementary schools or the magistrate court in Hong Kong—for education. They did a very good job with maintaining the architecture and exterior while refurbishing it into an inspiration campus filled with the artwork by our own alumni.

Seeing the full fashion show and meeting other designers who made it into the show was also great! Our campus is geographically tucked away from the other two fashion design departments in Atlanta and Savannah, so meeting other students in the programme is refreshing! Seeing our work move on models as they walked down the runway was thrilling! We've only seen our garments in the studio on mannequins but never in such a glamourous setting. The culmination of all the hard work and long hours we put in finally paid off.

At SCAD Hong Kong, we have our own local version of Fashion Showcase every January. In fact, I was so honoured that another piece of my work got picked for the occasion. And that was the very first time I saw my own creation being showcased in front of all the local fashion gurus.

DAWN BEY: WHAT FASHION SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE

Tell us more about the collection and how it all came together. Also, what was the inspiration(s) behind it?
This collection was inspired by the idea of a woman as an urban orchid. I started to love orchids when I came to Hong Kong and watching my own orchid grow makes me think of the modern woman: able to survive in harsh conditions and still bring forth a beautiful and delicate flower. Modern women today want independence and equal rights in the workplace, yet we also have to handle biological issues like emotions, something we sometimes wish we didn't have to deal with when we compare ourselves to men. So I feel women today should aspire to be like orchids: sturdy and strong but yet accepting of their emotional and fragile nature.

From that, I took the idea forward, creating volumious silhouettes and making my own orchid print. I printed digitally before personally going over with brushstrokes of neon paint. It was the expression of urban energy found within a city for me. This is also found in the holographic pleather coats that I made. They reminded me of the everyday urban landscape – metallic, industrial, yet I manipulated them in ways that resembled fluid metal, much like Jeff Koon's balloon sculptures. I also used subtle details of the orchid, like its dot-like pattern, and turned it into a laser cut pattern which I applied on features such as the collar or cuffs of the holographic jackets.

DAWN BEY: WHAT FASHION SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE

People sometimes underestimate the amount of effort that goes into a project like this. What is it really like creating a capsule collection from scratch and what challenges are bound to pop up along the way?
This collection was conceived and produced in the last five months. I changed my lineup of six outfits five times and every time the looks were different. Creating a capsule collection requires a lot of concept development and I constantly added in new inspiration and feedback with each lineup I drew.

There are many considerations to be made. For one, finding the right fabric takes a lot of time. Finding fabrics that relate well to each other and yet contrast one another is important. Then, experiments and tests have to be done to ensure that the fabrics also react the way I would like them to. It's easy to make one outfit but to make a capsule of six outfits that relate to one another and tell a story, yet look different at the same time, isn't easy.

After that, we drape on the mannequin and make mock-ups of the outfits we'd like to make. There were endless fittings and changes and every time a little change is made, it can affect the rest of the garment and we may have to remake the whole thing again. Perfection is everything yet you also need to learn when to stop and know that the garment is done.

DAWN BEY: WHAT FASHION SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE

Where would you rather pursue a career in fashion — Singapore, Hong Kong or elsewhere? Why?
To be honest, I love Hong Kong because its arts culture is way more vibrant and dynamic than Singapore. If I'm ever bored, I can easily walk into galleries or attend an art event. Singapore, on the other hand, needs an official arts week. Things are quieter there though it is picking up. I'd miss Hong Kong because there's always something happening every weekend. There'd be random people selling things on the floor around my neighbourhood and this spontaneity always keeps my creative juices running. It's so disorderly and orderly at the same time and we designers love irony and contrast.

That being said, I don't think pursuing a career in fashion is dependent on the place you're in. Yes, the support and the resources help a lot, but I am open to freelancing and collaborating with creatives in different art fields because I feel fashion doesn't necessarily only mean I must make clothes for the catwalk. I love making clothes in general and that would mean I can apply what I've learnt in school to making contemporary costumes for theatre productions or dances. In fact, I am doing that for my church production and I've spent most of my life dancing so the theatre is not new to me. I'm happy being anywhere, as long as I get to do what I love- which is to make clothes and push my creative boundaries all the time.

DAWN BEY: WHAT FASHION SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE

After years of studying fashion, what qualities do you think students in this field should possess if they want to propel forward in the midst of such a gruelling course?
The key to excelling in this course is passion. If you know you definitely want to be in this field it will bring you through the hardest moments and push you to push yourself. As students, we can choose to take the easy route and make garments and get by. But if you want to make this your career, you'd constantly challenge yourself and get your professors to push you too.

On top of that, international exposure can help me understand other cultures, which proved to be good sources of inspiration.  And for my career development, good industry connection is definitely beneficial. I was fortunate to have international and local exposure with the help and support of SCAD.

Looking back, what was the best thing you've taken away from the entire experience at SCAD Hong Kong?
The best thing I've learnt it is to be myself. It sounds so simple but I never truly knew how to be myself. I've always wanted to just fit into society because sometimes I can feel the stares of people in Singapore. But in designing, I've found that I'm motivated, most creative and the happiest when I chase the things I like. One quote that I hold with me dearly is "Follow your madness and let it set you free." As I follow the things I truly love, it consumes me and I am set ablaze by the passion within me. I love it!

More of Dawn Bey's work available here.

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