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If You Melt A Suit, You'll get A Dress

Already garnering attention for her rebellious attitude and avant-garde designs, final year fashion student, Felicia Mak, says her secret is not to take fashion too serioulsy.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 18-02-2009

“It’s not hard to make a pretty dress,” Felicia Mak, one of the star students during the recent Amsterdam International Fashion Week, says.  “There is a formula. Make it flow, add some Swarovski crystals so it looks gorgeous on the runway, and there you have it … but everyone has seen that.  It doesn't look new any more.”

Mak thinks a large chunk of the market will always favour classic designers like Dior and Gucci, but it’s the more avant-garde and intellectual approach of Comme des Garçons that inspires her.  “I like the ones that make you think,” she says.

Nearing the end of her Masters course at ArtEZ and exhibiting as part of the Fashion Institute Arnhem group collection, this was Mak’s first showing at fashion week and one that she hopes will launch her career into a difficult and cut-throat world.

“Fashion week was madness,” she says of the experience, which at the last second saw her collection go from 17 to 16 looks.  “It’s just surreal.  You are working on this collection for months and months, you have no idea what is going on around you, and then suddenly you have your work on the runway and there are opinions and critics and reactions flying.”

Mak’s plan was to watch her models walk down the runway on an overhead monitor, but things didn’t work out: “In the end all I did was fix details, repair a zipper and push models onto the runway,” she says.  “I have no idea how it all actually looked, but I wasn’t booed off stage so I guess it must have been OK.”

It’s a rough reality that Mak likes to reveal through her designs.  “I hate that the image the public has of fashion is glamorous,” she says.  “It’s annoying.  You sit in your atelier for 13 hours a day with bloody fingers an then every 6 months you get nine minutes on the catwalk as a reward.  It isn’t at all glamorous and you have to really love it.  I really believe that the actual work has to be reward enough.”

Sitting in the front row during Mak’s show were Dutch fashion luminaries such as Jan Taminiau, Bas van Schaik, and illustrator Piet Paris.  Mak completed her internship with Taminiau and so knows the couture designer well.  “During that internship I think I leant more about myself than about fashion,” she says.  “I really did understand his [Taminiau’s] choices, but I just don’t think I am someone who works well with another designer.”

Based on the idea that if you melt a suit, you’ll get a dress, Mak’s collection was inspired by the world of Dita Von Teese and burlesque.

“Dita is best known for her beauty and glamour,” Mak says.  “But I found this one specific picture of her that made me cry.  She was in character, naked with a tape around her waist and looked ugly, but also really honest.  It was of an imperfect body wearing a Dita mask.”

It’s that same honesty that informs Mak’s collection.   In black, white, skin-tone and orange the looks entail organic forms that connect to the natural shapes a jacket takes when taken off.  “When you take a jacket off, it hangs in forms and I looked at which shapes were most interesting then played with the patterns making certain parts bigger and bigger until they evolve into something else, and then eventually disappear.”

As was the case with a lot of the student work exhibited during Amsterdam International Fashion Week, Mak used a lot of nudity.  “I don’t mind nudity,” she says of the trend that ignited a lot of press reaction. “I think if people have problems with it, it reveals something more about them and their past than it does about me … and besides, I think the nudity sat perfectly on the line.  There shouldn’t have been more and there shouldn’t have been less.”

Mak cites names like Hussein Chalayan and Gareth Pugh as designers she likes, but struggles to name anyone Dutch, saying that the Dutch often have one strong idea but then fade.  Her ambition is to get some more experience designing for herself, then to move to New York or London and work with another designer before launching her own label.  “I’m not sure if that will happen any time soon,” she says, “but I’m young and I have time.”

Defiant and rebellious Mak is adamant that the fashion industry should never be taken too seriously.  She is equally adamant that her reputation for designing rebellious clothes is not part of a grander plan.

“It’s not like I’m sitting at home thinking about my message,” she says.  “It’s more about my character than my intentions.”

Photography by Rachel Perry

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