125's Felicity Carter interviews young designer Eugene Lin and discovers there's more to torture than blood...
FC: You’re Singapore born and now London based, how has that had an impact on your designing/inspirations?
Eugene Lin: I received my formal training in London and I only began noticing fashion when I was 18. Back then, Singapore had very, very few places to access high fashion, and the local scene was nothing more than a dress-making service. Singapore has a rich culinary history and scene, which I do not believe translates into fashion. While its Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) heritage is very colourful, the last thing I want in my work is souvenir Orientalism.
A bizarre assumption people seem to make is that just because I am of Asian descent, the brand is automatically ‘Asian’, whatever that concept may mean to them. I am very proud to be Singaporean, but my work has been described by buyers and press as firmly Euro-centric – combining the edgy prints London is known for with the sophistication of garment construction that Paris loves. One does not see Alexander Wang or Philip Lim making ‘Asian’ clothes. This brings into the conversation a discourse for what Asian clothes are in this day and age. I believe my work is not bound by geography or cultural lines, as good design has an international audience. The only thing I reckon I bring from my culture is the hard-work ethic I take in working on my collections where I still personally cut and fit each piece, while managing the many other aspects of the business.
FC: Which designers/what things have inspired your work to date?
EL: I really admire designers with strong technical abilities like Azzedine Alaïa, Haider Ackermann, Vivienne Westwood, the late Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Lee McQueen, but I would not go so far as to say my work is derivative of theirs. I tend to pick a story or theme for each collection and work that with my own language of cut exhaustively to flesh out my own world. I have looked at Greek mythology, Biblical and human history, and even medicine. Granted nothing is new in fashion and between the aforementioned greats everything has been done, but I am conscious of not replicating or referencing too closely and if and where I do refer, I try to refine something I have worked on before or bring something I have not explored into my own work.
FC: Have you got any favorite stores? Where would you love to be stocked?
EL: I adore Liberty and Selfridges and would, like most designers, love to be carried there.
FC: Print is a big part of your collection, what attracted you to it?
EL: I always cut a piece to work in plain fabric so the prints are just an enhancement to tie in the story. Two phrases that came to mind when I started looking at torture devices was the line “full metal jacket” and “the only way you’re coming out of jail is in a wooden jacket”.
Upon further research, I discovered the Drunkards Cloak, a 17th century barrel of shame with a large star-shaped collar, which was worn by drunkards as they were paraded through a town and pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables. The metal print came from the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, and we developed a rusted/oxidised copper texture. If you look closely at the seams of some of those pieces, you will see individually placed metal rivets (printed, or course) to mimic the garment being welded and soldered together, like strapping a woman into the Iron Maiden. From afar, some have commented that it looks like ‘a lovely floral print’ but the real story is far more sinister and interesting, I think.
This season, we expanded the vocabulary of the brand by introducing metallic gold foiling. I find it difficult to talk about such extreme pain without discussing the humanity of it, in this case, the blood that was spilt. It would have been too gory to splash red paint/ink/foil on the collection, so we used a rich yellow-gold in a dripping pattern to tie in with the gold jewellery and to symbolise the preciousness of life.
FC: Where would you like this collection to take you?
EL: ‘Room 101’ SS12 is another step in the evolution of the brand, and I am pleased that it has stretched my design abilities by trying new techniques and collaborating with another designer. Hopefully this will pave the way for even more growth and reinforce the handwriting of the brand.
FC: Have you got anything in the pipeline for 2012?
EL: I just finished showcasing my AW2012 collection at Paris Fashion Week and will shortly be beginning work on SS2013.