GLOBAL VOICES SERIES – Designer Julia Marie Chew

This is part of an on-going series of interviews by Yinsey Wang with East Asian voices around the globe. The series aims to introduce perspectives from different walks of life.

At 18 years old, designer and photographer Julia Marie Chew is already catching the attention of collaborators such as international photographer Zhang Jingna (zemotion) and organisations such as Park Avenue Fashion Week. Determined, charismatic and dedicated to her trade, Julia’s talents shone early in her childhood; she was only 2 years old when she mastered cutting in a straight line with scissors.

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The beautiful Julia Marie Chew

Florida-based and China-born Julia draws inspiration from influences gothic romanticism and operates with relentless patience and creativity when achieving her goals. Her pieces reflect a careful eye for detail and a novel understanding of aesthetics – in particular, her perfectly composed dresses demonstrate her understanding of how to accentuate the female figure through utilising shape and textures. She aspires to tell stories in her pieces, drawing from nature’s beauty and earlier periods of history (where garments were hand-made rather than mass-produced as they are today).

Her close relationships with her grandparents gave her more than fond memories – time spent with them allowed her to develop a strong work ethic and a talent for entrepreneurship. Socially-conscious and passionate about contributing to the community, Julia is not only gifted in the arts, she is also mature beyond her years. Nee Hao Magazine discusses her up and coming career.

You’re still so young but extremely accomplished. What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I cannot pinpoint one highlight, but there have been several high spots this year. One highlight was having my clothing line, Xiaolin, in a boutique this past October. Presently, I have items in three boutiques and it is an incredible feeling that people are purchasing and wearing my clothing.

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It seems your passions and talents have been nurtured from a young age and have been influenced by your grandparents. Can you tell us more about this?

At age 2, I was able to cut a straight line with scissors. Not too long afterwards, I was taught the up and down motion used in sewing by lacing sewing cards. Alongside my academic education, I was taught traditional skills including embroidery, basket weaving, and origami. Both of my grandmothers were excellent seamstresses.

My maternal grandmother helped me sew my very first dress when I was about 11 years old. The satisfaction of being able to make and wear my own clothes was exhilarating. Later, my paternal grandmother gave me a sewing machine and serger, the exact tools needed to prepare me to flourish as a designer.

Additionally my maternal grandparents launched their own business over 35 years ago. Their legacy of entrepreneurship and strong work ethic was captured through their nurturing during my time spent with them.

What was it like participating in Park Avenue Fashion Week?

Last month, I won the Emerging Designer Competition for PAFW. I went into the contest as a stranger and emerged with a bright future on the horizon. I was honored to display my collection before a large audience and was thrilled to receive much support and enthusiasm.

At the beginning of the contest there were ten designers. Three were chosen as finalists. The three finalists were given an Unconventional Challenge (similar to the one seen on the hit show Project Runway). Each finalist was given two large bags of various items such as a mannequin hand, trash bags, garment bags, duck tape and were to create a look which would be showcased nine days later. Five judges convened to inspect the garment that each designer presented. I created a Crystal Queen gown. It was chosen as the winner. It was a fantastic experience!

You seem to work with feathers a lot. Your couture peacock dress is incredible. How long did it take you to complete the piece? What was the creative process behind it?

The custom-made couture peacock dress took 2-3 weeks from start to finish. A woman in Hong Kong saw the cocktail length dress I had made of peacock feathers and asked if I could make a full-length dress for her. I thought it would be great fun to make an all-peacock feather dress and indeed it was. After collaborating with the buyer to understand what she desired, I followed her direction and added my own artistic expression, which resulted in a stunning, breathtaking gown.

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Xiaolin’s gorgeous peacock dress, photography by Julia Marie Chew

Collaborating with Zhang Jingna on the Motherland Chronicles piece The Raven Girl must have been an incredible experience. What was it like?

I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to work with Zhang Jingna. Several years ago I discovered zemotion photography and fell in love with her dark, romantic fairytale images. Jingna is a successful young woman in the fashion industry and I admire her talent and vision. It is surreal to see my feather dress in her photo.

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The Raven Girl by Zhang Jingna for Motherland Chronicles
Note that Motherland Chronicles is a series where artists collaborate to create pieces on a weekly basis. For more information, click here.

Earlier this year when she was just starting Motherland Chronicles she saw my knee length black feather dress and inquired if it was possible to make a full length version, with a high collar. With her feedback and ideas, I designed a dress that fit her vision, and my style. I am grateful that she chose to work with me as a young designer, and I hope to some day inspire others also.

Your collection is named Xiaolin. Can you tell us why?

My Chinese name is Xiao, meaning dawn, and Lin, meaning jade. I put the two together to make Xiaolin. My Chinese name holds a special place in my heart.

What is the most significant influence on your work?

Nature, texture and my studies in gothic romanticism. While growing up, I spent time outdoors where I was able to connect with nature. With each element of nature such as waterfalls, butterfly wings, and feathers, I discovered a correlation with fabrics. In my mind, I put them together. Later, I carried out the ideas by creating garments that give the essence of nature or natural objects.

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Photography and clothing by Julia Marie Chew

To give an example, waterfalls flowing remind me of the graceful movement of chiffon. My style leans toward being gothic romantic with a hint of the late Victorian era. In that time period, clothing had a higher importance because it was hand-made and not mass produced. In literature, the author creates characters that tell a story using imagery, mood and other literary techniques. Similarly, with my clothing my desire is to create a captivating story for the audience to enjoy.

Which piece are you most proud of and why?

The full-length black feather mermaid dress took me about 3 months to make. This dress motivated me to start my own couture collection scheduled for release in February, 2014.

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Julia Marie Chew wearing her own creation

You have a strong work ethic and a determination to succeed. What drives you forward?

I was taught character traits of hard work, integrity, and commitment. My vision is to someday own and operate my own fashion house. I want to give back to the community by creating local jobs and supporting passionate artisans. I feel that young people need to accept the social responsibility of working together to strengthen our community.

Regarding your question about passion and hard work as to how they interrelate for success, I believe that if one is passionate about an area, they will work hard toward achieving goals relating to that area.

Success is a byproduct of the dedication to pursuing wholeheartedly one’s dreams and aspirations. I am grateful for the support of my family and many others within the fashion industry for the success I have had thus far. It is not the hard work of just one person. There are several people who have believed in me, promoted me and guided me along the way. For their unwavering support, I am indebted.

For more information, please visit http://www.xiaolindesign.com

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