The RE/ORIENT collection makes a performance of identity by occupying the imagined space of Orientalism, drawing from its archive of symbolism and mythologies in order to build new forms from illusion and memory. I reappropriate clichéd cultural ‘props’ and Eurocentric projections – notions crystallized in the idealized, exoticized beauty of studio portraiture from colonial-era Southeast Asia – while examining the portraits as anthropological records for garment research, channeling silhouettes and techniques from traditional forms. In collaboration with jewellery designer Birgit T. T. Frietman, we have adopted recurrent motifs such as the table with plant in vase, the hand clutching a fan, and the oriental screen, transforming them into intricate wood sculptures that interact with body and garment. Thai and Indian raw silks are emblazoned with stylistic elements of academia – frames and captions such as ‘Native woman in traditional dress’ and ‘Rare specimen’ – satirizing Orientalist perspectives which fix the Other in the spectator’s gaze. Who is ‘native’ in this age of migration, metropolis, and the blurring of cultural and geographical borders, and what does ‘traditional’ mean today?
By reclaiming the image and identity of the illusory ‘Other,’ the wearer steps out of the Occidental fantasy and centers herself within the narrative. This collection aspires to a re-aestheticization of Otherness and hybridity which channels the convergence of traditional and modern, Occidental and Oriental forms, and seeks to revive a ritualistic practice of fashion as an essential and considered aspect of identity. As a European/Asian designer, my perspective is essentially hybridized; through my “bipolarity of gaze” I seek to resist the homogenizing forces of globalization by highlighting the complex interplay of cultural symbols. By shifting Eurocentric aesthetics and narratives from the center while acknowledging the intervention of Western forms and ideas into the identity-formation of the Other, I aim to counter cultural imperialism in fashion while elevating alternative, hybrid histories and identities.