This is The Eleventh Hour, a new series dedicated to spotlighting graduating talent across the globe from different fields spanning art, design, architecture, engineering and of course, watchmaking. Notionally, the timely adage references the very last moment where an idea finally comes into fruition, and the finale of the creative process. Getting to know the intricacies of their craft, in this edition we speak with Central Saint Martins graduate, Tzu-Yang Huang. Born in Taiwan and majoring in design with knitwear, discover the pivotal moments in birthing a collection to life and navigating the process of time as an emerging designer.
The Next Hour: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be interested in fashion?
Tzu-Yang Huang: I was born in Taiwan and my family moved to Shanghai when I was in primary school. My inspiration always comes from the stories during traveling and my personal experiences, such as this graduate collection about my own experience as a soldier in Taiwan. My personal style is mainly centered on three-dimension knitting and is modified with various sustainable materials, bestowing them with other regenerative value.
To me, fashion is not only a reason to look good. For instance, garments are only the design or the manufacturing process, but how it tells the story is its actual value. Fashion is the way to express yourself, who I am, what role I play in society, and what purposes or intentions I have. It is a medium of conversations with yourself. Our society moves so fast that we rarely talk to ourselves alone. Even when you spend five minutes dressing, you are talking to yourself when you look at the mirror.
TNH: Was your graduate collection a mirror of yourself then? Talk us through how it came together.
TH: My collection is inspired by my military experience back in Taiwan, which is mandatory for all Taiwanese boys. I found it interesting to talk about my own military experience through the art of clothing. People perceive it as suffering, but to me, it’s more of a process to turn the boys into men, which is the reason why I capture those military moments through my biggest passion, fashion. The army’s life and rules serve as the foundation of this collection, which includes the notions of camouflage, haircut, body armors, helmet, and uniform. During wars, soldiers use hay and grass to camouflage and Raffia aims to create a similar effect in my collection.
TNH: That sounds like a very intricate process. Talk us through how you navigate the timing of your working schedule and how long you spend on each stage from the fruition of an idea to the final result?
TH: Knitting design is a major that requires a lot of patience. In my creation process, testing samples took the longest time, and different yarns and densities produced different textures and effects, even if only a little bit of change. For example, it took me three days to knit the shorts, a piece of pattern, which caused blisters on my fingers. I felt a great sense of achievement when I took a piece of cloth out of the knitting machine, and I want to show everyone that this is the finished product that I spent such a long time making stitch by stitch.
TNH: The final outcome is a testament to this dedication in every single stitch. What has been one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from producing your own collection?
I learned that the amount of time you spend is proportional to the results you get. In the knitting process, time and attention are required all the way through, and when you make a mistake with one stitch, the whole fabric has to be redone. When you eventually produce the result, you’ll admire yourself, as if it’s a pot of plants you’ve spent so much time taking care of, and when it blooms, it’s your highlight moment.
TNH: Creating your collection in a pandemic is a highlight in itself too. How did it impact your creative process? Did it allow you to appreciate your sense of time more?
TH: During the pandemic, I returned to Taiwan to produce my graduation series. As for the impact of this pandemic, I became more focused on digital media and spent more time communicating with people, as well as making presentations to show my work to my tutors. The limitation of materials and equipment also causes a lot of inconvenience for me. I needed to constantly try various materials and develop in the limited space of equipment. But on the other hand, it seems to become a good opportunity to break through more unconventional materials. For example, Raffia (100% plant fiber) is the main axis of the collection and used materials to deconstruct its original patterns, knitting each other into different textures.
TNH: Learning to grapple with all of these different textures and patterns, how far would you say your vision has evolved over time since you began at CSM?
TH: CSM is a dream school for many people. For me, it is not just a school, but a planet. There are all kinds of people on this planet. You should not only communicate with your classmates and teachers but also keep talking with yourself about how to show your unique personality. Therefore, it is often said that when you walk from Kings Cross to the gate of CSM, it’s like walking on Fashion Runway. You can often see each student with a confident expression, swipes the card at the entry and then travels to another world.
TNH: Reflecting on your grand finale from this planet and your final collection, the Eleventh Hour notionally means the very last moment. Can you describe how you were feeling during this time and if you decided to make any changes?
TH: Fashion design is often very fast-paced, constantly changing every minute. In the creative process, you can’t put limits on your imagination, since you never know what your limits will be. In this final collection, from the initial material selection to the final 360-degree material change, every designer can’t avoid, because you aim to do better, but this also causes time restrictions. To overcome this situation, there is no other choice but to stay up late. That’s why last-minute, as they say, sometimes inspires better work.
TNH: Who would you say is one of the most influential and inspiring icons of our time that has impacted your work?
TH: I think the person I admire the most is Alexander McQueen, who inspired me the most due to the way he chose his materials. He used a lot of materials that are readily available in our life, such as jigsaw pieces, shells, etc., to deconstruct them and give them a new way to present.
TNH: Now you’ve finished your collection, what does a typical day look like for you now after graduation?
TH: Every day I would start with a cup of Americano and a cigarette to reconsider my next step.
TNH: Looking back over the monumental steps you’ve made, describe a moment when you felt proud of your work?
TH: When you get the right materials for draping, and you find that it produces more than you’ve ever imagined, you quietly tell yourself that you are on the way to making good things.
TBH: And finally…describe your collection in one sentence.
TH: Everything has another chance to rebirth.