Dark is mostly related to evilness but it can also represent a comfort zone for those who are afraid to show themselves as they are or maybe just because there is a little secret behind it.
Rachel Cheong recently graduated from Royal Academy of Art, The Hague with a collection named “We know what you are hiding” and also chosen to be part of LICHTING 2017, a project of HTNK Fashion Recruitment & Consultancy and Amsterdam Fashion Week that connects the best academy graduates with the talented-hungry industry. A freshman in the industry but with a defined product, she is capable to tell stories with her garments. At the same time she seeks to redefine, question and ridicule established norms regarding darkness.
I assure you will be intrigued by how she merge concepts and plays with innocence and evilness. Let’s rummage through her thoughts with the following interview.
How was the brand born and why have you chosen the name “Closet Children”?
It’s been a name that stuck with me since I was 17. I started a blog called “Closet Children” where I took webcam pictures of my outfits and made them into gifs. This was the time when I was into grunge and Courtney Love with her whole “Kinderwhore” style. This idea of the virgin/whore dichotomy is really interesting. I guess I always wanted something deceptively childish or innocent in my design/life philosophy. “Closet Children” says enough, but doesn’t give away too much. Frills, lace, gathers, shirring and smocking have always been an aspect of my work and personal style; to retain this child-like (yet twisted) imagination with everything I do.
There is actually a store in Japan called “Closet Child” that sells second hand Lolita dresses. I bought Japanese fashion magazines as a teenager and the name would pop up ever so often in an ad. I subconsciously digested the name. Besides, I loved the association to Lolita clothing. It’s a lifestyle I would love to experience for a day in my life, but for everyday, I would integrate elements of it. A full outfit is a bit too much but I admire anyone who is dedicated to the lifestyle. I think that was also another factor for choosing the name “Closet Children”. I do consider “Closet Children” more of an artist name rather than a “brand”. I do see myself making work that isn’t just restricted to fashion in the future.
You are a doll collector and a fan of manga, how do you connect both with horror and fashion?
The one genre of manga that I enjoy the most is psychological horror because it’s disturbing and I always liked that feeling of being disturbed. Manga has no limits and restrictions when it comes to the imagination and it’s just so inspiring both visually and conceptually. I’ve found myself thinking “wow that was mind blowing and it was so on point” many times when I read a good manga. I don’t really have the same for other forms of visual media. (When it happens, it’s occasional) I guess my interest in observing cosplay culture is a big part of how I link horror manga and fashion. I used to visit anime/cosplay conventions, but never participated. It’s great to see how people put in so much effort to really bring to life a character; to just be someone else for a day. For me that’s what fashion does, you step into a different world and become a different person when you put on the right garments. The experience is the same despite cosplay being more “costume” than “fashion”. You can also see some elements and attitude of cosplay spill over into Japanese street style. It’s really not that far off! After all they both deal with identity and identity is a performance.
“We know what you are hiding” is your latest collection, what is the creative process behind it?
I knew from the beginning I wanted to work with the idea of hiding and secrets. I was reading a manga called “Monster” by Naoki Urasawa and there was a scene that really struck me. It was a scene where a serial killer recalls his childhood of being abused by his mother. He would plead to a doll in the room for help but she would just sit there, smiling and watching him in the darkness as his mother beat him. I just started to see the doll as surrogate body for hiding of your secrets. She sits in your room and knows everything you do and all that you mutter in your sleep; the perfect partner in crime who can never pass judgement. I also did some research about smuggling garments of the early 20th century because I remembered visiting one at the Customs Museum in Rotterdam during my first year of study. I contacted the museum to take a look at the garments in person and study the construction. I wanted to connect hiding to the body and to clothing. But what I found out was more interesting was that during the American civil war, dolls were used to smuggle drugs to soldiers. That truly made my idea complete and solid. To make it more modern, I made references to fetish culture and aesthetics, interior coverings (hiding, in a wider context) with the use of plastics, table cloth, pvc, shower curtains and upholstery prints. The gingham print is used widely in conjunction with these materials throughout the collection as a reference to Nabokov’s Lolita and the idea of perverse innocence. The bodies of the models were then turned into live walking dolls who stare into the souls of the audience saying “I know your deepest, darkest secrets.”
What is hide should be untold and stay like that. The question here is: Why do you think people sometimes hide facets from their lives?
Fear and shame. I come from a society that is still rather conservative and social policing happens a lot on social media and the internet. Some things are just better kept a secret because people don’t understand and it’s too much effort to make them understand. Besides not everyone deserves to know the real you. You show certain sides to certain people, depending on the level of trust. No one wants to be judged, in fact some people would rather find solidarity with a group of strangers especially on the Darknet. It’s a necessary space–no matter how deep, dark and dangerous your secret, sometimes you just have to let it out.
Your inspiration comes from the dark side and its meaning may be relative, what is your own representation of darkness?
For me “darkness” is human nature. Evil and darkness are inherent in all human beings. I mean, Lucifer was once an angel; people can really change with the circumstances–famous example: the Stanford prison experiment. I love reading about how people really push the limits of humanity. I push it further with my imagination in my work. In the third year of my study I was focused on obsession and how it’s a religion; a path to self destruction. There was a book by a Japanese photographer who took pictures of apartments of people who were obsessed with a particular brand. Some people are so extreme they don’t even eat in the apartment so that the clothes don’t absorb bad smells. The best part was about a monk who was obsessed with Comme des Garcons. He believed in the gospel of Rei Kawakubo because his sister turned her life around when she started wearing Comme des Garcons. I just loved how damn ironic it was. I combined it with the morbidly extreme self destructive nature of obsession presented in Junji Ito’s “Uzumaki”– a story about a town obsessed with spirals. I just like to imagine what it would be like for people to walk on the dark side, with no way of returning. We lead such comfortable lives that sometimes we need to be uncomfortable. That’s where the darkness comes into play.
Darkness could be a place connected with fears, is there any fear from your childhood that helped you to grow stronger?
I was afraid of people. I was very shy and had some kind of social anxiety. I think I’ve outgrown it now but I’m still kind of shy and very much a socially awkward introvert. I watch people from afar and observe them so I know how to act like a “normal, functional, human being”. Not sure if it helped me grow stronger but I think it helped set the base for my work.